Manaslu: It’s Harder Than Ever Now

8000ers Manaslu
Climbers on Manaslu's upper sections are actually further away from the summit than they think. Photo: Mingma G

In late 2019, ExplorersWeb revealed an uncomfortable truth about Manaslu. Almost every “summiter” that fall had not reached the mountain’s true summit. This lies at the end of a short knife-edged ridge, 20m long and 4 to 6m higher than the second-highest point. Only one person can do that picky ridge at a time, and in this industrial mountaineering era, where dozens of clients summit in a single day, that involves too much waiting. So virtually no one does it.

This true 8,163m summit is even more difficult to reach in fall because snow usually loads the arete after the monsoon, creating even more perilous footing. For large teams utterly dependent on fixed ropes, it is simply too technical.

Manaslu is a coveted peak for Himalayan climbers. Photo: Mingma G

In the last few years, commercial teams usually stopped at a slightly lower point, where ropes are easy to fix and there’s room for climbers to go up and down. After all, Nepal issues official summit certificates anyway, and up to now, even the Himalayan Database has accepted several points along the ridge as summits. So in 2019, nearly 500 people earned credit for reaching the top when no one did actually did. By then, research had already shown what was the highest point. Unlike in the early years, it wasn’t just an innocent mistake.

A high-altitude dilemma

In the words of the late lñaki Ochoa de Olza, a summit is “where everywhere you look is downhill.” While an “almost summit” of Manaslu suffices for individuals seeking an 8,000m experience, it should not be valid for those aiming for records or collecting the 14×8,000’ers.

One Manaslu climber told ExplorersWeb off the record that he has had nightmares with the report compiled by Eberhard Jurgalski of 8000ers.com and his team. Others have accepted the fact that if they want to complete all 14 of the 8,000m peaks, they will have to climb Manaslu again.

Climbers approach what looks like the highest point (C2) and where teams usually stop every year, but the true summit is hidden behind. Photo: Ralf Dujmovits, from Jurgalski’s Manaslu Summit Area report

The Himalayan Database is also considering changing its criteria, Billi Bierling told ExplorersWeb.

“I agree with the climbers who say that one must reach the highest point to consider it a summit,” she said. “It is just that in previous years, with Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, and Manaslu, there’s been a lot of confusion until really thorough studies came out.”

These studies drew on data from relatively new technologies that allowed more accurate measurements. “Now we need to make a decision,” says Bierling.

The problem is not just about recent climbs, but about all those historical achievements that actually fell a little short. Those climbers honestly thought that they were on top. Updating the stats would change the history of alpinism.

Manaslu’s summit ridge, with climbers on the true summit (marked as “4”). Photo: Guy Cotter from Jurgalski’s Manaslu Summit Area report

Tolerance but openness for future Manaslu summits

Jurgalski solicited feedback from the climbing community about whether only the true summit should count or whether a “tolerance zone” around it was acceptable. “Many simply do not know what to do about it,” Jurgalski admits.

Unlike an Olympic committee or other sporting body, mountaineering has no universally accepted entity in charge of setting the rules. So Jurgalski decided to dive in and make the decision himself. His conclusion:

  1. Create a tolerance zone around certain summits.
  2. In a historical table, note which climbers made it to the true summit and which fell a little short, and by how much.
  3. Future climbers need to document precisely where within this tolerance zone they stopped. Those who achieve the true summit may still be credited as the first from their country, the first woman, etc.

In spring, drier conditions permit a better recognition of Manaslu’s main summit. Photo: Toshio Imanishi, 1953, from Jurgalski’s Manaslu Summit Area report

His announcement opens the door for a slew of new firsts, which will undoubtedly snag the attention of many modern 8,000m collectors. But it also pressures future climbers to be transparent about how far they reach and recognizes that those who go all the way to the true top are summiters without asterisks.

Mingma G’s true summit expedition

In short, the level of difficulty on Manaslu has just increased significantly. And here is where Mingma G enters the scene.

The Nepali mountain guide and businessman (he owns Imagine Nepal, an expedition outfitter) has just announced a commercial climb to the “true” summit of Manaslu this September.

