Interview with Mingma G About Manaslu: “No Excuses in Future”

8000ers Himalaya Manaslu
Mingma G on the summit of Manaslu, September 27, 2021. Photo: Mingma G

Mingma Gyalgye has had quite a year. First, he reached the summit of K2 in winter. That feat was hailed as a collective success for the Nepalese climbing community, which indeed it was. But it was he who had the project in mind since 2019, when he launched a first attempt.

Second, this past summer, Mingma G announced that he would climb to the “true” summit of Manaslu. This point seemed so out of reach that both individual climbers and outfitters had learnt to ignore it. Many had conveniently forgotten that a higher point lay beyond the usual end of the ropes fixed.

That is, until Mingma G came, saw, and conquered. And thanks to him, expeditions to the eight tallest mountain in the world will never be the same.

One picture said it all. Photo: Jackson Groves/Journeyera.com

One even wonders whether it was worth it for Mingma to confront the status quo as he did. He is also an expedition operator owner in the hyper-competitive Nepalese market. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just take clients to the lower but easier point like everyone else?

There is only one way to answer that: to ask Mingma G himself. Outspoken and direct as usual, he discussed the details with ExplorersWeb.

Why Mingma G did it

“For the last few years, climbers have been talking about Manaslu’s true summit,” Mingma G told us. “We were not happy to hear many climbers blame the Nepalese outfitters for not taking clients to Manaslu’s actual highest point. Someone had to put an end to the debate.”

Mingma G says that his clients were aware and excited to know that they would go beyond others to the highest point.

Mingma G.

“We all believed that Manaslu’s true summit was not possible in autumn and many organizers were actually not happy [I was going], saying that it will risk their clients’ lives.”

Mingma G and his team not only reached the true summit but also found a smart route to it. It avoided having to deal with the tetchy last part of the summit ridge, where conditions were too dangerous. Mingma G explained:

“My plan was to go straight along the ridge, but when I started climbing a few steps from the end rope, I didn’t feel safe to continue. I could make the route smoothly but I was afraid that an accident might occur later because the snow was not [firm] and the anchors on snow could easily come out.

“If a client made a mistake and fell, then all the other anchors might not hold. If they all came out, it would trigger a big accident.

A short rappel

“It looked easier and safer to go down and traverse along the North Face, although we had to rappel down around 10m. I also thought that if we opened the route today, and led the clients another day, It would be even safer because the anchors get frozen or jammed. They would easily hold anyone who might slip while traversing.”

Mingma G’s Imagine Nepal team traverses Manaslu’s North Face just below the summit ridge. Photo: Imagine Nepal

Fixing ropes on the go was not easy. And getting everyone to the summit and back was even more complex.

“Once I fixed the final anchors to the summit, our team came up one by one and returned [the same way],” he said. “We had a single line of rope and the anchors were completely new, so I didn’t take the risk of bringing them all together. Also, our final anchors were placed in snow which I kept holding almost till the end.

“Before I left the summit, I saw a few good points to place rock pitons, which I will put in next year when I return. That will hold several climbers if they go together. If we put two lines from the previous summit [foresummit] to the true summit, then it will be easier and faster than going to the foresummit. In 2018, we spent almost 1 hr 20 minutes waiting in line on the ridge to get a summit picture!”

A new standard

It goes without saying that that Mingma’s Imagine Nepal team will return to the highest point from now on.

“Before, we were not sure about reaching the true summit in autumn, and more than 90 percent of climbers never knew that there was another summit on Manaslu,” he said. “But now we know that it is possible and we have clear pictures from Jackson Groves, so yes, my team will go to the highest point.

“We are saying it is safe, but we need two different lines to the summit and back from the previous high point,” Mingma G added.

Mingma Gyalje of Rolwaling, at a puja ceremony in Everest base Camp in spring this year. Photo: Mingma G

Other teams?

The remaining question is, what will the other teams do? According to Mingma, they have no other option. “Previously, the [foresummit] was accepted, but there won’t be any excuses in the future. I don’t think record-keepers like The Himalayan Database will recognize the names of those who stop at the previous summit point.”

Apart from future Manaslu expeditions, what about all the past climbers, most of whom did not reach the true summit? This includes those with 14×8,000m records or other distinguishing firsts on their resumés. Yesterday, The Himalayan Database concluded that they will not delete the summit status of (most) past expeditions to the foresummits. Mingma G shares their position.

“Till recently, all the previous summits were accepted, and a few days ago, I was talking with Billi Bierling and she [agreed],” Mingma G said. “The previous summit point was also accepted by Ms. Elizabeth Hawley.

“I feel the same. For those who completed it in the past, it’s already done. So for me, accepting the previous summit means honoring Ms. Hawley and those elite climbers. But there shouldn’t be excuses in future.”

One final question that we had to ask: Did anyone else follow Imagine Nepal’s footprints to the real summit of Manaslu? The short answer is, yes, some of Nirmal Purja’s team went to the true summit with them on September 27.

And that is the beginning of a separate story, coming shortly.

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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Benny Smith
Benny Smith
1 month ago

Well spoken, Mingma G! And he also avoided a diplomatic disaster about past summits of Manaslu by not putting those summit claims to discussion. Even though some of the climbers at least might well have been aware of the fact that they didn’t reach the true summit.
What a legend!
The only thing I fear is, that mountaineers like Mingma will probably never write a decent book about their adventures. Instagram am Facebook stories tend to be superficial.

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Last edited 1 month ago by Benny Smith
damiengildea
Editor
1 month ago

Good article.

It is worth noting however, that Ms. Hawley did not know how far short climbers were stopping from the true summit, so she did not really “accept” this situation.

Given her position on other similar situations where climbers stopped short, she would not have accepted the selfie-spot, C1 etc as summits. Without the plethora of photos and information we have now, and with nothing like Groves’ amazing imagery, Ms. Hawley went on the word of climbers she trusted, and some of those climbers were wrong.

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Don Paul
Don Paul
1 month ago

It definitely looks easier going the way he went, down off the ridge and then back up. But also bypassing what might be the best part of the route.

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Jay
Jay
1 month ago

Some of Nims’ team went to the true summit. I guess some of the naysayers are burning hearing about Nims. Interesting to say the least!

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B Johnson
B Johnson
1 month ago

Although it was impressive that Nims was able to climb all 14 x 8000m peaks in such a short time for many reasons; logistics, finances, physical effort etc, I am more impressed with Mingma G for his vision, strength (in all seasons) and succeeding with his plans, all in a humble fashion, never pounding his chest and saying how great he is (like Nims does). Maybe Nims needs to take a class and learn about humility. It is always better to let your actions speak louder than your words. Ohh… and make sure you go to the true summit.

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Santosh
8 days ago

you make it look so easy, just you are walking the park while I know it is really difficult. huge respect for your simplicity and adventure Minga G.

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