40 years ago: Berbeka and Gajewski achieve the first winter ascent of Manaslu

Maciej Berbeka on the "True Summit" of Manaslu on 12 January 1984 (Photo: Ryszard Gajewski)
Maciej Berbeka on the “True Summit” of Manaslu on 12 January 1984 (Photo: Ryszard Gajewski)

“Over there, the altitude, plus the temperature, plus the wind, plus the exhaustion make us fight for every step,” said Maciej Berbeka after his return from the eight-thousander Manaslu in western Nepal. “It’s simply a nightmare.” On 12 January 1984 – 40 years ago today – the Polish climber reached the summit of the eighth highest mountain on earth with his compatriot Ryszard Gajewski. It was the first winter ascent of Manaslu and the first ascent of an eight-thousander without bottled oxygen.

Incited by Messner

Expedition leader Lech Korniszewski, a 47-year-old doctor and mountaineer from Zakopane, the highest town in Poland, had gathered a young team around him. The average age of the climbers was 31; Berbeka and Gajewski were 29 years old. The two had been friends since childhood, their fathers worked together at the mountain rescue service in Zakopane. The team chose the so-called “Tyrolean route” through the South Face, which Reinhold Messner had opened in spring 1972. Messner had incited the Poles with his words that he did not believe that the route he had first climbed was possible in winter.

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Summit successes of commercial teams on Manaslu

Manaslu in the first dailight
Manaslu (in 2007)

The first summit successes of the eight-thousander fall season are reported from Manaslu. Yesterday, Tuesday, a team of the operator Elite Exped reached the summit. The head of the company, Nepal’s “mountaineering star” Nirmal Purja, sent a video from the “True Summit” at 8,163 meters. In it, “Nims” thanked his “strong team” and announced that he would now travel on to Tibet to guide clients up the eight-thousanders Cho Oyu and Shishapangma.

Today, Wednesday, Nepalese operators Seven Summit Treks (SST) and Imagine Nepal also announced summit successes on Manaslu. For this fall, the government in Kathmandu has so far (as of 15 Sept) sold 301 climbing permits to foreign climbers for the eighth-highest mountain on earth. In fall 2022, it had issued 404 Manaslu permits.

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Summit attempt on Annapurna announced

Northwestern view of Annapurna (the main summit on the left)

“Summit Push Time,” writes Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, head of the Nepalese commercial expedition operator Imagine Nepal, on Instagram. The picture shows him in a helicopter on his way back to the 8,091-meter-high Annapurna I in western Nepal. The Sherpa team, which secures the normal route with fixed ropes for the commercial teams, had already reached Camp 3 at around 6,400 meters some time ago. Then, however, snowfall and the associated high avalanche danger had made a summit attempt impossible. In the next few days, stable, dry weather with little wind is expected, only on the weekend there should be some snow showers again.

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Mourning for ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson

The North Face_Athlete Hilaree Nelson
Hilaree Nelson (1972 – 2022)

Now it has become a sad certainty: The world-renowned ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson is dead. As reported by the newspaper “Kathmandu Post”, the body of the 49-year-old US American was discovered and recovered on the south side of Manaslu at an altitude of about 6,000 meters. A rescue helicopter had previously dropped off three Nepalese guides and Hilaree’s partner Jim Morrison at an altitude of 6500 meters to search for the missing climber. After they discovered Hilaree’s body, it was first flown to the base camp. From there it would be taken to Kathmandu, they said.

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Search for missing ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson so far unsuccessful

Summit of Manaslu (l.)

Ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson is still missing on Manaslu. A rescue helicopter took off today. The crew searched the south side of the eight-thousander in western Nepal for the 49-year-old – so far without success. Also on board was Nelson’s partner, Jim Morrison.

The couple from the USA had reached the “True Summit” of Manaslu at 8,163 meters on Monday – with bottled oxygen. Then they started their planned ski descent. What exactly happened then is not yet clear. Early reports said Nelson had fallen into a 25-metre-deep crevasse in the summit zone. It was later reported that her ski blade skidded off and she fell into the deep. There was also talk of an avalanche that caused her fall. The helicopter search for Hilaree is scheduled to continue this Wednesday.

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Avalanche accident on Manaslu – Concern for Hilaree Nelson

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

According to the newspaper “The Himalayan Times”, around a dozen climbers have been injured in an avalanche on Manaslu today. Some are said to be in critical condition. Other reports speak of at least one dead. The snow masses went down below Camp 4, which is located at around 7,400 meters, it said. Bad weather prevented the rescue operation with helicopters. Several hundred mountaineers are said to have set off on summit attempts at the weekend.

