Autumn 2023 Himalayan Season: Manaslu plus Tibet Reopens

The 2023 autumn climbing season is underway, with most of the attention on Nepal’s Manaslu, oft acknowledged as one of the more “attainable” 8000ers. But there are climbers on other 8000ers like Dhaulagiri and Makalu. China reopened Tibet for climbing on Shishapangma and Cho Oyu. The rope fixers and one commercial team reached Manaslu’s true summit earlier this week, opening the route to hundreds more.

Tibet Open

Last month, China announced they would not be issuing climbing permits for this Autumn season. No reason was given, but operators told me it was due to “bureaucratic delays” in issuing visas. Just last week, they seem to have solved their problems and began issuing climbing permits. However, most operators already canceled their Tibet climbs, given the reopening was so late and switched to Nepal.

I’m now told that a few will run climbs on Cho Oyu and perhaps Shishapangma, some after their Manaslu climb. However, I’m told these companies will go to Tibet late this week, and 100 permits have been issued for Cho Oyu. They will cross from Nepal into Tibet at the Kerung-Rasuwagadhi border point, about 175 km/108 miles north of Kathmandu.

  1. Imagine Nepal
  2. Climbalaya Trek and Expedition
  3. Seven Summit

8000ers Fading?

Looking closely at Manaslu, there are 25% fewer foreigners than last year. As of today, the Nepal Ministry of Tourism has issued 301 permits to foreigners, so adding in a support ratio of 1.5 for each foreigner puts 750 people at the peak.  However, early reports say the mountain doesn’t feel crowded. Last year, 2022, the Nepal government issued 394 permits to foreigners.

There could be several reasons there are fewer climbers this autumn. First, last year was difficult on Manalsu with heavy snow, avalanches and deaths, so perhaps its reputation as being easy is now understood to be way off the mark, leaving less experienced climbers discouraged. Also, with the true summit now in focus, inexperienced clients may feel they are not ready for it and will wait for Cho Oyu, which is measurably easier to reach the true summit. And for many climbers, the lure of 8000-meter climbs is tarnished.

The death of a young High Altitude Porter on K2 this summer turned off many climbers (and watchers), with reports of climbers stepping over his dead or dying body to reach the summit. Only one team, Kristin Harila and Tenjen “Lama” Sherpa stopped to help, but their unselfish and valiant effort failed to save young Muhmaad Hussian’s life. They were unfairly characterized as contributing to his death. Mr. Hassan worked for 7 Summits Club and Pakistani operator Lelia Tours. Even though he had no experience above base camp, he was assigned and agreed to be part of the rope fixing team to carry loads. He died serving as part of that team at 8200 meters.

Another tarnish on the sport is the willingness of the Nepali operators to take on inexperienced clients. This creates bottlenecks and lines of climbers that more capable people cannot pass in dangerous, narrow sections. Due to the vast number of climbers, there are not enough qualified Sherpas to support them, so it becomes a perfect storm of incompetency: inexperienced clients with unqualified guides.

The sport has been in serious trouble for years, and the problems are growing each season as more and more people are seduced by clever marketing and low prices. I’m glad to see the numbers down this Autumn on Manaslu. It might wake the operators up to enact simple, inexpensive changes to improve safety and the quality of their customer’s experience.

As for Dhaulagiri and Makalu, there is only one team each on each mountain with ten and four climbers, respectively.

Manaslu Summit

Reaching the true summit of Manaslu requires crossing a dangerously corniced, extremely narrow (one person at a time) ridge or dropping below that ridge and traversing a steep slope that may be covered in soft snow or hard-packed ice, depending on the year’s conditions. Either way, reaching the true summit is not for the beginner climber, which matches the profile of many of this year’s flocks on Manalsu.

Traverse to Manaslu True Summit by Imagine Nepal
Traverse to Manaslu True Summit by Imagine Nepal

With so many people on the mountain, a nightmare scenario would have scores, if not hundreds, of people trying to reach the true summit on the same day. Thus, there is a new plan to cross that same ridge instead of dropping down to bypass it. In essence, they want to reach the summit using the ridge as “uphill climbers,” returning by dropping below the summit and traversing back to the main route. It is an odd strategy given that many people over the past decade thought they were on the true summit but only at the fore-summit due to the high risks of crossing the final section on the summit ridge.

Nepali operators dominate all the 800e0rs these days, and Manaslu 2023 is no different. Seven Summits Treks reports having  90 clients. Multiple teams are already at Manaslu Base Camp, including:

Seven Summits Treks Manaslu 2023 Base Camp
Seven Summits Treks Manaslu 2023 Base Camp
8k Expeditions Manaslu 2023 Base Camp

Safe climbing to all.

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