Manaslu: Three Questions and One Summit

8000ers Manaslu
Mystery solved! This is what Manaslu's summit ridge looks like, from the usual "summit" point to the upper foresummits, the final arete with a short but treacherous downhill section, and the final pinnacle. Drone view from the east: Jackson Groves/IG

The images and videos of Manaslu’s real summit have shaken the foundations of high-altitude climbing history. The controversy has been resolved into three key questions.

Question #1: What do we do with the stats?

Tobias Pantel of Himalayan Database said that Monday marked the first actual summits of Manaslu since Guy Cotter led his Adventure Consultants’ group in spring 2012, a route that Cotter himself described in ExplorersWeb’s Manaslu Climber’s Guide. The first question that then arises is, What do we do with the hundreds of “summits” recorded since then.

Likewise, many pre-2012 summits were surely just foresummits. While most climbers are surely satisfied with how far they reached, others need summit proof to validate records or their 14×8,000m lists. Should we review all records and reassess achievements? As for the list of Manaslu summiters over the last nine years, do we just delete them all?

The one previous autumn summit on Manaslu, reached by Jun Kageyama of Japan, J. M. Assadi of Iran, and Pasang Sherpa of Nepal in 1976. Photo: Jun Kageyama Col.

The Himalayan Database team has confirmed that “this is the second time this point was reached during the autumn season and the first time [in fall] since 1976.”

The Himalayan Database will now “sit together to come up with a strategy on how to deal with future and past summits of the world’s eighth highest peak,” they added.

It will be a difficult and contentious discussion. If past summits are invalidated, we will need to change many mountaineering records. We are not only talking of recent ones, such as Nirmal Purja’s fastest 14x8000m (done when the distinction between foresummit and summit on Manaslu was well-known). To name a few others, Edurne Pasaban, the first woman to climb all 14x8000ers, climbed Manaslu in fall, 2008; Adrian Ballinger’s first complete ski descent in fall, 2011; climbing speed records by Andrej Bargiel in 2014 and then Francois Cazzanelli in 2019. All invalid, or at least, under an asterisk. And the list goes on and on.

Dawa Yangzun, right, on the summit of Manaslu, her fifth “real” 8,000’er. Left, Mingma G and Kilu Sherpa. Photo: Dawa Yangzum

On the other side, if such records were nullified, or a parallel “modern” list begun, we could witness a new race for firsts. For Instance, the four women in Imagine Nepal’s team who reached the main summit (some are not yet confirmed) would surely become the first national ascents…and position themselves for something more? Nepali-born U.S. national Dawa Yangzum, an IFMGA guide on the Imagine Team, now has five 8,000m peaks under her belt, with surely more to come.

Question #2: Why not go to the main summit?

The second question is why so many people stopped shy of the top? Some past climbers really believed that they were at the highest point. Ralf Dujmovits, for example, knew that the usual endpoint was not the summit. He proceeded farther but still didn’t reach the highest point.

Many others probably chose not to double-check. Moreover, through the years the place where the ropes ended, the so-called summit, has varied. Photos from 2013 show that climbers reached what 8000ers.org researchers call C2. Lately, they have stopped even lower, at a point known as Shelf 2 (see photo below). With ever-larger teams and less experienced clients, leaders considered that Shelf 2, located at a corniced area before the start of the final arete, was enough.

Ralf Dujmovits climbs past Shelf 2 toward the C2 bump, which he thought was the true summit — but was not. Photo: @RalfDujmovits/Info by Tobias Pantel

Through mountaineering history, many seasoned climbers have written in their memoirs that Manaslu is not technically difficult. Perhaps they missed the final crux section? Others remember a technical, exposed section at the end. But did they cover the whole section to the highest point or make the same mistake as Dujmovits?

After years of rumors, doubts, and silences, it’s surely time to discuss this openly and reach some relative agreement. It affects everyone who ever climbed Manaslu. Each case is different, and yet, there is only one summit.

The situation on Sep 27, 2021. The red circle marks Shelf 2. This is where everyone except the Imagine Nepal group stopped. The yellow circle shows the C2 foresummit. Photo: Jackson Groves/Instagram/Info by Tobias Pantel

Which leads to the third question:

Question #3: Now what?

