The autumn climbing and trekking season has begun in Nepal. It remains to been seen if it’s business as usual or a rerun of the spring debacle on Everest, Dhaulagiri, and Annapurna. Early signs suggest the latter.
Guests of Nepal have been encouraged to return and be generous with their money to give aid to an impoverished tourism sector, especially in the rural areas such as the Lamjung District for the Annapurna Circuit or the Solukhumbu for the famous trek to Everest Base Camp or for the so-called trekking peaks of Island, Mera, Lobuche East and more serious efforts on Ama Dablam, Cholatse and of course the 8000ers Manaslu, Dhaulagiri and perhaps a couple more.
More Opaque COVID rules
As we saw six months ago, Nepal seems to struggle to get its COVID protocols for guests in place. There was then, and now, great fanfare about strict testing and quarantine process before entering the country and then prior to going on to your destination. Similar to this past spring, I’m getting first-hand reports that it’s really the incoming airlines that are in charge of protecting Nepal combined with a cursory review of vaccination and/or negative PCR tests upon arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.
For many, quarantine is a myth perpetuated by the hotel industry hoping for anyone who bites to ramp up business. In any event, the continued lack of transparency from the Nepal Government appears to be the tourism industry’s worst spokesperson as I’m told by one small team, “We are the only people in a five-story hotel. The streets of Kathmandu are empty.”
One of the root causes of vaccination and quarantine confusion lies in the ongoing government instability. Once again, there is a new prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba. The former cabinet was all cut loose and today, Deuba serves as acting Tourism Minister. With this, I don’t expect any significant changes to how Nepal manages its tourism industry all the way into 2022. Tourism was down 80% in 2020 due to the pandemic. Many small businesses and individuals are hurting badly.
With China continuing to keep their mountains for themselves, no foreigners will climb Cho Oyu or Shishapangma for the second straight autumn, climbers seeking a big one are left with Nepal’s Manaslu, Dhaulagiri, Makalu, and Kangchenjunga. Cho straddles the Nepal/ Tibet border but the climbing route from the Nepal side is dangerous and very avalanche prone so it’s rarely climbed and currently, no commercial outfit offers it.
Considered one of the most “achievable” peaks, Manalsu has become a very popular objective, especially for first-time big mountain aspirants. Standing at 8,163-metres/26,781-feet, it’s the tenth highest peak on the planet. According to the Himalayan Database, 2,148 people have made the summit made up of 1,029 males, 236 females, 885 support (primarily Sherpas). The use of supplemental oxygen has become more popular in the last decade with 1,230 or 73% using O’s compared with 164 or 34% in pre-2010.
In terms of danger, Manalsu ranks 8th as the most deadly 8000er with 86 deaths since 1956. It is known to snow several feet at a time at Base Camp and experience avalanches on the upper mountain. In 2012, 11 climbers were killed by an avalanche that hit directly on Camp 3 where many teams were sleeping. In 1972, 15 members of a South Korean expedition were killed by an avalanche, 10 were tragically Sherpa. But in recent times, with better camp placement, there have been 7 deaths since 2013.
The Japanese pioneered the early climbs on Manaslu in the 1950s and some Japanese may considered it their 8000m peak today, similar to how the British view Everest. The first ascent of Manaslu was in 1956 by Toshio Imanishi and Gyalzen Norbu on a Japanese expedition.
Look for many Nepali guide services to run commercial expeditions including Seven Summits Treks, Makalu Adventures, 8K Expeditions, and Imagine Nepal. Also foreign companies like Climbing the Seven Summits.
UPDATE: The Ministry of Tourism said there are 80 permits issued for Manalsu this Autumn as of September 2, 2021. Combined with a 1:1 ratio of support, that puts the total at 160, approaching the usually crowded conditions on Manaslu in recent years
As with most things in mountaineering, Manaslu comes with controversy. Some pundits in the industry who study the accomplishments of others feel few people have stood on the true summit. It is a tiny summit that can only accommodate two people at a time and it is reached by climbing a short but fairly steep, narrow line with steep drop-offs on both sides. It stands above a small plateau where many have called it good. This season, Mingma Sherpa of Imagine has vowed to reach whatever he considers the true summit.
This 8167-meter/26,795-foot peak remains popular in spite of a lack of summits in recent years. The usual suspects are running climbs this season including Seven Summits Treks. We will also see yet another attempt by 83-year-old Carlos Soria Fontán which would be his 12th attempt. His first was in 1998 and his most recent, last year, Spring 2021. He has only Dhaul and Shisha left for his 8000ers.
There appears to be no large-scale effort on Everest this Autumn, but several Nepali companies are advertising a trip so we may see at least one effort. Madison Mountaineering has run autumn trips in the past but is on Elbrus and Dykh-Tau this season. Also, the Benegas Brothers wanted to run one but have pushed it off to 2022. Many feel Autumn is the best time to attempt Everest with clear, crisp days, albeit shorter and colder as winter approaches but the lack of crowds allows for faster climb times with less overall risk.
I expect several true winter attempts starting in December and will come back to them as we get closer. But first will be on Manaslu with Simone Moro, Alex Txikon, and Inaki Alvarez in December.
And on Everest is German climber Jost Kobusch who will try once again on the West Ridge to the summit via the Hornbein Couloir. He made a similar attempt in 2019/20 and get a bit up the ridge before abandoning the effort.
Over on K2, there appears to be another winter attempt for the 2021/22 winter lead by Russians Alexander Abramov, Pavel Shabalin, and Vladimir Suviga. I suspect Seven Summits Treks will be back on K2.
Best of luck to all on all the peaks this autumn, and winter.
Memories are Everything