Persistence Pays Off
Blasting winds, heavy snow and grinding ice destroyed three of his tents on the world's eighth-highest mountain.
At times he endured temperatures 40 below zero Fahrenheit and colder, in a realm so devoid of oxygen those who go there call it the Death Zone. He assisted in two rescues and the elements contributed to at least one fatality.
But he refused to give up his goal of reaching the top. Persistence paid off.
On Day 57 of his expedition in the Nepalese Himalaya, Nicholas Rice of Hermosa Beach finally stood on the 8156-meter summit of Manaslu, a Sanskrit name that translates roughly to "Mountain of the Spirit."
"I summited at 11:30 a.m. on the 19th of May!" Rice said on May 21st in an e-mail from his base camp. "All the best!"
The 24-year-old climber's elation comes at the end of an ordeal that required multiple forays up the mountain and weeks of waiting. He had stocked high camps without porters and without supplemental oxygen, and he'd descended numerous times when the weather turned bad.
"Definitely recovered in base camp now, but it isn't looking good for a weather window," Rice said in an e-mail on May 12, 2009. "We've had 2 meters of snow here in base camp already with more to come and no sufficient weather window in sight before the monsoon brings the close of the season. Many expeditions are heading home . . . "
The next day Rice said he and other climbers who remained might still have a chance.
"It looks like there may be a weather window for the summit centering around the 18th of May. It will be difficult thanks to the deep snow and low number of climbers left in base camp, but Mario Panzeri and I will try starting up on the 16th. Wish us luck!!!!"
According to dispatches on his Web site, Rice and Panzeri woke at 4 a.m. Saturday to begin their summit push from base camp. In camps I and II Rice found both his tents buried and crushed. Winds were approaching 100 mph and he was worried about frostbite.
On Monday at Camp III, an estimated 7000 meters above sea level, Rice found his third tent demolished and pushed on to Camp IV.
"I passed the corpse close to Camp IV and then spotted a number of destroyed tents on the crystal ice," Rice said. "I headed down to the rocky ridge and spotted Mario with the tent already set up . . .
"We settled in, made water, and quickly got to sleep, knowing that in a few hours, we would be heading up for the summit, two months of work boiling down to the next 24 hours."
They woke at midnight and started for the summit in freezing darkness. Ice on the route was steep and hardened, and at least one climber turned back. Rice tired in the thin air and found himself dozing off. He stopped to rest.
More than 11 hours later, he made it over the last of several high points and stood on the highest.
"I reached the summit in nearly perfect weather, with only a slight breeze and mild temperatures," Rice said. "The view was spectacular.
" . . . I knew that the weather was forecast to change and didn’t fancy looking for Camp IV in a whiteout. The slope before reaching Camp IV is icy and dangerous. As I headed down, exhausted, the clouds began to roll in."
Rice made it back to Camp IV about 5 p.m., where he was grateful to share a tent with someone who could watch him for signs of dizziness and distraction. He was thrashed.
They descended all the way to base camp the next day, and celebrated with cheese, meat and wine. Porters are expected to arrive tomorrow for the trek back to Kathmandu.
Experience has taught Rice when to back off, and when to go for it.
Nine months ago, Rice was high on K2 in northeast Pakistan's Karakoram Range when 11 climbers died in one of the deadliest episodes in recent mountaineering history.
Rice opted to retreat on the world's second-highest mountain due to a delayed start on summit day, avalanche dangers, and crowding on the treacherous route to the top. News of the missing climbers, rescue efforts and deaths unfolded over several days and made global headlines.
The Nepalese Himalaya is roughly halfway around the world from Los Angeles and Rice's hometown. When it's sundown here, the sun is rising where he is.
For more on Rice's Nepal expedition, visit his Web site here.
For previous reports on Rice's experience on K2, click here.