Gelje Sherpa: The “Mountain Tiger” wants to climb Cho Oyu

Gelje Sherpa

Gelje Sherpa wants to kill two birds with one stone this winter. The 29-year-old wants to open a new route on the Nepalese side of the 8,188-meter-high Cho Oyu that is suitable for commercial expeditions, and at the same time climb his 13th eight-thousander. Should he succeed, the only peak missing from his collection would be Broad Peak. Gelje thus has a good chance of replacing his Nepalese compatriot Mingma “David” Sherpa as the youngest climber to have stood on all eight-thousanders. “That would be the cherry on top,” Gelje writes me. “It would surely give me various opportunities and strengthen my mountain career.”

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Simone Moro before Manaslu winter attempt: “All options are open”

Simone Moro

The early bird catches the worm. That’s what Simone Moro seems to have thought. The Italian mountaineer has set off earlier than ever before on a winter expedition in the Himalayas. The 54-year-old is already in the Khumbu region, the area around Mount Everest. Simone wants to acclimatize on the 6,812-meter-high Ama Dablam for his real goal, which he wants to realize – as last winter – together with the Spaniard Alex Txikon: the winter ascent of the 8,163-meter-high Manaslu in western Nepal and, if possible, of the 7,992-meter-high Pinnacle East in front of it.

This spectacular traverse was first achieved by the two Poles Jerzy Kukuczka and Artur Hajzer in November 1986, i.e. in fall. The first winter ascent of Manaslu – without traverse – was also made by Poles: Maciej Berbeka and Ryszard Gajewski reached the summit in January 1984.

Moro is a true winter specialist: He managed four winter first ascents of eight-thousanders, more than any other climber: Shishapangma (2005), Makalu (2009), Gasherbrum II (2011) and Nanga Parbat (2016). The Italian answered my questions:

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Ukrainians succeed with a bang on Annapurna III

Viacheslav Polezhaiko, Nikita Balabanov and Mikhail Fomin (from l. to r.)
Successful trio: Viacheslav Polezhaiko, Nikita Balabanov and Mikhail Fomin (from l. to r.)

This goal was almost never missing from anyone’s list of remaining ultimate alpinistic challenges in the Himalayas and Karakoram: the Southeast Ridge of the 7555-meter-high Annapurna III in western Nepal. Now this project can be crossed off the lists. According to Ukrainians Nikita Balabanov, Mikhail Fomin and Viacheslav “Slava” Polezhaiko, they climbed the route completely and reached the summit. In the meantime, the trio returned safely to Kathmandu.

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Dispute over first ascent on Tengkangpoche defused

Tengkangpoche (on the right the Northeast Pillar)

It reminds me a little of the video proof introduced in European football. Spontaneous joy in the stadium over a goal is hardly possible anymore, because in the back of the mind there is always the thought: Hopefully the video assistant referee won’t take the goal back.

In mountaineering, there is no such referee, but when I hear about a success, I think more and more often: That sounds great, but maybe I should wait and see before reacting enthusiastically. Social media is a key contributor to this reticence. To put it drastically: No sooner is a sow on the market than it is driven through the village with a loud roar – and is difficult to catch again.

This is what happened after Tom Livingstone announced yesterday that he and his British compatriot Matt Glenn had succeeded in making the first ascent of the technically demanding Northeast Pillar of the 6,487-meter-high Tengkangpoche in Nepal. A little later, an article was published on the portal “Evening Sends” under the title: “Poaching on Tengkangpoche: A ‘slimy’ first ascent”.

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Tengkangpoche, Cholatse, Chobutse: New routes in the Everest region

Tengkangpoche (seen from Thame), on the right the Northeast Pillar
Tengkangpoche (seen from Thame), on the right the Northeast Pillar

The two top British climbers Tom Livingstone and Matt Glenn have succeeded in a sensational first ascent in the Khumbu. According to Tom, they opened a new route via the Northeast Pillar of the 6,487-meter-high Tengkangpoche. “We spent seven days on the route, which was one of the trickier things I’ve done,” the 30-year-old wrote on Instagram.

