In the wake of the avalanche on Manaslu that killed 11 people comes a story of phenomenal achievement. Benedikt Böhm from the Dynafit team has become the first person to ski the 8156-meter peak without oxygen and he did it in under 24 hours Base Camp to summit and back.
The achievement is even more remarkable considering the role the Dynafit team played in quickly coming to the aid of those who needed help immediately following the tragedy. Avalanche survivor Glen Plake told us, “Those guys are flat out the heroes of all this. The rescue took place because of them.”
Böhm told us, “The avalanche hit at about 4:30 in the morning when we were all in our tents. By 4:45, we were already up the mountain helping people. We called Kathmandu to send rescue helis and then we stayed with the victims and helped them with oxygen, food, and boots for the next six hours until they had all been evacuated.
After we had done everything we could, the six of us on the Dynafit team went back to Base Camp to re-group. We were all pretty shocked by what had happened. Some of us had had enough, and we all respected and supported each other’s decision.”
Sebastian Haag, Constantine Pade and Benedikt Böhm however, decided to make one last attempt to climb the peak because of the years of preparation and mental commitment. The fact that they had done everything possible to help the victims of the accident helped them make the decision. Böhm emphasized, ”The decision to try for the summit after such a tragedy was a difficult one, but ultimately I decided to climb in their honor. It also helped me cope with the emotional challenges I was also going through from being first on-scene to such a tragedy.”
Glen Plake added, “I fully support their decision to go back up the mountain. For them to play such an important part during the rescue, then re-gather and summit, is amazing. Those guys are total heroes.”
After a few day’s rest, Böhm and Sebastian Haag left Base Camp at 6:00 pm on the 29th. After five hours they arrived at Camp 2 and picked up Constantine Pade. By the time the team reached Camp 3 at 6500 meters, Haag and Pade had begun to fall behind.
When Böhm arrived at Camp 4 at 7400 meters at 4:00 in the morning, conditions had deteriorated. Böhm told us, “It was a crazy storm that we weren’t expecting at all. Our forecast had been for 30km/hr wind but another group that was up there told us it was 100 km/hr. When I got to Camp 4 I found an empty tent where I could wait for Basti and Consti. I put my skis outside the tent so they would see them, but after an hour or more I looked out of the tent and saw that Basti had passed Camp 4 and was on his way to the summit. I caught up with him after 15 or 20 minutes and saw that he was moving slowly and that his nose had frostbite. I went ahead of the team and did the final 150 metres alone to reach the summit at 9 in the morning, after 15 hours of climbing.”
Whereas most alpinists would take this rare opportunity to languish in one of the biggest moments of their lives, Böhm’s summit wasn’t so, “I didn’t have a big summit celebration. Instead, I took a scarf that a lama gave me and wrapped it around a carabiner that I had used to carry the boots that we carried to the avalanche victims and took some time to remember the victims.”
Böhm waited on the summit for his Haag and Pade for almost an hour but eventually turned towards the bottom. Haag and Pade had decided to turn back below the summit in order to save their energy for the extremely difficult ski descent.
“I met Basti and Consti on the way down and they decided to come down with me and we skied down together. It was the worst ski descent ever. Everything was wind-packed, totally unpredictable, and just really, really bad. When we got to Camp4, we took off our skis and traversed a bit because the route was icy and we didn’t want to risk it. We put them back on again at 7300m. As we skied beneath the big serac we could see the huge avalanche crown above us. It was four meters deep!
“Below that the ski descent got even worse because of the avalanche debris. It was no fun at all, we were just eating altitude. It was hard to find the way but once we got to C3 the route became obvious again although it was still difiicutl because of all the avalanche debris. By that time it was getting late – about 11:00 or 12:00. The morning had been unusually warm below 6000 meters and we were shocked to see how the crevasses had really opened up and seracs had fallen. We had to throw ropes and gear to get over the crevasses, which took us a long time. In the end it took 8.5 hours of seemingly endless ski descent that you should usually be able to ski in four hours in good conditions, no problem.
“So after 23.5 hours we were back in base camp.”
For those keeping score at home that’s 15 hours up, 8.5 hours down, 3300 meters elevation gain, no supplemental oxygen. The typical ascent of Manaslu by climbers using oxygen takes four days. Respect.
When asked why he didn’t use supplemental oxygen when it would have made his attempt so much easier, Böhm explained, “Everybody can do what they want, I don’t judge anyone for using oxygen, but for me it’s 100% clear. For me, it’s like doing a marathon with a bike while everyone else is running. It’s not my style. I prefer being pure and under my own resources. Of course we used the fixed ropes, but other than that we were totally self-contained. On top of that, a speed ascent with oxygen is a joke, it’s like taking drugs. What’s the challenge if you give yourself such a huge advantage like that? But I would never judge anybody else for using it. I saw a Japanese guy on the summit, he was like 70 years old and he was crying. For him, oxygen was great.
Big congratulations to Benedikt Böhm, for his massive achievement and for doing it in style. And full respect to the entire Dynafit team for going to the rescue of their fellow alpinists when they were in need. True heroes, one and all.
Follow Bene on his future expeditions at www.dynafit.com.