According to information that reached me from Camp 3, most of the injured are Sherpas who wanted to bring equipment to Camp 4. They were taken down to Camp 3, from where they are to be flown out by helicopter – as soon as the weather permits.

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After rescue from Annapurna: Mountaineer Wui Kin Chin is dead

Wui Kin Chin

In the end, all the effort was in vain: this of Nima Tshering Sherpa, who had left his oxygen bottle to his client in the death zone and had waited with him for hours; the effort of the four-man rescue team that had ascended to him, provided him with first aid and then brought him down the mountain so far that he could be flown out; that of the helicopter crew, who had first searched for him in an extremely risky manoeuvre and later flown him out from the flanks of the mountain on a long rescue line; the effort of the doctors in Kathmandu and then in Singapore, who fought for his life.

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8000er winter expeditions: Between flight and race

Masses of snow on Manaslu

Winter expeditions to eight-thousanders are not a walk in the park. This winter proves that once again. As reported, Manaslu in Nepal has already put the Italian Simone Moro and his Nepalese climbing partner Pemba Gyalje Sherpa to rout. According to Simone, fresh snow in the base camp piled up to six meters. The danger of avalanches was correspondingly high. Time to disappear: “Sometimes giving up is an essential ingredient for future success,” Moro wrote on Facebook. “With this decision I want to honor the nickname ‘winter maestro’ I have been given.” Having scaled Shishapangma, Makalu, Gasherbrum II and Nanga Parbat in the cold season, the 51-year-old had succeeded first winter ascents on four of the 14 eight-thousanders. Today is the eighth anniversary of Simone’s success on G II in the Karakoram.

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Two Polish climbers flown out of K2 Base Camp

Alex Txikon on the Abruzzi route

What bad luck! Only with delay Waldemar Kowalewski from Poland – as reported – had joined the team of the Spaniard Alex Txikon. And now the K2 winter expedition has already ended for the 45-year-old. Kowalewski had been hit by a stone or a block of ice on his left collarbone on his descent from Camp 1 at about 6,100 meters to the Advanced Base Camp. “He had to go down at a slow pace but he feels calmer now at Base Camp,” Txikon’s team announced after the incident. Waldemar was flown out to Skardu today. Then the rescue helicopter picked up another Pole from Txikon’s team: Marek Klonowski had heart problems and could therefore no longer stay in the base camp at the foot of the second highest mountain in the world. He hopes to be able to return in about ten days.

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Winter expeditions: Waiting for end of snowfall

Igloos in K2 Base Camp

Bad weather forces the climbers of the winter expeditions on the eight-thousanders K2 and Nanga Parbat in Pakistan and on Manaslu in Nepal to inactivity. The team from Kazakhstan, Russia and Kyrgyzstan led by Vassiliy Pivtsov returned to K2 Base Camp yesterday after the seven climbers, according to their own words, had fixed ropes on the classical Abruzzi route up to an altitude of 6,300 meters. The Spaniard Alex Txikon’s team has not yet ascended, but built in the base camp three igloos, in which a total of ten to 14 people can sleep. Alex was thrilled after his first igloo night.

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Nanga Parbat: Nardi and Co. in Camp 3

Daniele Nardi in Camp 3

While the winter expedition teams at the eight-thousanders K2 and Manaslu have only just moved into their base camps, the Italian Daniele Nardi and his three companions on Nanga Parbat are in a more advanced phase. Today Daniele, the Brit Tom Ballard and the two Pakistani mountaineers Rahmat Ullah Baig and Karim Hayat ascended again to Camp 3 at 5,700 meters, directly below the Mummery Rib. Five days ago, the four climbers had deposited a tent there and then returned to base camp.

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Winter expeditions are on

Alex Txikon (l.) and Simone Moro in Lhukla

Several winter expeditions in the Himalayas and Karakoram started in the first days of the year. Two of the three climbers who had succeeded the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat in 2016 met in Lhukla in Nepal, however now with different goals: The Spaniard Alex Txikon wants to tackle K2 in Pakistan, the last remaining eight-thousander to be climbed for the first time in the cold season, the Italian Simone Moro is drawn to Manaslu again. The 51-year-old and the South Tyrolean Tamara Lunger had failed on the 8167-meter-high mountain in western Nepal in 2015 because of the enormous snow masses of that winter. This year, according to the Kathmandu-based newspaper “The Himalayan Times”, Moro plans to climb with the Nepalese Pemba Gyalje Sherpa on the normal route without bottled oxygen. In order to acclimatize, they wanted to climb the 6,476-meter-high Mera Peak in the Khumbu region. Continue reading “Winter expeditions are on”

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