Winter Manaslu: Avalanche in Base Camp, Earthquake in the Team

Yesterday, a major avalanche on Manaslu reached Base Camp. Luckily, no one was injured, and the expedition will resume as soon as conditions improve. But the fragile balance among expedition members may be broken.

A small team remains at Base Camp

Despite Simone Moro’s recent post (“We all went down to Samagaon, Sherpas and mountaineers, and the whole team”), not everyone retreated last Friday. Despite snow piling up for three days non-stop, a small Sherpa crew remained in charge of maintaining Base Camp.

“Pemba Sherpa, Sange Furi, Ganesh Gurung, and the twins Norbu & Gelbu are well, although I can only imagine how hard the last few hours must have been for them,” Oswald Pereira confirmed.

It was this Base Camp crew who reported an avalanche yesterday. The avalanche blast damaged some of the tents, while snow walls built by Alex Txikon and Simone Moro’s team sheltered others.

“Last week, we performed some tests on snow pits and concluded that the avalanche risk on the mountain was maximum (five in the SLF European scale), so any attempt to move up the route was out of the question,” Txikon told ExplorersWeb from Pokhara today. “However, we never expected avalanches to reach as far as Base Camp.”

“The report we have got from Base Camp is very sketchy, but apparently the mess tent and at least one more tent have been flattened,” added Txikon. Txikon couldn’t tell if the camp had been directly hit or just affected by the avalanche’s wind blast that expands like a shockwave.

Alex Txikon digs a snow pit to assess the avalanche risk on Manaslu. Photo: Sendoa Elejalde

Listen to the “Winter Maestro”

On Saturday, Simone Moro had mentioned that Base Camp was safe, “up to a certain point.” But when he got news of the avalanche one day later, the Italian seized the opportunity to open a can of worms. In an email sent to Oswald Pereira, but addressed to the entire team in Samagaon, Moro pulled no punches. It starts as follows:

“After today’s avalanche at BC, I really hope it is very clear to the whole team and members why I am still alive today: I always follow my nose and experience and this time getting away from the mountain saved our lives,” Moro wrote.

“Climbing in winter requires not only hope and motivation, but above all lots of experience, lots of time (three months), lots of patience, lots of logistics and budget, and lots of humility. Our ego often kills us because we feel we are competing or being watched from the outside.”

Shoveling the night away during the latest snowfall in Manaslu Base Camp. Photo: Oswald Rodrigo Pereira


“People who want to fight in the heavy snow, who want to speed, run, or show how they can resist in danger will soon be dead, and Alex and I don’t want any of us to die on Manaslu. So remind everyone not to run on the mountain at least in the first three to four days of sunshine because more avalanches will come down.”

“This is a friendly message from a guy that some of the ice warriors called “Winter Maestro”, maybe for a reason…I know you fully agree and understand but I wish this could be a common thought without exception. It could be the secret of our common success,” Moro concluded.

Alex Txikon has declined to make on-the-record comments about the obvious tension among members on the expedition permit, but he is not happy with the situation.

Are they a team?

As we reported when climbers reached Manaslu Base Camp at the beginning of winter, the only climbing permit issued includes mountaineers with varied experience, opinions, and motivations. Alex Txikon and Iñaki Alvarez have their own Base Camp team and joined forces with Simone Moro, as they did last winter. Expedition outfitter Seven Summit Treks opened the expedition to other climbers, including Paula Strengell of Finland, Sophie Lenaerts and Stef Maginelle of Belgium, and Oswald Rodrigo Pereira of Poland. Each of them has an individual agreement concerning logistic services and Sherpa assistance (or no Sherpa assistance, whichever the case may be).

The permit also includes several Nepali climbers, some assigned to assist a particular foreign client, but also focused on fixing ropes and breaking trail up the route. The Nepali climbers are under the leadership of Cheppal Sherpa, who has extensive winter experience as a member of Txikon’s previous expeditions. Simone Moro arrived in Base Camp together with another Nepali climber, Pasang Rinzee Sherpa.

Among the individual climbers who joined the expedition, only Pereira has been on a winter 8,000’er before (K2 last year). Meanwhile, Txikon and Moro are professional climbers with dozens of Himalayan expeditions under their belts, and both are expert high-altitude winter climbers.

Alex Txikon (left) and Simone Moro in Manaslu Base Camp. Photo: Alex Txikon


If this had happened in spring or fall, with other teams on the mountain and the work on the route completed entirely by a previously assigned Sherpa force, each individual or small team would have probably managed to set their strategies and make their own decisions on the mountain. But this is winter, there’s no one else around and conditions are difficult. Like it or not, the climbers must depend on each other.

So, what’s next?

Sherpas can help a great deal, but cannot take on all the burden. Each climber must do their part and help out for the common good, both on the mountain, at Base Camp, and when making decisions. Winter allows no mistakes. A wrong move by an individual climber could put everyone in danger.

On the other hand, the independent climbers joined an open, commercial expedition. They paid their fees. The climbers have not made the specific conditions each of them agreed to public, but both Moro and Txikon were aware of the commercial venture and reportedly fine with it, as Txikon told ExplorersWeb previously.

In the end, such a mixed group as the one currently on Manaslu is potentially troublesome. There needs to be clear leadership, a detailed plan, and clear agreement among all members about what is expected from them. This winter there was no chance to sort any of these issues before the expedition.

The good news is, it might be not too late. None of the climbers currently in Samagaon has shared any complaints or publicly disagreed with Moro’s email. Pereira has acknowledged the Italian’s words and confirmed that, since his help is not needed in Base Camp, he will stay in the village until conditions are safe. Lenaerts notes that there is also avalanche risk between Samagaon and Base Camp, so she will stay put as well.

As for the route itself, as Moro and Txikon have remarked, it will take days before the snow settles on the mountain. Until then, venturing up would be an unacceptable risk.