Autumn 2022 Himalayan Season: Manaslu Avalanche – Bodies Found

Manaslu Camp 1

It’s a grim time on Manaslu with bodies being found related and unrelated to the avalanche earlier this week. Some teams have wisely ended their expeditions while others press on. Time will tell if there will be another release given the ongoing snows. Manaslu has experienced heavy snowfall this season.

One of the Sherpas managing the route, Yukta Gurung, told The Kathmandu Post the avalanche was triggered by continuous snowfall. “It had snowed unceasingly for 15 days. The area was covered in at least five to six feet of snow; the piled-up snow ultimately gave way triggering the avalanche.”

There were a few true summits before disaster hit, including Pakistani Sajid Ali Sadpara, who became the first Pakistani to reach Manaslu’s true summit. Muhammad Ali Sadpara and Sirbaz Khan had previously reached the fore summit according to the Himalayan Database.

Sherpa Death and Rescue

The avalanche occurred on September 26, 2022, around 11:30 am between Camp 3 and 4, where mostly Sherpas were ferrying loads to support the massive number of commercial clients later in the week. Lost in the press is the death of 34-year-old Anup Rai of Sankhuwasabha. He was working as a high-altitude support climber. Twelve other climbers were injured in the avalanche, all now rescued, as were climbers reportedly trapped at Camp 4, unable or unskilled to descend without the fixed ropes which were buried in the snow by the avalanche.

Press reports noted the rescued included Kinu Pemba, 35, and Phurte Sherpa, 29, of Solukhumbu district; Sukman Tamang, 27,  Nima Sherpa, Nim Dorje Sherpa, 40, and Dawa Sherpa, 25, from Sankhuwasabha district; Phurita Sherpa, 40, Lakpa Tamang, 37, and Jit Bahadur Sherpa, 44, of Dolakha district.

Hilaree Nelson Death

Unrelated to the avalanche, the other major tragedy was the death of American skier Hilaree Nelson,49, of Telluride, Colorado. She and her partner, Jim Morrison, were skiing from the true summit of Manaslu when Nelson triggered a snow slide and fell to her death on the opposite side of the mountain that they had just climbed. Morrison gave this full account on Instagram:

There are no words to describe the love for this woman, my life partner, my lover, my best friend, and my mountain partner. She has been the beacon of light in my life day in and day out.

On September 26th at 10:42 am we reached the true summit of Manaslu in tough conditions. We quickly transitioned from climbing to skiing in cold and wind with a plan to ski around the corner and regroup with our Sherpa team. I skied first and after a few turns Hilaree followed and started a small avalanche. She was swept off her feet and carried down a narrow snow slope down the south side (opposite from climbing route) of the mountain over 5000’. I did everything I could to locate her but was unable to go down the face as I hoped to find her alive and live my life with her.

I spent the last two days searching from the air in a helicopter.

Today with the help of @capt_surendra an incredibly skilled pilot we were able to land at 22,000 feet and search for her. @nimsdaiwas instrumental in helping organize the best team and resources possible and I found her body with the aid of @mt.sherpa today at 10:30 am. I’m in Kathmandu with her and her spirit.

My loss is indescribable and I am focused on her children and their steps forward. @hilareenelson is the most inspiring person in life and now her energy will guide our collective souls.

Peace be with us all. Pray for her family and community which is broadly stretched across our planet.

I’m devastated by the loss of her.

Perhaps prescient with her posting, Hillaree said just a few days before the accident, “I haven’t felt as sure-footed on Manaslu as I have on past adventure into the thin atmosphere of the high Himalaya. These past weeks have tested my resilience in new ways. The constant monsoon with its incessant rain and humidity has made me hopelessly homesick. I am challenged to find the peace and inspiration from the mountain when it’s been constantly shrouded in mist. Yesterday we ended our summit bid when we decided it was too dangerous to move from C3 to C4.”

Nelson and Morrison were highly experienced, well-trained extreme ski mountaineers. They were both sponsored athletes of the North Face ski team. In 2018, she was named captain of The North Face Athlete Team, a title only one other athlete has held: Conrad Anker. Hilaree Nelson was acknowledged worldwide for her skill and courage. She completed scores of first descents on more than 40 expeditions to 16 different countries. She was the first female to link two 8000m peaks, Everest and Lhotse, in one 24-hour push. In the fall of 2018, she returned to 27,940-foot Lhotse a second time to ski from the summit, linking turns down one of the most prized un-skied lines in the world along with her partner, Jim.

