Himalaya Fall 2019: Manaslu Summits and Everest Departures

At the end of last week I was off to Asheville, NC to meet with a number of gear manufacturers that call that city home. While I was away, a lot went down in the Himalaya including a massive number of summits on Manaslu and yet more departures from Everest, where a hanging serac continues to pose a significant threat.

The major summit push on Manaslu began last Thursday, with large crowds heading to the top. We knew that there were more than 520 climbers on the mountain this fall and the conditions proved to be just about perfect heading as the week drew to a close.

More than 100 people reached the top on Thursday alone, with dozens more following on Friday and Saturday. This of course brought some serious traffic jams, slowing down the progress of just about everyone. Still, even at their worst, the delays on Manaslu were not nearly the same as they have been on Everest in recent years.

There were two headlines that resonated from the summit days on Manaslu. First, Nirmal “Nims” Purja summited the mountain for his 13th 8000-meter peak in 5 months. I’ll have more on that later this morning.

The other news wasn’t quite so cheery, as it was revealed that Polish climber Rita Donata Bladyko perished on the mountain in Camp 3. She was apparently descending when she succumbed to altitude related illness. Bladyko was 50 years old and of course we send our condolences out to her friends and family.

Also of note, Alan Arnette is reporting that François Cazzanelli has set a speed record on Manaslu, climbing from Base Camp to the summit and back again in 17 hours, 43 minutes. That smashes the old speed record of 21 hours and 41 minutes held by Andrzej Bargiel.

Speaking of Bargiel, he’s been on Everest attempting to climb and ski back down to Base Camp, but as you likely already know there has been a shadow hanging over that mountain all season long.

A massive serac has been threatening to separate itself from the mountain and tumble down into the Khumbu Icefall, potentially doing lots of damage in the process. This has already caused one team of Everest climbers to go home, along with a Polish squad looking to climb Lhotse. Now, we can hand Bargiel and his team to that list too, as the group decided the risk was too great and have also elected to go home.

That leaves just Madison Mountaineering still on the mountain and possibly Kilian Jornet. Garrett Madison reports that BC continues to be very snowy and cold, but they’re making the best of the conditions.

Several members of the team hiked down the valley to Gorak Shep for some lunch, where they ran into Jornet who hasn’t abandoned his plans for the season as of yet. Those plans remain murky however, so its unclear exactly what he intends to do. Either way, the two groups are keeping an eye on the serac as they make their plans for the days ahead.

The weather has been bad on Dhaulagiri as well, keeping the climbers there locked in place. Rain and snow have pelted the mountain all season long, but despite those conditions Sergi MingoteCarlos Soria Fontán, Chris Jensen Burke, and others are now prepared to push for the summit. That attempt may have to come very soon however, as Mingote reports that conditions could take a turn for the worse on October 3, when high winds are expected. 

Finally, all of the teams on Cho Oyu are wrapping up their summits as well, as the mountain is set to shut down tomorrow. The Alpenglow team put 12 members on top last week, bringing the total number of Cho Oyu summiteers this season to a modest and respectable 25 or so. China has promised to close the mountain on October 1, so I’d expect things are done and dusted there until the spring.

That’s the major update from the past few days. This week looks to be interesting as well, even as the major expeditions start to wind down.

Kraig Becker