“Several climbers have claimed the summit but only a few (probably less than 15 climbers) have made it to the real/main summit,” Mingma G (Gyalgye Sherpa) wrote. “No commercial expedition wants to take clients to the main summit because of the tricky terrain.”

He includes himself in this indictment. “I have climbed Manaslu four times and all were to the foresummit, which is currently claimed as [the] final summit.”

He points out that most clients did not realize that there was a higher point beyond where they stood.

Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, aka Mingma G. Photo: Himali

So now, he is offering clients a chance to evade all controversy by reaching the true summit.

This proposal has pluses and minuses. On the plus ledger, it should appeal to anyone wanting a clean summit record. However, it is unclear how Mingma G will ensure his clients’ safety along the last 20m.

The actual difficulty will depend on conditions, but it’s hardly as simple as fixing a double set of ropes to permit progress in both directions. A single rope or belaying each individual is an option. But depending on the number of climbers, that may lead to a wait of many hours on the summit of an 8,000m peak. Picture each person inching by themselves along the knife-edge, touching the summit, and then inching back to allow the next one to proceed.

At least, Mingma G is highly experienced at this. Earlier this year, he led the rope-fixing work on a big part of Winter K2 and Annapurna, including the entire route from Camp 4 to the summit, with nearly 70 people behind him. No wonder he is eager to solve Manaslu’s new level of difficulty.

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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
5 months ago

As always, Angela put things into the right perspective without being judgemental. I am really eager to see what Mingma G will achieve with his upcoming expedition.

+3
damiengildea
Editor
5 months ago

Thanks for covering this again, Angela. The information has been out there in the climbing community for years, actually, but it has taken repeated coverage and re-statement of the facts to get it through to people. That itself is an interesting issue with regard to expedition information. As one of the researchers involved, I’d add a few points: it’s probably further than 20m, probably at least 30m. We were trying to be conservative. way back in 1956, and for years after, with no satellite imagery or GPS, climbers found the summit. We understand it is difficult and possibly confusing –… Read more »

Last edited 5 months ago by damiengildea
Jerry Kobalenko
Admin
5 months ago
Reply to  damiengildea

Your comments are always a treat and add value to a story, Damien. Thanks.

+1
damiengildea
Editor
5 months ago

I would also add in relation to the caption on Ralf Dujmovits’ photo in the article above, that MANY climbers stop at 1 and do not even try to go to C2. Their photos show this.

Look online at all the climbers with Manaslu ‘summit’ photos that have those prayer flags just behind them…

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daniela
Daniela Teixeira
5 months ago

Nirma Purjal didn’t climb the true summit of Manaslu already having so much info? There goes the “Elite” record!
So, if he wants to state that he can climb all 14 in one year, he has to climb them all again, all true summits.

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Edorta
Edorta
5 months ago

Well, he just climbed 13 8.000ers and all but 30m from the 14th in a year. That is still pretty elite don’t you think? What he did was a logistic and physical feat, very impressive even if he used o2 thus leaving room for future improvement.
Also i am sure he has the skill for those last 30m. So we can be picky, that is fine but, come on!

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Paulo
Paulo
5 months ago
Reply to  Edorta

Yes it was an impressive feat, but, in fact, he didn’t climb all the 14, like most of the people who claimed the same. Period.

+2
daniela
Daniela Teixeira
5 months ago
Reply to  Edorta

No, I don’t think it’s Elite when someone says out loud something he didn’t do. If it would be that easy, those 30m, why didn’t he do it? It’s like you say, a huge phisical and logistic achievement, but it’s not (for my personal point of view) the achievement he states, so it’s not Elite, rather elite lie. And it’s not a great alpine achievement because it brings nothing new, it’s all done by normal routes with lots of support.

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Max Madera
Max Madera
5 months ago

I disagree with you. It was a great achievement, both physically and logistically. I would even say “morally”, although I am not keen to his PR tactics. The fact of the matter is that he was leading the “support” in many of these climbs. The climb in Dhaulagiri was very impressive. Broad peak and GI were not easy at all, but of course K2 made a difference. He reached such status in the course of a single year that, for instance, nobody (and I include here big expeditions) would have dared climbing K2 that year had he not taken the… Read more »

Maysnow
Maysnow
5 months ago

what discussion about you open here?

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