Even after the research by 8000ers.org appeared, some climbers spoke of zones of tolerance and irrelevant differences in altitude. But Mingma G’s imagery and most of all, Jackson Groves’ drone footage (taken from his own endpoint, the foresummit) has invalidated these arguments. From a bird’s-eye view, the difference between the usual foresummit and the true summit is anything but irrelevant. The last bit is exposed, difficult, and scary. Just like an 8,000m peak should be.

Another shot of Manaslu’s summit ridge on September 27, 2021. It shows climbers stopping at the end of the ropes, still a long way from the summit. Meanwhile, Mingma G’s team traverses a lower route below the west side of the ridge. Photo: Jackson Groves/Instagram

We now know where the summit is, with no room for doubt. We know that some climbers reached it. We know it’s difficult, and depending on conditions, sometimes too risky. Finally, we must assume that Manaslu is no longer “one of the easiest” 8,000’ers. Surely now, anyone hoping to be credited with climbing Manaslu should attempt that summit.

The Himalayan Database shares that point of view in their latest official report. For the time being, they “congratulate all the teams that reached the foresummit” recently.

For obvious reasons, Nepal’s Department of Tourism has been avoiding the summit controversy for years, especially in 2016. They have issued certificates for anyone who reached any point close to the summit area. It remains to be seen what they will do now. Most probably, near-summiters will still receive summit documents, but that paper will lose most of its value.

More Manaslu summits to come?

The situation is particularly awkward for the nearly 300 climbers (Nepalis and foreigners) who recently were or are still on the mountain. Last Monday, as climbers queued for a “summit photo” at the end of the ropes, Mingma G and his team headed for the real summit, not knowing that a drone was recording them. Ironically, the drone pilot didn’t know either (!) — but he changed mountaineering history.

On the following two days, many more climbed toward the upper slopes from Camps 3 and 4. As far as we know, none of them followed Imagine Nepal’s footprints to the summit. It is not impossible that some of those climbers were unaware that a single team had stepped off the mainstream route and broken the trail to genuine mountaineering glory.

As the news spread, the social media accounts of the climbers who stopped where the ropes ended received many reader questions about whether they only reached a foresummit and why. Some of them took it pretty badly, to judge from their replies. But none changed their plans and took their clients to the actual summit. Not even the strongest ones decided to silence the critics by reaching the indisputable summit.

This, of course, might change.

Meanwhile, many climbers still wait in Base Camp. While the weather forecast for the next several days is poor, we’re just midway through the autumn season. Mingma G broke the trail to the summit and Jackson Groves showed the route and visual evidence of why it matters. The rest is up to those on their way up.

+7

About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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ZLF
ZLF
25 days ago

If Himalayan Database and 8000ers.com stop registering these “summits” and when someone asks a table these names are not there (because they did not reach the main point), then things would change and pressure would go to the outfitters.

+3
S R
S R
25 days ago

A picture is worth a thousand words. Thank you for the photos and analysis. Congrats to Mingma G and team for their courage and determination.

+7
Average Joe
Average Joe
25 days ago

I am sorry, but these drone stills leave no room for doubt as to the location of the true summit. Looking at that final image, I would even go as far as to say it seems implausible that anyone standing on that foresummit truly believes they have reached the top; there is clearly further climbing to be done at that point. I am with Mingma G on this one.

+9
jmaf
jmaf
25 days ago

Mingma just became very unpopular in base camp and Manaslu is officially off the wealthy, inexperienced, peak-baggers to-do list because you aren’t getting 300 jumar heros from C2 to that summit and back in one piece. That traverse looks hairy!

+6
damiengildea
Editor
24 days ago

Great summary, Angela. And well done on getting that 1976 photo! It shows once again, if more evidence was needed, that the true summit has been identifiable for years, if people know where they’re going, do their research and make the effort. Of course conditions and other things can get in the way, and we all make honest mistakes, like Ralf D (alone!) has courageously admitted to, but those things don’t account for so many people stopping so short in recent years. Aside from the historical/records aspect, it has shone a harsh light on the contemporary state of 8000ers and… Read more »

Louis-Philippe Loncke
24 days ago

Do we know for sure the last peak, the highest point on the photo has always been like that? Perhaps it depends on some snow cover. Perhaps the “summit” gets heavy and breaks?… leaving the 2nd summit the highest for a few weeks?

