Cho Oyu, Manaslu, and The Definition of Winter

“I am not trying to create controversy, but after 22 winter expeditions, I know what I am saying,” reported Simone Moro from the Khumbu today. As often happens in December, Nepal’s mountains are enjoying some bluebird, windless days. That is why the Cho Oyu team is progressing so quickly, and why the Italian insists that winter only begins on Dec. 21.

“Astronomical winter is the one and only beginning of the true winter climbing season in the northern hemisphere,” said Moro. His experience tells him that real winter only sets in after the solstice. That is why, as on previous expeditions, he will not set foot on Manaslu until later this week. Otherwise, he says, he would be changing the rules in his favor.

Good pace on Cho Oyu

Not everyone agrees with his assessment of winter climbing. The team led by Gelje Sherpa has already begun their new route on Cho Oyu’s south side.  Climbing from a valley adjacent to the Khumbu, they are progressing fast. The rope fixers have already reached Camp 3 and have returned to rest for some days in Base Camp.

Gelje in front of a red and yellow tent, a pyramidal summit in background.

Gelje Sherpa in a higher camp on Cho Oyu. Photo: @migmar95

 

Meanwhile, Adriana Brownlee and Kristin Harila moved from Camp 1 to 6,700m (Camp 2?) yesterday on their second acclimatization round. They plan to reach Camp 3 as well.

Harila and Brownlee with helmets and sun glasses, an icefall in background.

Kristin Harila (left) and Adriana Brownlee on their way to Camp 1 some days ago. Photo: Adriana Brownlee/Instagram

 

Defining winter

The team calls theirs a winter expedition, based on two main factors. First, the winter climbing season officially starts on December 1, when Nepal issues its winter permits. Second, it’s possible that although they prepare the route during the first weeks of December, they may only summit after Dec. 21. In this case, their achievement would count as a winter climb. Which leads us to ask: Who makes the rules about winter expeditions?

Mountaineering chronicler Damien Gildea noted to ExplorersWeb:

“The Nepalis, in allowing Dec. 1 as winter, let climbers establish Base Camp but not go above before Dec. 1. This meant that some expeditions claimed a winter ascent by summiting in early December. (Some expeditions even ‘cheated’ by climbing higher than Base Camp in late November.)

“This is what the Poles and some others [such as Moro] did not agree with. But a summit after Dec. 21 is a winter summit, no matter how you look at it.”

Sherpas heading up among seracs toward a mountain face.

Sherpas head up on Cho Oyu’s south side in excellent weather some days ago. Photo: Adriana Brownlee

 

“One is a meteorological definition of winter, external to the climbing world, and another is a made-up rule in the climbing world,” Gildea added.

Hoping for good weather

In addition to his winter visits to Manaslu (this marks his fifth attempt), Simone Moro works as a helicopter pilot during the climbing seasons. Photo: Simone Moro/Facebook

Simone Moro’s current concern is that this year’s weather patterns are suspiciously familiar — and not for the good.

“The weather has been fantastic for the last two months,” cautioned the climber and helicopter pilot. “It’s repeating the script that until Christmas, it’s beautiful. Then when astronomical winter starts, conditions change.”

But Moro plans to solider on and hopes he gets a window on Manaslu. First, though, he’ll climb a couple of 6,000’ers in the Khumbu Valley to acclimatize. Then he’ll join Alex Txikon’s team for a new attempt on Manaslu.

Two more winter climbers

David Goettler and Herve Barmasse are also trekking, running, and acclimatizing in the Khumbu Valley in preparation for some as-yet-unstated goal.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides is a college-graduated journalist specializing in high-altitude mountaineer and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.