Hongkonger off to the Himalayas for some dancing lessons from God

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 August, 2010, 12:00am

American novelist Kurt Vonnegut says unusual travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God. That could be Hong Kong mountaineer Dominic Brieger's mantra.

There's much easier ways of seeing the world but mountaineering can also be a spiritual experience that even a seasoned climber like Brieger admits can often only be felt and rarely adequately described.

And, in the Himalayas, three rules also inform the experience - it's always further than it looks, it's always taller than it looks and it's always harder than it looks.

There are 14 mountains on earth more than 8,000 metres high and they are all in the Himalayan and Karakoram mountain ranges, squeezed between India and China.

Brieger will attempt to scale one of them, Manaslu, later this month - his highest climb yet. At 8,156 metres, it's the eighth highest mountain in the world and is in the Mansiri Himal, in central-west Nepal. Manaslu means 'Mountain of the Spirit', a name that comes from the Sanskrit word manasa, or higher mind.

All very uplifting and mystical but deadly perils also await.

'There are real dangers in the Himalayas,' Brieger says. 'From avalanches to altitude sickness to unpredictable weather conditions - bad weather closes in very quickly. The Himalayas are strewn with man's failed ambitions There's a lot of death and sickness there. At these altitudes your body just ceases to function properly. You can't metabolise. You can't think clearly. You're gradually dying.

'But if you worried about all this you'd never leave the ground. A positive and aggressive mental outlook is hugely important. Plus there are other incentives. Of course you want to summit and achieve your goal, but there's also the amazing feeling of being part of the mountain and the environment.'

The expedition will last for about a month, allowing members time for the vital altitude acclimatisation process they must go through. He and his team will spend time at several camps on the Manaslu climb. Brieger recently did a couple of 6,000m climbs in the Himalayas in preparation for Manaslu. He also has been 'dry tooling' - rock climbing on non-icy rock but using ice climbing equipment such as crampons and ice tools, at Ma On Shan and Kowloon Peak.

His climb will be supported by New Zealander Russell Brice's Himalayan Experience which co-ordinates large expeditions. All of Brieger's trips to Nepal and sub-8,000m climbs were organised by Mountain Experience, a wholly Nepalese-owned business.

The 48-year-old says he first began climbing in Edinburgh in his early 20s, and took it up again seriously after he arrived in Hong Kong 18 years ago as an investment banker with Prudential. Eight years ago he set up his own English teaching business.

'My lifestyle now helps me to pursue my climbing a little bit more aggressively and with the Himalayas being so near, it inspired me to continue.'

He says he had his fill of the sedate superficiality of banking and he was driven to seek new ways of fulfilment.

'There are many dangers and risks in what I do,' he says. 'I've had my share of falls and scares but it's more than just a discovery of the mountain and testing one's limits to the full. It's a like a spiritual quest of self discovery. When I'm on one of these climbs I feel a great freedom and liberation. It's one of the few places where I feel a sense of self and peace. There's also this overwhelming sense of isolation. It can be terrifying, but beautiful.'

Brieger's Manaslu climb will raise money for two Nepalese charities - Friends of Humanity and SmileHigh which operate in the Manaslu region.