Winter Manaslu: Avalanche in Base Camp, Earthquake in the Team

Manaslu
Photo: Alex Txikon

Yesterday, a major avalanche on Manaslu reached Base Camp. Luckily, no one was injured, and the expedition will resume as soon as conditions improve. But the fragile balance among expedition members may be broken.

A small team remains at Base Camp

Despite Simone Moro’s recent post (“We all went down to Samagaon, Sherpas and mountaineers, and the whole team”), not everyone retreated last Friday. Despite snow piling up for three days non-stop, a small Sherpa crew remained in charge of maintaining Base Camp.

“Pemba Sherpa, Sange Furi, Ganesh Gurung, and the twins Norbu & Gelbu are well, although I can only imagine how hard the last few hours must have been for them,” Oswald Pereira confirmed.

It was this Base Camp crew who reported an avalanche yesterday. The avalanche blast damaged some of the tents, while snow walls built by Alex Txikon and Simone Moro’s team sheltered others.

“Last week, we performed some tests on snow pits and concluded that the avalanche risk on the mountain was maximum (five in the SLF European scale), so any attempt to move up the route was out of the question,” Txikon told ExplorersWeb from Pokhara today. “However, we never expected avalanches to reach as far as Base Camp.”

“The report we have got from Base Camp is very sketchy, but apparently the mess tent and at least one more tent have been flattened,” added Txikon. Txikon couldn’t tell if the camp had been directly hit or just affected by the avalanche’s wind blast that expands like a shockwave.

Alex Txikon digs a snow pit to assess the avalanche risk on Manaslu. Photo: Sendoa Elejalde

Listen to the “Winter Maestro”

On Saturday, Simone Moro had mentioned that Base Camp was safe, “up to a certain point.” But when he got news of the avalanche one day later, the Italian seized the opportunity to open a can of worms. In an email sent to Oswald Pereira, but addressed to the entire team in Samagaon, Moro pulled no punches. It starts as follows:

“After today’s avalanche at BC, I really hope it is very clear to the whole team and members why I am still alive today: I always follow my nose and experience and this time getting away from the mountain saved our lives,” Moro wrote.

“Climbing in winter requires not only hope and motivation, but above all lots of experience, lots of time (three months), lots of patience, lots of logistics and budget, and lots of humility. Our ego often kills us because we feel we are competing or being watched from the outside.”

Shoveling the night away during the latest snowfall in Manaslu Base Camp. Photo: Oswald Rodrigo Pereira

“People who want to fight in the heavy snow, who want to speed, run, or show how they can resist in danger will soon be dead, and Alex and I don’t want any of us to die on Manaslu. So remind everyone not to run on the mountain at least in the first three to four days of sunshine because more avalanches will come down.”

“This is a friendly message from a guy that some of the ice warriors called “Winter Maestro”, maybe for a reason…I know you fully agree and understand but I wish this could be a common thought without exception. It could be the secret of our common success,” Moro concluded.

Alex Txikon has declined to make on-the-record comments about the obvious tension among members on the expedition permit, but he is not happy with the situation.

Are they a team?

As we reported when climbers reached Manaslu Base Camp at the beginning of winter, the only climbing permit issued includes mountaineers with varied experience, opinions, and motivations. Alex Txikon and Iñaki Alvarez have their own Base Camp team and joined forces with Simone Moro, as they did last winter. Expedition outfitter Seven Summit Treks opened the expedition to other climbers, including Paula Strengell of Finland, Sophie Lenaerts and Stef Maginelle of Belgium, and Oswald Rodrigo Pereira of Poland. Each of them has an individual agreement concerning logistic services and Sherpa assistance (or no Sherpa assistance, whichever the case may be).

The permit also includes several Nepali climbers, some assigned to assist a particular foreign client, but also focused on fixing ropes and breaking trail up the route. The Nepali climbers are under the leadership of Cheppal Sherpa, who has extensive winter experience as a member of Txikon’s previous expeditions. Simone Moro arrived in Base Camp together with another Nepali climber, Pasang Rinzee Sherpa.

Among the individual climbers who joined the expedition, only Pereira has been on a winter 8,000’er before (K2 last year). Meanwhile, Txikon and Moro are professional climbers with dozens of Himalayan expeditions under their belts, and both are expert high-altitude winter climbers.

Alex Txikon (left) and Simone Moro in Manaslu Base Camp. Photo: Alex Txikon

If this had happened in spring or fall, with other teams on the mountain and the work on the route completed entirely by a previously assigned Sherpa force, each individual or small team would have probably managed to set their strategies and make their own decisions on the mountain. But this is winter, there’s no one else around and conditions are difficult. Like it or not, the climbers must depend on each other.

