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8000 m without oxygen

A write up about my last expedition, climbing Manaslu 8163m.

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By Roeland Van Oss

December 13, 2018

Last month I left for Manaslu with my vision of how I would like to climb this majestic mountain. Our ascent should be 'pure', a way of climbing that I thought most people would pursue. But the definition of pure is very personal. For us it was clear: without additional oxygen & without any help from others above base camp.

A 5 day trek through the warm & rainy jungle brought my girlfriend and I to the foot of the mountain. 10 years ago I was at the base of K2, but here I had a completely different feeling: I was stronger, better prepared & completely focused on summiting. I was not afraid, but I realized that there were plenty of risks waiting for us.

The following weeks were a blur of establishing camps, carrying loads and trying to sleep as high as possible. While all of these tasks went smoothly, there were also difficult moments: an avalanche over camp 2 that injured a guide & a Sherpa, a biting sore throat that kept us struggling for several days & a number of storms that seemed to change course again & again.

But we kept on believing & we were rewarded. On September 28th we arrived at Camp 4 (7,400m). The next morning at 4:00 AM we left for the top. We still had the confidence that we could do this. But the departure in the dark was tough & our bodies only started slowly. After two hours of walking, dawn slowly arrived & we left the trappings of the night behind us. In the distance we could see the summit, but the altitude remained over us like a heavy blanket; restricting us to a slow speed.

Breathing once every step did not work anymore & sometimes I had to stop to catch myself. I Would breathe deeply 10 times & then continue. Step by step we got higher & the anticipated headache did not arrive. Finally, the summit ridge was all that remained. We sat, caught our breath & slowly, ever so slowly, got up & started walking again. A quiet rhythm, breathing deep.

Around 11.30 there is nothing higher. My eyes become moist when I take the last steps, admire the view & realise that I stand at 8,163m without additional oxygen.

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