Winter Manaslu: Belgians Retreat Shortly after Camp 1

The group of climbers that set out from Base Camp on Manaslu yesterday has not reached any further than previous rotations. According to reports, there is excess snow on the route, some of the team lack the proper gear, and they have insufficient manpower.

January 15: Belgians to Camp 1

Sources in Base Camp report that Paula Strengell and her Sherpa eventually retreated yesterday. Comments on the radio mentioned a crevasse on the route, but Sophie Lenaerts pointed to another reason: “Only Stef [Maginelle], Dawa, and I had crampons, so the others needed to turn back,” she wrote.

Lenaerts said that Strengell, Oswald Pereira, and Ming Temba led the way until a “delicate traverse before the col [a saddle at 5,500m before Camp 1],” which required crampons.

The col at 5,500m, on the way to Camp 1, taken on January 14. Photo: Alex Txikon

 

It is not clear why climbers on a winter 8,000m peak have no crampons with them. It is true that in the gentle terrain immediately above Base Camp, snowshoes may be more suitable for the deep, fresh snow. But the route soon reaches steeper sections, with more technical passages among seracs and crevasses.

“After the col, the real challenge started with the dense [windpacked] snow,” Lenearts wrote. “The fixed rope was buried, so we took turns shoveling and pulling it from beneath one-and-a-half metres of snow. Once at the depot, we had to find the gear, which took us a lot of effort.”

Lenaerts and Maginelle eventually reached Camp 1 at 5,700m, where they cached their gear on a previous rotation, and settled for the night. They reported clear skies that gave way to a perfect sunny morning today.

January 16: A bitter retreat

Today, Lenaerts’ tracker shows some unclear waypoints but seems to indicate that the Belgian climber reached 5,800m in the morning, and then retreated to Camp 1. Later, the Belgians briefly reported on what they had found on their way to Camp 2.

Lenaerts’ tracker at noon, Nepal time. It shows she had progressed some 100 vertical metres in the morning and then retreated to Camp 1.

 

“We went up to the icefall again. Deep but firm [settled] snow, hard but in good condition. But crevasses are filled up, and with only three people, this is not safe,” the Belgians explained. “To reach Camp 2 in these conditions, you need more manpower, which we didn’t get during this window.”

Lenaerts and Maginelle have run out of time and have to return home. “May the remaining team have more luck and better teamwork to make the summit, and a safe return,” they said.

Meanwhile, Alex Txikon and Simone Moro are firm in their assessment that the mountain is not yet safe. They don’t believe that the mountain will be safe before the next snowfall, forecast for January 18.

“We still have 45 days of the expedition left and we don’t want to rush or be provoked,” Moro wrote. “With over 20 winter expeditions, I don’t want to fall into the trap of summit fever. I feel that this is the right year but not the right moment.”

Left to right: Simone Moro, IƱaki Alvarez, and Alex Txikon between Samagaon and Base Camp yesterday. Photo: @Sendocore

 

Disagreements among team members have become clear in recent days. However, the lack of manpower the Belgian climbers referred to is not only about Txikon, Alvarez, and Moro, but also the Sherpa team that they expected to fix the route.