So, what’s next?

Sherpas can help a great deal, but cannot take on all the burden. Each climber must do their part and help out for the common good, both on the mountain, at Base Camp, and when making decisions. Winter allows no mistakes. A wrong move by an individual climber could put everyone in danger.

On the other hand, the independent climbers joined an open, commercial expedition. They paid their fees. The climbers have not made the specific conditions each of them agreed to public, but both Moro and Txikon were aware of the commercial venture and reportedly fine with it, as Txikon told ExplorersWeb previously.

In the end, such a mixed group as the one currently on Manaslu is potentially troublesome. There needs to be clear leadership, a detailed plan, and clear agreement among all members about what is expected from them. This winter there was no chance to sort any of these issues before the expedition.

The good news is, it might be not too late. None of the climbers currently in Samagaon has shared any complaints or publicly disagreed with Moro’s email. Pereira has acknowledged the Italian’s words and confirmed that, since his help is not needed in Base Camp, he will stay in the village until conditions are safe. Lenaerts notes that there is also avalanche risk between Samagaon and Base Camp, so she will stay put as well.

As for the route itself, as Moro and Txikon have remarked, it will take days before the snow settles on the mountain. Until then, venturing up would be an unacceptable risk.

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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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mijares
Jose Mijares
11 days ago

It’s a shame to see what they do in the 8.000, far from alpinism and more and more like a reality show. leaving the sherpas in the BC while they are in katmandhu is lamentable. If it’s dangerous, it’s dangerous for everyone. What kind of winter ascent is this shit. “Winter Maestro”… you have to laugh, any neighbour of mine (I live in the Arctic) has cleared more snow and knows more about winter than this one. And meanwhile a guy alone climbing Everest and a team of mountaineers on the Rupal without making noise. Thank you angela for providing… Read more »

Johnny b goode
Johnny b goode
11 days ago

Since urubko don’t do the job anymore for him, the winter maestro is more a influencer on Instagram than a real mountaineer. I don’t even speak about txikon who spent more time speaking about his project than climbing them.
Such a shame these guys…

+9
Craig Quigley
Craig Quigley
11 days ago

Moro has climbed 4x 8000s in winter, He’s definitely deserving of “Winter maestro” status, despite his slightly arrogant attitude.

0
B G
B G
10 days ago
Reply to  Craig Quigley

4 x first winter ascents no less. No matter how you cut it he has an impressive resume of high altitude climbing with much more to it than the big ticket stuff.

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E. Conboy
E. Conboy
5 days ago
Reply to  Craig Quigley

No, neither he nor any other person has a moral right to abandon sherpas , cooks and guides and expose them to greater risks than himself. That is the epitome of selfishness. There is very little reason for him to be climbing the mountain at this time anyway. Why is his life more valuable than the lives of any of the sherpas whose sole income depends on leading crazed adrenaline junkies seeking another thrill? All these climbers are guilty of an abundance of self indulgence. With what could the the widows and children of the sherpas, cooks, guides and others… Read more »

Jahan
Jahan
10 days ago

I haven’t been following Simone Moro for long but I have found him to be quite humble in his interviews and other interactions shown on media/social media etc.

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Don Paul
Don Paul
10 days ago

“Our ego often kills us because we feel we are competing or being watched from the outside.” Yes, you are being watched. 99% of the watchers would never put their own lives at such risk. I admit that, the higher the likelihood of death, the more exciting it is to follow one of these stories. You can follow their GPS trackers and sometimes even communicate with them live through social media. I was following John Snorri and Sergi Mingote during their winter K2 attempts. I do feel bad about encouraging them sometimes, but they are the ones who think its… Read more »

MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
10 days ago
Reply to  Don Paul

Lenaerts is free to put her own life on the line, but her arrogant “Let’s f***ing climb this mountain! We are done waiting.” shows that she willingly puts, in fact coerces, others to put their lives on the line to support her, and that is shameful. Note that she admits that the sherpa team opens the hardest sections; she can’t do it alone.
Sophie, you want to be a tough do-it-despite-any-risks climber? Do it alone. Pay off your sherpa team and release them from any further responsibility for you, including any obligation to help rescue operations.

+2
E. Conboy
E. Conboy
5 days ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

Not gonna happen is it? It’s absolutely shameful that this group of arrogant fun seekers are so inconvenienced by the bad old weather and the guides, sherpas and cooks are delaying their pleasures due to their knowledge of the dangerous weather, and treacherous conditions. How utterly disgusting!

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