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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Graham Zimmerman: “Climate change makes hard climbing even harder”

Graham Zimmerman
Graham Zimmerman

Climate change is increasingly throwing a monkey wrench in the works of even top climbers: heavy precipitation at times when it used to be dry, high temperatures where it used to be cold, falling rocks and avalanches. Graham Zimmerman was among those who returned empty-handed from the Karakoram last summer.

Zimmerman is a U.S. citizen and a New Zealander: He was born in Wellington, his American parents returned to the U.S. when he was four years old, Zimmerman later studied in New Zealand and now lives in Bend in the U.S. state of Oregon.  The 35-year-old is one of the best alpinists in the world. In 2014 he was nominated for the Piolet d’Or for his new route via the Northeast Buttress of Mount Laurens in Alaska (together with Mark Allen), and in 2020 he received the “Oscar of the Climbers” (together with Steve Swenson, Chris Wright and Mark Richey) for the first ascent of the seven-thousander Link Sar in the Karakoram. Zimmerman’s film about the pioneering feat in summer 2019 was just released (see video below). Graham answered my questions about the impact of climate change on climbing the world’s highest mountains.

Graham, last summer you and Ian Welstedt attempted to climb K2 via a new variation of the West Ridge route. You stopped at about 7,000 meters because of the climatic conditions on the mountain. What exactly did these look like?

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Seeds from Mount Everest

The Tibetan north side of Mount Everest

Old Hermann Maximilian Carl Ludwig Friedrich zu Solms-Laubach actually made it into the Chinese state media, more than 100 years after his death. Chinese scientists had collected the seeds of various plants on the north side of Mount Everest at around 6,200 meters, the reports said – higher than ever before, supposedly another Everest record. The seeds were now to be dried, cleaned, counted and stored in a Chinese Academy of Sciences seed bank for wild plant species. Among the seeds collected were those of Solms-laubachia himalayensis, it was said.

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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 debate: When is a summit a summit?

"True Summit" of Manaslu
“True Summit” of Manaslu

Once a topic is on the social media’s hot plate, emotions run high. Some are praised to the skies, others are banished to hell. Here the shining heroes, there the sinister villains. The more drastic the wording, the more hearts, thumbs up and clapping hands. The mountaineering scene is no exception. The latest example: the debate about the “True Summit” of the eight-thousander Manaslu.

On Monday, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa and Co. reached – with bottled oxygen – the (very) highest point at 8,163 meters, at the very end of the summit ridge. And immediately on Twitter and Co. all other climbers who turned around at one of the nearby and somewhat lower fore-summits of Manaslu are labeled as “cheaters” and “liars”. Others rail against the “Himalayan Database“, which records summit successes on Nepal’s high mountains. The chronicle “is no more reference regarding 8000 m peaks,” they say.

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Roger Schaeli and Simon Gietl: Six north faces in two weeks

Roger Schaeli (l.) and Simon Gietl (on the summit of Cima Grande)
Roger Schaeli (l.) and Simon Gietl (on the summit of Cima Grande)

“For me, this was probably my most beautiful mountaineering experience,” Roger Schaeli wrote on Instagram today after also climbing the North Face of the Grandes Jorasses with his team partner Simon Gietl. Simon also raved about a “new dimension of experiences, adventures and impressions”.

It was the sixth and last classic north face of the Alps that the 43-year-old Swiss Schaeli and the 36-year-old South Tyrolean Gietl had mastered in the past two and a half weeks – and they had done so according to the “fair to the mountain” principle: The two covered the distances between Cima Grande (2,999 meters) in South Tyrol, Piz Badile (3,308 meters), Eiger (3,967 meters) and Matterhorn (4,478 meters) in Switzerland as well as Petit Dru and Grandes Jorasses in France by road bike. On Piz Badile and Eiger, the two top climbers used paragliders to return to the valley after their ascents. “North6” was the name they gave their project.

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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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Simon Messner on climate change: “We can no longer look away!”

Simon Messner (r.) and Martin Sieberer (in the background Broad Peak)
Simon Messner (r.) and Martin Sieberer (in the background Broad Peak)

Climate change is also falling at the feet of mountaineers. Increasingly, we hear and read about top climbers whose projects fail because high temperatures make for dangerous conditions even at the highest altitudes. “I can’t say that I anticipated getting scorched off the second highest peak in the planet,” wrote American climber Graham Zimmerman with a twinkle in his eye after he and Canadian Ian Welstedt tried unsuccessfully to scale K2 via the seldom-climbed West Ridge in July. The avalanche and rockfall risk was simply too high.

