The following is Dave Tilly’s story, written on his safe return to Kathmandu:
‘My journey began on the 28th August. My aim: to climb and summit Manaslu, the 8th highest mountain in the world in the Nepalese Himalaya.
It’s been a lifelong (since I was about 5) dream of mine. I also wanted to raise money and awareness for A4D (Action for Diabetics) which is a charity that is close to my heart. This is twofold. Jerry Gore (one of the charities founders) is a close friend of mine. I first met Jerry when we went to Vallouise on the legendary ‘Pegler’s Ice Fests’. Jerry runs AlpBase.com which is a chalet and accommodation rental business providing excellent accommodation for us on our quest to climb the best ice routes in Europe.
Over the 8 years of attending these affairs, I had become good friends with Jerry. Jerry is a Type 1 Diabetic himself and I was truly amazed when I first met this ‘tour de force’ of a climber and man.
My Dad was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in his mid-30’s, I remember the day the nurse came round and broke the news. Whilst it changed his life forever, constantly having to test and monitor his blood sugar levels and control it with injections of insulin, he coped incredibly well. My Dad lives an almost normal life, especially with the developments in insulin over the years. Whilst living with this condition can be difficult at times, it’s very treatable and manageable. Without insulin, my Dad would have died a terrible and painful death over a long period of time.
Without insulin, blood sugars rise to dangerously high levels. Sugar untreated by the body, is like shards of glass running around your bloodstream. It damages the internals of the body as you might imagine by this description. Eyes bleed, limbs capillary systems are destroyed which leads of amputation. It’s not a fast process and victims suffer over time without life giving insulin. Also damage is nearly always irreversible.
A4D was set up to help children try to negate this suffering and provide basic medical care to the children, initially in Myanmar. As the charity grows this area will expand, but only with your help.
It’s so simple and effective! Your donations directly translate into life giving insulin for these children and allow them the chance to grow up and take part in a normal life, something we probably all take for granted.
The A4D charity is run by people who do not take a salary from it and who bear the costs of fundraising themselves. This is the second major reason I support this charity. Because I know that many charities only send on a fraction (in some cases as little as 5%) of the donations that they receive to their intended market!
Jerry over the years has inspired me and tutored me to become a stronger, better climber and individual. So it is my sincere pleasure that I undertook this task of climbing the world’s 8th highest mountain to raise funds and awareness for this great charity. The following is my account of this epic adventure, which proved to be the biggest challenge of my life.
We left Kathmandu on the 3rd Sept 2016, and spent the next 8 days penetrating the Himalayas towards our objective, Manaslu. We would start at 600m and all being well, climb all the way to the summit at 8,163m. It’s a long drawn out affair as you have to endure many forays up the mountain in order to become acclimatised, and get the body used to make the necessary adaptations to allow you to survive at such high altitude. This is all after an 8-day hike in to Base Camp!
The aim was to summit without supplementary oxygen. This effectively lowers the altitude you experience by approx. 2000m. If used it makes the ascent immeasurably safer. Without it, you risk frostbite to your fingers and toes, HAPE and HACE which are both deadly in many cases. Fluid on the lungs and swelling of the brain, respectively. Bottom line, it’s no walk in the park!
One of the big questions I had before doing this, was if something does go wrong, what are the options for rescue and/or help. Helicopters can only fly so high because the air becomes so thin they are no longer able to generate lift. Basically they can get to help us at base camp at 4,800m but above that, you are on your own with just your team around you. This makes for a very committing experience indeed!
Having spent several weeks going up and down the mountain, sleeping at various heights and camps forcing the body to acclimatise we had a good weather window on 2nd October.
Summit push: We camped at camp 4, at 7,400m and ate and drank ready for leaving the camp at 11:30pm. Our team was 5 people strong plus Sherpa support, one per person. 2 using supplemental oxygen, and three including myself without. All Sherpas had oxygen. I was first to leave camp with Ben Canes. Ben is a veteran high altitude climber guiding/climbing over 7 trips, but that elusive summit had remained unclimbed for him. Yuri and Mardana left at 12:30pm on oxygen and finally Sean left at 1:30pm. Sean is an incredibly strong climber, yet this was his first attempt without oxygen.
It was windy when we left and the temperature was -20C plus the wind chill factor, which was – who knows, it was pretty windy but nowhere near desperate. After about two hours, my left foot was freezing, despite my anticipation that it would warm when I began to move for a while. I stopped to take a pair of socks off (my boots felt too cramped), and put new batteries in my heated socks. This had almost no effect and my toes continued to bother me, despite wiggling them continuously for the entire push.
Within two hours, the other guys had caught me and Ben, and as I stopped to try to warm my feet, Ben passed me and I was alone on the mountain, with KB my climbing Sherpa.
Becoming colder and colder, I yearned for the sun to come up, but it didn’t relent. Glancing at the time, it was 4;30am, still an hour before I would see the sun. As I approached 8,000m I began to reach the limits of my resolve. I was utterly exhausted, spent of all energy. No light, shivering violently. I have read tonnes of mountaineering literature, watch everything I could get my hands on to learn about what it’s like, to try and make it safely back when I finally took my shot at this challenge.
