Mount Manaslu wreaks vengeance on climbers and skiers

Mount Manaslu, at 8,163m, is the eighth highest mountain in the world and about 40 miles east of Annapurna. It is part of the Nepalese Himalayas and was first climbed on May 9, 1956 by Toshio Imanishi and Gyalzen Norbu, members of a Japanese expedition.“Just as the British consider Everest their mountain, Manaslu has always been a Japanese mountain.”  The mountain’s long ridges and valley glaciers offer feasible approaches from all directions, and culminate in a peak that towers steeply above its surrounding landscape, and is a dominant feature when viewed from afar.

The 8,000 + Mount Manaslu

Mount Manaslu part of the Nepalese Himalayas

The permanent snow line is reckoned above 5,000 metres (16,000 ft) and there the temperatures are arctic, invariably below freezing. It has been described as a serrated “wall of snow and ice hanging in the sky”.

Traditionally, the “spring” or ” pre-monsoon” season, is the least hazardous for bad weather, snowfall and avalanches. Manaslu is one of the more risky 8000ers to climb: as of May 2008, there had been 297 ascents of Manaslu and 53 deaths on the mountain, making it “the 4th most dangerous 8000m peak, behind Annapurna, Nanga Parbat and K2.”

A beautiful mountain, but an extremely dangerous one. Last weekend at least nine climbers were killed and another four are missing after one of the deadliest avalanches in recent years tore down the Himalayan peak obliterating everything in its path. Glen Plake, a celebrity in the world of extreme sports known for his mohican and boundary-pushing skiing, narrowly escaped the avalanche. “I’m OK, a bit beat up; missing some teeth and a bruised eye, but I’m alive,” he told French website EpicTV shortly after the avalanche struck.

Glen Plake, Rémy LéCluse and Gregory Costa at Manaslu

Greg Plake, Remi LeCluse and Gregory Costa

Greg was there as part of a 3-man team who were going to ski down Manaslu. This wouldn’t be a first. It has been skied before, most recently  last year. Rémy Lécluse and Gregory Costa, who had intended to descend the mountain on skis with Greg Plake are presumed dead.  All the deceased died in camp when the avalanche struck.

“Gregory and I were in a tent together, Rémy was in another. It was 4:45a.m. and I was in my sleeping bag with my headlamp on reading my devotional when we heard a roar. Greg looked at me and said, “That was a big gust of wind,” then a second later, “No, that was an avalanche.” Then it hit us. I was swept 300 meters over a serac and down the mountain and came to a stop still in my sleeping bag, still inside the tent, still with my headlamp on. We all went to sleep with avalanche transceivers on so I punched my way out of the tent and started searching. I searched for 10 minutes before I realized I was barefoot in the snow. Greg had been using my down suit for a pillow and I found my suit, I found everything that was in my tent – camera, sleeping bag, ski boots. It was like someone had thrown my gear in the back of a pickup – but there was no sign of Greg (Costa). Rémy and his tent were nowhere to be found,”  said Greg Plake. “The Dynafit crew [Canadian skier Greg Hill’s team] were sleeping at a high Camp 2 and were immediately on site to rescue people. Sergio, Stephane, Doji our Sherpa – all strong alpinists – have all come up to search. We’ve done three searches but when the fog rolled in we had to call it off. It was a massive serac fall, probably 600 to 700 meters across. It’s a war zone up here.”

Ang Tsering Sherpa, former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association who has climbed Manaslu several times, said the mountain was regarded as one of the easiest of the 14 peaks that top 8,000 m, but that the accident was not linked to the number of climbers there due to the increasing popularity of the mountain particularly after Chinese authorities restricted access to Cho Oyu, another 8,000m peak. “Such avalanche takes place normally if it’s too hot or if there is heavy snow fall. Climate change, of course, had some effect but avalanches are uncertain and there is no any exact reason for any one avalanche.”

Our sympathies go to all the families of the climbers involved.

Photos courtesy of Tray Cook, EpicTv

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