Originally published on outsideonline.com
Climbers are flocking to Nepal’s 26,781-foot Manaslu this month, and government officials are anticipating noticeably bigger crowds than normal on the world’s eighth-highest peak.
Nepal’s department of tourism has already issued 394 climbing permits for Manaslu, and officials told Climbing that they expect the number to soon surpass 400. By contrast, only 193 climbers sought permits in 2021.
Guides and officials told Climbing that a variety of factors are contributing to the uptick in visitations—one is the end of a simmering debate about the location of the mountain’s highest point. For several years, climbers have argued about whether the traditional turnaround point on Manaslu was the pinnacle, or whether its true summit was situated on a ridge line several meters away. Drone photos taken in 2021 show that the traditional turnaround point (labeled C2 in the photo)—which for years has been marked with the traditional Nepali flag and Tibetan prayer flags—is anywhere from 20 to 25 feet lower than a point on a ridge line beyond. In some years, climbers also turned around at the spot labeled Shelf 2.
Some climbers and guides are adamant that they were unaware of a higher point, while researchers believe the mountaineering community has simply not wanted to venture past the “foresummit” due to the increased danger required to reach the highest point. Mountaineers must descend from a shelf on an exposed slope, traverse the peak, and then climb up to the ridge in order to reach the true top.
“We can clearly see a higher peak in every photo taken in the foresummit,” said Thaneswar Guragai, a climbing researcher. “It is not so hard to find.”
The debate appears to be over, and the mountaineering community now agrees climbers must reach the ridge point in order to complete the ascent. In 2021, mountaineer Mingma Gyalje Sherpa—known as Mingma G—of guiding company Imagine Nepal Treks, led a team to the true summit, and one of the members of the group, Jackson Grove, captured and then distributed the drone imagery, which clearly show a disparity in height between the two points. Afterward, the Himalayan Database, a Kathmandu-based group that charts mountaineering expeditions and is the de facto authority on summits, issued a statement confirming that Manaslu’s turnaround point was going to extend to the ridge.
“The Himalayan Database has decided that from 2022 it will only credit the summit to those who reach the highest point shown in the drone picture taken by Jackson Grove,” the statement said. “This change in summit accreditation is recommended and supported by foreign and Nepali operators who we have consulted in Kathmandu.”
With the new summit in place, some veteran climbers are venturing back to Manaslu to reach the high point, as a way to confirm their spot in mountaineering history. Among the 400 or so mountaineers on the peak are multiple climbers who have ascended the 14 peaks that stand above 8,000 meters.
“A number of 14 peak climbers have come to rescale the peak just to make sure they climb the true summit and maintain their 14 peak summiteer fame,” said Pemba Sherpa, founder of guiding company 8K Expedition. “This is going to be the busiest and most crowded season in Manaslu.”
Earlier this summer, German mountaineering researcher Eberhard Jurgalski, who chronicles mountaineering feats on the site 8000ers.com, said that the disputed summit on Manaslu meant that the list of climbers to ascend the 14 peaks was much smaller. According to Jurgalski, 53 climbers claim to have reached the summits of all 14 peaks above 8,000 meters, but only three of them have reached the actual highest points on all the mountains.
Four of Nepal’s six climbers to ascend the 14 are slated to climb: Mingma Sherpa, Chhang Dawa Sherpa, Nima Gyalzen Sherpa, and Sanu Sherpa. German climber Ralf Dujmovits, who had completed the 14 peaks in 2009, and Spaniard Jorge Egocheaga, who completed the 14 peaks in 2014, are also back.
Sanu Sherpa, who earlier this year finished his second ascent of all 14 peaks, says he never knew that his two previous ascents on Manaslu actually stopped short of the mountain’s top.
“I did not have any idea of real summit and fore summit until this year, when people started questioning my double ascent,” he said. “So, I want to re-climb the peak to reach its real summit.”
On Thursday, a Sherpa team from guiding company Elite Exped fixed ropes to Manaslu’s true highest point for the first time in history, which should make it easier for climbers to get there and back. The first ascent of Manaslu occurred in 1956—Japanese climbers Toshio Imanishi and Gyalzen Norbu reached the foresummit—and 20 years later, a joint expedition from Iran and Japan climbed out to the high point. In its statement, the Himalayan Database said it would still honor climbers who reached the points marked Shelf 2, C2, and C3 in the Jackson Grove photo prior to 2022.
“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,” the organization said.
The Nepal government, which issues certificates for successful summits, has yet to make an official statement.
Guides and climbers told Climbing that other factors are contributing to the sizable crowds on the mountain. The ongoing closure of the Chinese border due to COVID-19 has kept climbers from accessing 26,864-foot Cho Oyu and 26,335-foot Shishapangma, which has steered more mountaineers hoping for a fall expedition to Manaslu.
“There is no other 8,000 peak to climb anywhere else this season,” says Bigyan Koirala with the Nepali department of tourism. “And a more obvious reason is that, the number of mountain climbers itself has increased globally and so climbers on all mountains, not just Manaslu, has increased.”
Manaslu is also one of the easier 8,000-meter peaks to climb. Mingma G says that climbers often start with Cho Oyu, which is the easiest of the 14 peaks, and then move on to Manaslu.
“We are getting Cho Oyu traffic this year,” he says. “Manaslu has almost 100 percent success rate, and so is also relatively easy to begin with.”
Rubbing shoulders with the new climbers will be a handful of mountaineers who are chasing records on the 14 peaks this year. Taiwanese climber Grace Tseng and Japanese Naoko Watanabe, are also set to reclimb Manaslu to its true summit. Both mountaineers have already ascended 12 of the 14 peaks, including Manaslu. British climber Adriana Brownlee, who wants to become the youngest 14 peak climber, is back in Manaslu to re-climb it. She had summited it last year.
Norwegian climber Kristin Harila who wants to set a record of fastest climb of 14 peaks above 8,000m is ascending the mountain as well. This will be her first climb of the mountain.
With so many mountaineers aiming for the summit, there is fear of crowding in the tighter areas of the route. Earlier this year, images of conga lines on K2 quickly spread around the globe.
Bigyan said that the Nepali tourism department cannot rule out crowding and traffic jams on the mountain due to the larger-than-normal collection of climbers. The new route to the summit may also create crowds. “The route to the true summit is said to be not wide enough for two way walk,” he said.
But Bigyan said the longer climbing window for Manaslu could thin crowds out.
Some guiding companies area already coming up with ways to beat the crowds. Mingma G told Climbing that he may take clients on an alternate route down the mountain, should the crowds get too big.
“We will use this alternate route if a crowd becomes likely,” he says. “So, I don’t think there will be a jam”