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Three French climbers missing in the Khumbu

Mountain rescuers at the foot of Minbo Ider
Mountain rescuers at the foot of Minbo Ider

Great concern for the French top talents Thomas Arfi, Louis Pachoud and Gabriel Miloche: the three young climbers have apparently been buried by an avalanche at the 6,017-meter-high Minbo Ider in the Khumbu region in Nepal. The summit is not far from the shapely Ama Dablam (6,812 m).

The French trio had set out last week to ascend through a couloir in the West Face of Minbo Ider. After they failed to report back, a rescue operation had been launched over the weekend.

On Sunday, pilots from the Nepalese helicopter company Kailash Helicopter Services spotted a track on the summit ridge that ended at the breakaway edge of an avalanche, and several pieces of equipment, including two backpacks, in an avalanche cone at the foot of the wall. Today, mountain rescuers were dropped off at the site to search for the missing climbers.

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First small rays of hope for mountain tourism in Nepal

Yaks with tourist bags in the alleys of Namche Bazaar
Yaks with tourist bags in the alleys of Namche Bazaar

Trekking tourists posing at a spot in the Khumbu with a view of Mount Everest or at the site of the base camp at the foot of the highest mountain on earth – pictures like these are currently circulating again on social networks. A sign that mountain tourism in Nepal is slowly but surely picking up again after the period of deep depression during the corona pandemic. The first numbers trickling in seem to confirm this.

According to the Sagarmatha National Park administration, about 1,400 tourists came to the Everest region in September, compared to only about 170 in the same month in 2020. Ang Dorjee Sherpa, owner of the AD Friendship Lodge in Namche Bazaar, enthusiastically told me two weeks ago that around 250 tourists had arrived in the main village of the Khumbu region in one day. A year ago, there had often been only a handful of trekkers per day.

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New route through Chamlang North Face

Charles Dubouloz (l.) and Benjamin Védrines (r.) at Chamlang
Charles Dubouloz (l.) and Benjamin Védrines (r.) at Chamlang

The most demanding routes are currently climbed on seven-thousander peaks rather than on the 14 eight-thousanders. A week ago, for example, French climbers Benjamin Védrines and Charles Duboulez achieved a fine success on the 7,321-meter-high Chamlang in Nepal. The two opened a new route through the challenging North Face of the mountain not far from the eight-thousander Makalu. They christened their 1,600-meter-high route “À l’ombre du mensonge” (In the shadow of the lie). From the summit, the French descended via the West Ridge.

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Summit success reported from Kangchenjunga

Gelje Sherpa's successful Kangchenjunga team
Gelje Sherpa (3rd from l.) an his successful team from Kangchenjunga

That was a speedy return. Only two days after, according to the operator Dolma Outdoor Expeditions,  Gelje Sherpa’s five-member team had stood on the summit of Kangchenjunga the four Sherpas and their client already presented themselves at a photo session in the garden of a hotel in Kathmandu. On Saturday noon expedition leader Gelje and the Sherpas Nima Gyalzen, Dakipa and Pasang Rinjee had reached the highest point at 8,586 meters along with their Taiwanese client Tseng Ko-Erh, the company had communicated before. Apparently, they all used bottled oxygen – if they hadn’t, it would probably have been announced.

It was the first and only summit success on the third highest mountain on earth this fall. A team from the U.S. operator Alpenglow Expeditions – also with only one paying client – had advanced to Camp 4 at around 7,500 meters, but ultimately abandoned the expedition after a failed summit attempt because the client’s time window had closed.

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Himalayan Database: From 2022 only the “real” Manaslu summit will count

Manaslu summit ridge
In the future, only point 4 will be counted as a summit, Shelf 2, C2 and C3 as foresummits

It is a pragmatic solution. Only from next year, the venerable mountaineering chronicle Himalayan Database wants to speak of a summit success on Manaslu only if the very highest point at 8,163 meters, located at the end of the summit ridge, has been reached. Climbers who reach three elevations further ahead, which are two to six meters lower, will in the future be certified “only” as having reached the fore summit of Manaslu.

