This past weekend was a deadly one in the Himalaya where at least nine climbers lost their lives in an avalanche on Manaslu, the eighth tallest mountain on the planet. The climbers had reached Camp 3, located at 7000 meters (22,965 ft) and were preparing for a summit push at the time of the accident. Six other mountaineers remain missing at this time.
Located in western Nepal, Manaslu is a popular climbing destination during the fall Himalayan season. Many climbers use the 8156 meter (26,670 ft) peak as preparation for an expedition to Everest in the spring and while it is not considered to be a particularly difficult mountain to climb, it is good training for higher altitudes.
Last week a massive storm dumped heavy snows on the region with some reports indicating that as much as two meters of powder fell on the upper slopes. A number of teams were waiting for that snow to settle before moving up, but some of the more eager squads began their summit push in an attempt to take advantage of an open weather window. There were as many as 25 climbers in Camp 3 when the avalanche hit, completely sweeping tents and other gear stored in that location off the mountain.
Manaslu is particularly busy this season as a number of teams that were scheduled to climb in Tibet this fall were forced to change their plans after China closed the border to that country. As a result, there are as many as 30 teams and 230 climbers attempting to climb the mountain. The vast majority of them were in the lower camps at the time of the avalanche, although reports indicate that many of the tents in Camp 2 were destroyed in the slide as well.
At this time, the names of the climbers killed or missing in the Avalanche have not been released but it appears that they were mostly Sherpas from Nepal along with mountaineers from Germany, France and Italy. Search and rescue operations for the missing climbers are underway, although conducting such an operation at 7000 meters is always a challenging proposition.
The rest of the teams on Manaslu are now likely to return to Base Camp and weight their options in the days ahead. Each of them will need to rebuild their Camp 3, and in some cases Camp 2, before they can consider making a summit bid. It is also not uncommon for some climbers to elect to head home following an accident like this one.
Our condolences to the friends and family of those lost on Manaslu this weekend.
By Kraig Becker
[Photo credit: Ben Tubby via Wikimedia]