South Tyrolean Simon Messner and Austrian Martin Sieberer also returned empty-handed from the Karakoram at the end of August because conditions on the still unclimbed 7,134-meter-high Praqpa Ri, located near K2, threw a wrench in their plans. “Two times we got stuck in bottomless powder at around 6.000 meters forcing us to turn around,” Simon Messner wrote on Facebook. The weather app had predicted temperatures of up to plus 10 degrees Celsius at 7,000 meters, wondered the 30-year-old son of mountaineering legend Reinhold Messner. Simon answered my questions.

Simon, you were on an expedition in Pakistan during the corona pandemic. How special were the circumstances?

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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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Three climbers rescued from the 7000er Rakaposhi

The 7788-meter-high Rakaposhi in northern Pakistan

Happy end to a dramatic rescue operation: After being stuck for days on the 7,788-meter-high Rakaposhi in northern Pakistan at 6,900 meters, the two Czechs Petr Macek and Jakub Vlcek and the Pakistani climber Wajid Ullah Nagri were able to descend several hundred meters on their own yesterday (Tuesday). Today they were finally rescued by helicopter from an altitude of 6,200 meters. All three are said to be doing well under the circumstances.

Macek, Vlcek and Nagri had reached the summit on Thursday last week, according to media reports. On the descent, they got into trouble in bad weather and were stuck in their Camp 3 at 6,900 meters. Reportedly, one of the two Czechs was suffering from high altitude sickness, both of them from frostbite, it was said. Apparently, the trio also lacked ropes to continue their descent.

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Mountain tourism in Nepal: The next fall season with question marks

The 8,163-meter-high Manaslu in western Nepal (in 2007)

Somehow it fits the desolate situation of tourism in Nepal. The important fall season for expeditions and trekking is just around the corner, and the responsible ministry is leaderless. The new prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, who took office on 13 July after a ruling by Nepal’s Supreme Court, has not yet appointed a new tourism minister. The head of government himself has taken over this task on a temporary basis.

At the same time, the tourism industry has its back against the wall as a result of the corona pandemic. In 2020, according to government figures, the number of foreign visitors fell from around 1.2 million in 2019 to around 230,000, a drop of 80 percent. Similarly, the number of mountaineers and trekkers declined, down 79 percent, from about 172,000 to just under 36,000.

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Season’s balance in the Karakoram: Nothing groundbreaking

Sunrise at Gondogoro La in Karakoram

The climbing season is over – what remains? This is a question we should perhaps ask ourselves more often when we look at what is happening on the world’s highest mountains. Were there any truly groundbreaking ascents that added new, exciting chapters to the book of alpinism? There were a few such attempts this summer in the Karakoram, but they all failed – either because of the conditions on the mountain, as in the case of Graham Zimmerman and Ian Welstedt’s attempt on the rarely climbed West Ridge of K2, or as in the case of the Czech expedition to the still unclimbed 7,453-meter-high Muchu Chhish in the Batura Massif, where Pavel Korinek and Tomas Petrecek turned back at 6,600 meters in waist-deep snow.

Or they failed because of the weather, as in the case of Nancy Hansen and Ralf Dujmovits on the also still unclimbed 6,810-meter-high Biarchedi I. Or because of an accident, as in the case of the Briton Rick Allen, who was caught in an avalanche and died while attempting to open a new route on K2 in alpine style with the Austrian Stephan Keck and the Spaniard Jordi Tosas. Equally tragic was the fatal fall of Kim Hong-bin on Broad Peak – just hours after the South Korean had become the first disabled climber to complete his collection of the 14 eight-thousanders.

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Mystery of tragic winter summit attempt on K2 still unsolved

The 8,611-meter-high K2 in the Karakoram (in 2004)

It seems like a puzzle that takes time to put together. And possibly it will never be completed. Even after the bodies of the three missing climbers Muhammad Ali Sadpara from Pakistan, John Snorri Sigurjonsson from Iceland and Juan Pablo Mohr from Chile were found on K2, the crucial questions remain largely unanswered: What exactly happened to them last winter? And were they really at the summit, as media reported, especially in the three home countries of the climbers who perished?

Canadian climber and filmmaker Elia Saikaly, who had been searching for the missing along with Muhammad’s son Sajid Ali Sadpara and Nepalese Pasang Kaji Sherpa, is cautious. “Our work continues here. We jump to no conclusions as we continue to put the pieces together and search for evidence of a successful winter ascent,” Saikaly wrote on social media.

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K2: Zimmerman and Welsted give up on the West Ridge, further summit successes

On K2 West Ridge
On K2 West Ridge

They have thrown in the towel. American Graham Zimmerman and Canadian Ian Welsted abandoned their attempt on the rarely climbed, challenging K2 West Ridge and returned to base camp. The two were climbing in alpine style, meaning no bottled oxygen, no fixed high camps and no high altitude porters.

“In the end we were stopped in our tracks by some of the warmest temperatures either of have experienced in the big mountains,” Zimmerman wrote on Instagram. “At 7,000m we were unable to go any further due to near constant avalanches and rock fall down the route.”

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