She grew up in Seattle and after college, found herself in Chamonix, France. There, according to her North Face bio, she learned the ins and outs of ski mountaineering. In 2017, only 12 days after arriving in India, she and Morrison summited 21,165-foot Papsura, becoming the first Americans to summit the “Peak of Evil.” The icy, 3,000-foot, 60-degree earned her a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for 2018. The great year continued with ski descents on Denali’s Cassin Ridge and the Messner couloir.

With 2022 as a case study, a look back at the avalanche in 2012 that killed eleven people:

Manaslu 2012 Avalanche and 11 Dead

Manalsu is statistically one of the safer 8000ers with 2,172 summits (including the fore summit)and 88 deaths for a death rate of 1.49, putting it seventh out of eight compared to the other 8000ers in Tibet and Nepal. Cho Oyu is the lowest at 0.59, and Annapurna is the highest at 5.56, according to the Himalayan Database. The five 8000ers in Pakistan lie in the middle of this range.

Many operators have avoided Manaslu for avalanche reasons since the tragedy in 2012 when 11 people died in an avalanche. It was caused by a large serac releasing above Camp 3 at 7,400m. This triggered a slab avalanche which hit Camp 3 directly and impacted Camp 2 with a severe wind blast. Many of the 11 killed were in their tents, most sleeping, at Camp 3 around 4:45 AM Sunday, September 23, 2012, Nepal time.

Avalanche debris was spread from 7,400m to 6,300m. Rescue efforts started immediately with teams climbing up from Camps 1 and 2. A B3 high-altitude helicopter from Simrik Air performed 18 total flights that day with 14 evacuations. Thirty-one people were caught in the avalanche. Eight bodies were recovered, and three were listed as missing and presumed dead.

As I previously reported, this season, 2022, the Nepal government has issued 404 permits to foreigners. Combining this with a 1:1.2 support ratio, between 700-900 people are currently attempting Manaslu. With this heavy snow, the route to the true summit may become even more treacherous. The rope fixing stream apparently fixed the route using the traverse and stayed off the true ridge. The ridge is usually heavily corniced, and this will exacerbate that danger. And the route from below the ridge rises directly to the summit after a short traverse.

Next on Manaslu 2022

Even with the avalanche and deaths, climbers, operators, guides, and even government officials continue to post selfies and promote their climbs. There was even a video posted on social of a body falling down from the avi zone – inexcusable – it has since been removed. However, notably, several western operators are ending their expeditions, Alpine Ascents said,

Hello Everyone, It’s been a tough couple of days here on Manaslu. The weather recently is improving but we’ve had an incredible amount of precipitation over the last couple of weeks at all levels of the mountain. There have now been two avalanches between Camp 2 and Camp 4 affecting many. The current forecast is sunny high on the mountain for several days, but with high winds loading with snow the same slopes which have already been active with avalanches, then comes more precipitation next week. I am not comfortable with any of our crew and team members climbing from Camp 3 to Camp 4 at this time and so have made the tough decision to stop our summit bid. It’s never an easy decision, but I know it’s the right one to keep all of our team safe. We will clear the mountain of all of our supplies in the next couple of days and make our way back to Kathmandu. Dan and Jim have been the best team members I could have asked for in this challenging climb and I thank them for having the climbing experience to understand and fully accept the decision positively. That’s a mountaineers mindset. We can’t always get to the summit but we can still have a positive and successful expedition. I will report back as we make it safely back to Kathmandu in the next few days. Thanks for following along, Ben Jones

Madison Mountaineering also has chosen to leave:

Our Manaslu team is now safely off the mountain and heading home. We are grateful they were lucky to have missed the avalanches reported in recent days. All equipment has been carried down from our high camps, and the base camp crew is beginning to pack up.

Due to the lingering monsoon and heavy precipitation in western Nepal, as well as the continuous snowfall and bad weather, the route conditions on Manaslu are unsafe for us to proceed. There have been multiple avalanches in recent days causing fatalities and injuries. We are saddened by the events that have transpired and our hearts go out to those who have lost a loved one.

The Madison Mountaineering team went into this expedition very excited to climb to the true summit of Manaslu. However, the mountain had other plans. We are thankful we can walk away and return to climb another day.

Lukas Furtenbach told the press, “Heavy snowfall and no avalanche awareness or avalanche risk management—same as 2012. No matter if there are 200 permits or 400: if conditions are dangerous, you are supposed to quit.”

My condolences to the families of the dead and injured.

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