I asked KB to radio to Ang Phurba (our leading climbing Sherpa), to ask him where they were. I could see head lamps ahead in the distance, but couldn’t discern how far away they were. The call came back to say they were at the second summit rise, going for the top. The lights seemed as though I could reach out and touch them, yet I knew they were at least an hour ahead of me. As I realised this, I heard Ed Viesturs voice in my head, saying getting up is optional, getting down is mandatory. As the snow began to move and change in front of my very eyes, mildly hallucinating, I suddenly felt like I had just woken up and found myself in this position, I decided enough was probably enough and it was time to turn around, not wanting to be left on the side of this mountain as a relic of what could have been. I also thought strongly about my wife, Felicity. I thought, “it’s not fair on her to keep pushing”.
I told KB enough was enough and it was time to descend, still a massive undertaking!
KB got on the radio and then turned to me and offered me his oxygen mask and told me that we could get to the top if I took it. Whilst only at a flow rate of 1litre a minute, which max is 4litre’s per minute, the difference was incredible! My left foot was warm in 5 mins flat and I felt revived. I began my struggle upwards once more. The work was still unbelievably hard even with the oxygen, but just about manageable, and I wasn’t hallucinating any more.
An hour later we arrived on the summit. The wind was kind enough to die momentarily, to allow me to get out the handmade flag I had made with the logo for A4D and my wife. Two messages I had wished to convey from the summit.
It all seemed very matter of fact. Get the flag, get the photo and get off this mountain. The time was approx. 8am.
My decision to use the oxygen was bitter sweet. I had said ‘I would rather get to 7800m and turn around, than use oxygen’. Yet I had taken it to finish the last 140m. At first I felt like I had failed. But on reflection, I think I had made the biggest success possible. I had made the correct decision to descend for the right reasons. The kind offer of the oxygen from KB meant nothing more than allowing me to stand on the top. It seemed sabotage to refuse and not to finish what I had started, being so close. But I know deep down I had the resolve to make the right decision at the right time, even though an incredibly hard one!
After organising the required photo’s, I wanted, I declined the further use of Oxygen from KB and decided I was done with it and it was all downhill from here anyway. We began to descend. Back off oxygen, it was excruciating hard work!
After several hundred meters of descent, I had the presence of mind to make the phone call to my wife, I had promised. It was 3am UK time, but Felicity answered right away. I explained I had made the top, but that I hadn’t managed to do it entirely without oxygen. It was so good to hear her voice, and I sobbed, barely able to speak to her.
Several hours (I cannot remember how long) we arrived at camp 4 where I collapsed and lay in the snow. I wanted to just sleep, rest. The Sherpa Phurba Rita (15 Everest Summits to his name) said we were not staying here and we had to go down once he had stripped camp four. I continued to lay there until pushed out of the camp.
As we approached camp 3, I felt in the pit of my stomach, they had stripped this camp also. I sat in the snow, and said to KB, call Ang Phurba and ask what the hell is going on. I could not go on any further. The message came back over the Radio. Camp stripped, descend to camp 2.
I felt utterly deflated, finished, yet I had no choice. I knew that every metre we descended equalled more safety for us. Like a zombie, I staggered down towards camp two, hoping this whole ordeal would be over soon.
Arriving at Camp 2, Ben was there. We hugged and congratulated each other. I was beginning to come around and felt I had more energy, a side effect of the thicker air no doubt. Ben was packing his rucksack and said we were going all the way to base camp. I just laughed, and thought to myself as we had said jokingly all the trip ‘harden the f**k up’ as a joke to one another. I began to pack up and with a 25kg load, imagined myself as a true Sherpa, vowing to dump a load at camp 1 and send up someone else the following day to get it. Base camp was still 5 hours away and we had to descend with a big load through the ice field, which at this time of the day, would be getting more and more unstable as the sun baked it. This passage certainly being the most dangerous part of the entire climb.
As if the day’s events had not tested me enough, we arrived at the 4 ladder crossing. I could do nothing but laugh. Instead of crossing a single crevasse, as we had done on ascent, now I was expected to jump across the fist crevasse onto a snow ledge like something out of Cliffhanger with Stallone, and then onto what I can only describe as a joke of a ladder crossing. The ladders were literally falling apart, and curved down into the crevasse as the lashings had loosening over time. If they would take my weight, it would be a miracle, but with no other options, off I went. Arriving at the other side having been hyperventilating the entire way across, a feeling of relief overwhelmed me. I then held the ropes tight for Phurba Rita and KB to cross. They followed…. carefully!
Arriving at Camp 1, I dumped some weight and set off right away for base camp ahead of the Sherpas. The light fading fast and the temperature dropping, I realised I had no head torch or suitable clothes, all in the packs of others or in tents. I remembered I had an emergency head torch which turned out to be as much use as a chocolate fire guard. After an hour of descending off the glacier and the moraine, I had no choice but to sit down, and wait for someone to come down with a light. The two Sherpas arrived half an hour later. Luckily the weather remained fair. I finally arrived at Base camp at 8pm, a shell of my former self. I had one drink and fell into my tent, exhausted but having achieved the summit and full descent all within 24hrs. There was no elation, only sleep.
An experience I will never forget!