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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”