Autumn 2021 Himalayan Season: The Future of Manaslu

Manaslu summit , 2013

With the 2021 Autumn climbing season winding down, questions are re-emerging as to the future classification of summit. This is not new, but with Manaslu taking center stage, it has gained momentum. Meanwhile, we should see a summit push soon on Kangchenjunga.

Big Picture

Dwarfing all other news from this Autumn’s climbing season was the spectacular new variation to Manaslu’s summit by Mingma G. A stunning display of creativity and prowess. After his K2 winter summit, he certainly deserves the praise he’s receiving. However, let’s be clear that his achievement was not the first in Autumn, as cited in some reports.

The question of whether previous climbers had reached the true summit of Manaslu (and Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Broad Peak, etc.) has been under scrutiny for years. Some now want to review all of the 2,148 previous Manaslu claims. I’m not sure anyone cares other than those who climbed to set a record or some other personal achievement. But more to the point, in my view, are the future summits and how will they be categorized – fore summit or main summit? That’s a fair question now that Jackson Groves provides 100% clarity with his stunning drone footage.

In reviewing climbing books, photographs of the main summit have been around since the first summit by the Japanese in 1956. So it’s unclear to me why the fore summit became the last footprint since Guy Cotter reached the main in 2012. I think the cornice danger lent itself for commercial guides to call the fore “good-enough.” Also, as you will hear in the interview with Arnold, the variation requires significant skills that most Manaslu climbers don’t have since it’s often their first 8000er.

Billi Bierling of the Himalayan Database made an interesting comment in this article in

“We can’t change history, but what we can do is put up a note next to the old summits and say that these were considered summits until 2021. But, now thanks to Mingma G and technology, we have proof of the summit and the way to the summit and will likely only take his summit as the real summit.”

She added,

Bierling admits there is risk in going to the true summit and the extent of the corniced ridge was previously not known. This is why Elizabeth Hawley, the founder of the Himalayan Database, gave leeway to climbers.

One thing I think is obvious, Manaslu has lost some luster as to the reputation of being an “achievable 8000er to summit. While it will always attract climbers who want to go above 8000-meters as a test for Everest, my belief is Cho Oyu will return as the preferred first 8000er.

Cho held that spot for decades, but the Chinese raised permit prices, increased the bureaucracy to climb in Tibet, and guides shifted their attention to Manaslu, which was less expensive and logistically less complex. However, one snag in this idea is the uncertainty with China’s management of their mountains. Furthermore, Tibet has been closed to foreigners for the last two years, as it was effectively in 2008 for the Olympics; thus, climbing in Tibet is never a sure thing.

Through my friend Scott MacLennan, a photojournalist in Nepal, we asked Nepali-based expedition operator Arnold Coster his opinion along with thoughts on winter Himalayan climbs this year. Some interesting viewpoints:


Manaslu – 300++ Summits

The season should be over (never say never, I’ve learned) with scores making the attempt, a few standing on the main summit, and the majority on the fore summit. There were 193 permits issued to foreigners across 20 teams. So with support, there were close to 400 people on Manaslu this Autumn. Seven Summits Treks had 60 total summits just for themselves. Sadly there was one death. Well done to all.

Dhaulagiri – 30++ Summits

Multiple summits were reported on this 8167-meter/26,795-foot peak last week. Luke Smithwick who wanted to ski from the summit stopped short but still enjoyed laying down tracks from 6700m (21,909 feet) with his partner Iain Kuo. There are still teams on the peak hoping to summit. There were 40 permits issued to foreigners across 4 teams.

Kangchenjunga – Holding

Over on Kangchenjunga, the Alpenglow team said they are ready for the summit push but have been delayed by poor weather. They are the only team there this Autumn.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

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