+1
damiengildea
Editor
24 days ago

Yes, we do know, at least since 1956.
The summit does not get heavy and break off, as it is rock just below the small amount of snow in MingmaG’s imagery.
The rock peak at the end has been the highest for over 50 years. In this image taken from the summit, by Greg Mortimer, on mostly rock in pre-monsoon 2012, it is obvious that even with snow on the preceding C2, C3 tops, the true (rockier, C4) summit he is on is highest.
All of this has been known for years.

+4
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laura
laura
24 days ago

Dear Angela, thanks for this most interesting analysis! Along with Louis-Philippe, I wonder about the same thing. In the last 12 years there have been earthquakes, global warming, dry and wet seasons. How do we know that the summit is always where we see it in 2021? And even if we do know it for sure for Manaslu, on some mountains nobody ever can know if they stand on the summit. Laila Peak is covered with a huge layer of snow that ends in a cornice. Is the cornice the summit? This is not a simple questions, and past climbers… Read more »

bagra
bagra
24 days ago

Sorry but if it’s up to me – I would count them all as being on top.
I mean… looking at these images, how really exposed (and cramped!) this section is, who needs to risk his life this 8K+ high, especially when everyone’s dead tired and really it’s just a few meters difference anyway.
I mean… should we now start the debate about climbers doing similar thing on Kanchenjunga ?
Or the religion reasons are above these, human lives, reasons ?

0
damiengildea
Editor
24 days ago
Reply to  bagra

The two situations are quite different contexts – on Kanch they (some) stop out of agreement for respect of local religious beliefs. The ground they forego is just easy level walking, no obstacle, no reason to stop short.

On Manaslu people have been stopping because they do not have the skill, strength and/or knowledge to continue to the summit.

But yes, the question of whether religion should be prioritised over safety like this is a good question.

+4
paul
paul
24 days ago
Reply to  bagra

Then climb Everest to the south summit and call it a summit. What’s the diff? The final exposed ridge I guess and the altitude. If you want the bragging rights then go to the top. Otherwise don’t make false claims. Yes, getting that high on Manaslu is great effort and a feat of strength but don’t say that you were at the top if you were not and well know it.

+3
paul
paul
24 days ago

Now what? The Nepali guides will have to offer refunds hahahaha!

The same goes for other mountains. I think Dhaulagiri is on the same list as is Shishapangma. There was an article in the AAJ about this, Eberhard Jurgalski from Germany (http://www.8000ers.com/cms/) did a thorough research with photos. Can’t hide any longer when you have the drone video and photos. What makes K2 special is how hard it is. Same goes for the final ridge of Manaslu. Summit is a summit: the point where you can’t go any higher. This issue also has hit the MSM: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/sports/tallest-mountain-summit.html

+2
Last edited 24 days ago by paul
Karen Mountaineer
Karen Mountaineer
24 days ago

Some “Karen” is going to want to speak with the manager of the guiding company she took on Manaslu and want to ask for a refund for not guiding her up to the true summit.

+4
jajo_majo
jajo_majo
24 days ago

Nirmal took it pretty hard on his IG when someone asked him why ”the hercules” of the mountains didn’t guide to the top….

+1
Kelmo
Kelmo
23 days ago

If you didn’t reach the highest point on the mountain, you cannot claim that you climbed it, isn’t that obvious???

+2
Thrill seeker
Thrill seeker
23 days ago

I think this shouting match between The Purists and The Realists is going to end with more needless deaths in a sport already suffering an inordinate amount of tragic and often avoidable losses.

0
WhoCares
WhoCares
21 days ago

If people are climbing peaks for the experience and personal challenge then it shouldn’t matter. If the drive is just to brag about climbing X thousand meters instead of X minus 5 meters then it points to bigger problems in the industry…

+3
Thor Kieser
16 days ago

This situation is also true on Makalu and Broad Peak. On Gasherbrum 2 there is a 25 foot scary marble rock boulder. It may be that Gasherbrum 2 remains unclimbed.

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