Manaslu: Crowds Come For the Chance of a True Summit, But How Many Will Actually Get There?

Manaslu is going to attract hundreds of climbers this post-monsoon season. There is no longer any excuse for climbers to settle for less than the mountain’s true summit, especially since the Himalayan Database has announced that, as of this year, only the real summit will count as a valid climb. Commercial teams will need to find a way to get their clients to the top of a sharp, exposed summit ridge.

At the moment, expedition outfitters are busy preparing huge base camps for clients. While some companies expect teams of 8 or 10, others may muster almost 50 clients. Fortunately, finding space in the higher camps is not a problem on the straightforward north side of the mountain. Here, the normal Japanese route heads east until the northeast ridge. It is there, on the progressively sharpening ridge, that things will get interesting.

We asked for details from all the main outfitters. Most swiftly answered our questions.

Manaslu, with it's characteristic double summit.

Manaslu is the focus of autumn in the Himalaya. Photo: Lakpa Sherpa/8K Expeditions

 

The numbers

Madison Mountaineering has a small team headed for Manaslu: three clients, one guide, and his Sherpa team. Pioneer Adventure has eight or nine members. Mingma G’s Imagine Nepal team will field 16 clients and 19 guides.

Lakpa Sherpa of 8K shared a significantly larger figure. “We have 45+ confirmed international clients and more than 35 climbing guides,” Lakpa said. They will divide into three separate teams with 15 members in each.

Manslu base camp spreads on a dark, morraine terrain

Manaslu Base Camp. Photo: Jackson Groves/JourneyEra

 

Furtenbach Adventures will only run their “Flash” expedition, with two Western guides, eight climbing Sherpas, and six clients. Last year, the pre-acclimatized group managed to climb the mountain in only 12 days.

We don’t have figures for Elite Exped (whose teams are usually mid-sized), or for the biggest Nepali operator, Seven Summit Treks.

Who will fix the ropes?

As on Everest and Ama Dablam, Expedition Operators Nepal (EOA) assigns the rope-fixing work to one of the outfitters. Mingma G, currently on Nanga Parbat, explained how the process works. The EOA collects money from teams, depending on the number of clients they have, then pass on this money to the operator charged with fixing the route. The busier the mountain, the more profitable the job.

This season, the assignment went to Elite Exped.

Climber progressing on fixed ropes between Camp 1 and C2, in a crevassed area on Manaslu.

A climber progresses on fixed ropes between Camp 1 and Camp 2 on Manaslu. Photo: Jon Gupta

 

This will put Nirmal Purja and his mighty Sherpa team at the head of the pack, at least to the foresummit where the ropes previously ended. Beyond this point, the route sharpens, goes up and down, and finally rises to a snow point.

Once on the foresummit, the rope-fixing team will have to make some decisions. There are two ways to reach the real summit of Manaslu, but neither is easy.

How far will the climbers go?

All the expedition leaders we spoke with said they intend to get their teams to the real summit.

“As long as conditions permit,” Garrett Madison said.

“Everyone on my team is determined to reach the real summit,” Mingma G confirmed.

Lakpa Sherpa trusts his team’s IFMGA guides to lead everyone safely. He will monitor the expedition from Base Camp. Interestingly, Lukas Furtenbach adds that, “If needed, we will fix the rope to the real summit following international UIAA safety standards.”

Climbers on the foresummit, as seen from a drone. The true summit is the snowy peak further left. Photo: Jackson Groves/JourneyEra

 

It seems that expeditions will follow the rope fixers until this foresummit. From there, they will make their own decisions.

The final section of the ridge, steep, exposed, and possibly unstable, could be troublesome if many climbers hope to reach the top in a single day.

Mingma G eyes a different route

Madison is confident that there will be enough good days to spread out the summit pushes. But Mingma G is not so sure. “I am sure Manaslu will be crowded this year, as many climbers are returning to the mountain,” he told ExplorersWeb. “And as in previous years, I have my own plan to avoid the crowds.”