“As we cannot change history, we will make a note in the database that from 1956 – when the summit was first reached by Toshio Imanishi, Gyaltsen Norbu Sherpa – to 2021, we accepted the three points mentioned above as the summit due to a lack of in-depth knowledge,” Billi Bierling’s team let it be known.

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Summit successes reported from Dhaulagiri

The 8,167-meter-high Dhaulagiri in western Nepal

After many successes on Manaslu in the past few days, the first ascents of the fall season were announced today also from the eight-thousander Dhaulagiri. According to the commercial Nepalese expedition operators Seven Summit Treks and Pioneer Adventure, more than two dozen mountaineers reached the highest point at 8,167 meters. For the first time, women from Nepal (Purnima Shrestha and Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita) and India (Baljeet Kaur and Piyali Basak) stood on the seventh highest mountain on earth, it was said.

Among the lucky ones at the summit were also the Swiss Sophie Lavoud, for whom it was her twelfth eight-thousander success, and the Pakistani Sirbaz Khan, who thus became the first climber of his country to stand on nine of the 14 highest peaks on earth. Khan had announced that he would do without bottled oxygen on Dhaulagiri, the Indian Basak reportedly also climbed without breathing mask.

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Manaslu: Highest point or fore-summit?

Summit ridge of Manaslu

“Congratulations to all our team members for the successful ascent of Mt. Manaslu (True Summit) at around 9:40 am local time.” This was announced today by Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, expedition leader and head of the Nepalese operator Imagine Nepal. He himself and all 21 other team members had reached the highest point at 8163 meters, he lets us know. Summit pictures are not yet available.

Mingma Gyalje – one of Nepali climbers who succeeded in the first winter ascent of K2 in Pakistan last January – had advertised his expedition by saying that, unlike his four Manaslu ascents to date, this time he would not settle for one of the fore-summits.

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Summit successes reported from Manaslu

Late evening to the summit

The first summit wave on the 8,163-meter-high Manaslu in western Nepal is rolling. According to expedition operator Seven Summit Treks, six Sherpas form the rope-fixing team reached the highest point late Thursday evening. Several dozen clients of commercial operators were said to be on their way to the summit. The Tourism Ministry in Kathmandu had issued permits for Manaslu to 171 foreign climbers from 17 teams this fall.

Fewer and fewer climbs without breathing mask

The eighth highest mountain in the world has already been scaled more than 2,000 times, about half of the summit successes were reported in the past four years. Until 2009 there was relatively little hustle and bustle on Manaslu, but since then the mountain has increasingly become a commercial “top seller” in the fall season. At the same time, according to the chronicle Himalayan Database, the proportion of those attempting Manaslu without bottled oxygen has declined.

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Manaslu – the “Everest of the post-monsoon”

Manaslu Base Camp
Much going on at Manaslu

Mount Everest has never been a fashionable mountain in the post-monsoon season. But it has rarely been as lonely as it is this fall on the highest mountain on earth. The Nepalese Ministry of Tourism has not issued any permits for Everest this season (as of September 14). Demand equals zero. Instead, mainly commercial expeditions are flocking to the 8,163-meter-high Manaslu in western Nepal. 171 foreign climbers from 17 teams received permits. If you add the local staff, Manaslu Base Camp at around 4,800 meters is again populated by around 400 people. The first high camps have also already been set up.

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Tragedy involving Kim Hong-bin on Broad Peak

Kim Hong-bin on Broad Peak (end of June)

The ridge between triumph and tragedy can be very narrow on eight-thousanders. First, the headline went around the world that the South Korean Kim Hong-bin had summited the 8,051-meter-high Broad Peak in the Karakorum and had thus become the first disabled climber in the world to stand on all 14 eight-thousanders – with bottled oxygen. Even South Korean President Moon Jae-in congratulated Kim via Twitter for completing the collection of the eight-thousanders: “You gave more pride and hope to the people who are tired of the corona virus.”

A few hours later, news broke that the 56-year-old was missing. Russian climbers who were also on the mountain eventually reported that Kim had fallen into a 15-meter-deep crevasse far up the mountain while descending and had died. Other reports on social media had previously said Hong-bin had fallen to his death towards the Chinese side of Broad Peak.

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