Mingma G holds a banner in triumph on the steep Manaslu summit (the true one).

Mingma G on Manaslu’s true summit last year. Photo: Imagine Nepal

 

Mingma G was the one who pioneered the route to the true summit last year. He downclimbed from the foresummit where the ropes ended, traversed a dizzyingly steep slope, then climbed to the summit. He named his route “The Rolwaling Diversion”.

The new variation was entirely on soft snow, and they fixed the ropes with snow anchors. While everything held well enough last year to support Mingma’s team (and a couple of Elite Exped climbers who quietly followed them), conditions may be different this season. Especially since many more climbers expect to use the ropes.

Mingma G told ExplorersWeb that he has proposed to the EOA an alternative route. In his opinion, the best route is along the edge of the summit ridge to the summit, then returning via the Rolwaling Diversion. This way, climbers will not use the same rope to both ascend and descend.

Conditions the key

However, conditions will be key. Manaslu’s summit ridge may be heavily corniced, making the going too hazardous. Let’s not forget that many seasoned climbers have stopped before the main summit (although after the end of the ropes) for years, honestly believing that there was no higher point.

Topo of Mingma G's 2021 new variation route., on a drone image showing climbers on the summit ridge.

Mingma G’s 2021 route to the true summit.

 

Manaslu’s real summit is easier to spot in spring when it is drier. As Guy Cotter told ExplorersWeb in a previous interview, he didn’t do the traverse to reach the true summit, he just followed the ridge.

A line shows the way climbers on the ridge should go: up the edge of the ridge to the summit, then down and traverse through te side of the summit area.

The route proposed by Mingma G for this season, to avoid crowds. Topo courtesy of Mingma G

 

Will there be ‘repeaters’?

One of the season’s interesting wrinkles is whether anyone who has previously stopped at Manaslu’s foresummit will return to remove any doubt from their accomplishments. According to Eberhard Jurgalski and the 8,000ers.com team, 2,300 climbers have claimed Manaslu but stopped short of the highest point.

Likewise, the Himalayan Database has decided that those who only reached the foresummit last year will have an asterisk next to their names. Only the true summit will count from 2022 onward.

Two climbers on a pristine snow field, walk on a well throdden trail.

Climbers on the way to Camp3. Photo: SummitClimb

 

Last autumn’s summiters from Mingma G’s team made the first true summits on Manaslu since 2012.

This poses an interesting dilemma for climbers currently pursuing records or the 14×8,000’ers. They could argue that their foresummits were officially tagged as summits at the time of their climb. Still, their accomplishment may ultimately end up with an asterisk, especially if other contenders for the record have reached the proper summit.

Lukas Furtenbach said that none of his current clients have summited Manaslu before and none of his previous clients are interested in climbing the mountain again. “Most clients are not interested, as they are not professional athletes seeking records,” he explained.

On the 8K team, Taiwanese climber Chan Chiao Yu, who calls herself Fish Tri, is repeating the climb. While she is not as close to completing all 14 8,000’ers as her compatriot Grace Tseng, Tseng stopped at the foresummit of Manaslu. Tseng has not revealed any plans to return, but she might feel pressured to do so because Fish Tri has.

Fish tri of TAiwan smiles to the camera while sitting on a grassy mountain slope.

Fish Tri of Taiwan. Photo: Fish Tri/Instagram

 

Norwegian Kristin Harila will also be with 8K this fall. Harila is attempting to beat Nirmal Purja’s 14×8,000m speed record. She will go for the true summit, which Purja didn’t climb until 2021, two years after his Project Possible. Harila has climbed the entire time with Pasdawa Sherpa and Dawa Ongchu, who are also on track to break the record.

A woman with Madison Mountaineering, who prefers to remain anonymous for now, is also repeating the climb. Mingma G also revealed that some of his clients are Manaslu veterans. “They are some of the best climbers, who don’t hesitate to say that they didn’t reach the highest point,” he said.

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.