Will an ascent of Manaslu ‘true summit’ end a historic debate on Nepal mountains?

Manaslu_Jackson Groves
Mingma G (top right) leads the way as his team waits for him to get to the true summit of Manaslu. Photo: Jackson Groves

When Mingma Gyalje Sherpa (better known as Mingma G) announced that he was going to the “true summit” of Manaslu this autumn, everyone was sceptical. Why would not they be? No one had been there for the past 45 years.

According to the Himalayan Database, the last people to reach the main summit during the autumn were Iranian Mohammad Jafar Assadi, Japanese Jun Kageyama and Nepali Passang Sherpa in 1976. Since then, many have tried, but no one had reached the mountain’s true summit. But on September 27, a team of highly skilled mountain guides led by Mingma G reached the true summit of the mountain as they became only the second team to reach it during the autumn season.

Between these years, one team made it to the true summit in spring, but no one could in autumn.

It means several dozens of Manaslu summits reported in the autumn season between 1976 and 2021 were not about the “true summit” but a lower point. Hence, Mingma G says all of them were controversial and his team ended that now onwards. However, other stakeholders including the government authority say they are not certain yet.

The true summit vs fore summit

“The Manaslu controversy has been plaguing Nepal’s mountaineering industry for years. Ever since I found out that the point where I stopped before was not the true summit, I wanted to get to the real one,” says Mingma G, one of the climbers who created history by summitted K2 in the winter. “This year I told everyone, from my team to my clients to others on the mountain that I was going to go to the true summit.”

Over 2,000 people have climbed Manaslu since it was first climbed in 1956. But, how many reached the mountain’s true summit has always been questionable. The Himalayan Database data suggest the last team to have reached the true summit in the autumn was the Japanese and Iranian team of 1976 while they say Guy Cotter who led his Adventure Consultants’ group was the last to reach the true summit in 2012 spring.

Since then, many have claimed to have reached the mountain’s true summit, including popular mountaineers like Adrian Ballinger, Andrej Bargiel, Edurne Pasaban and Nirmal Purja among many others but it looks like that their attempts might have an asterisk put next to them as they might not have reached the true summit.

“Many people are unaware that there is a fore summit and a true summit. I hope I’ve finally put this debate to rest and people will no longer stop at the fore summit claiming that it’s the true summit,” says Mingma G.

Following his tracks, other teams also got to the true summit, says Mingma G.

Following Mingma G’s accent to the top, Pakistani climber Shehroze Kashif has said he will be coming back to Manaslu as he had not reached its true summit. Posting a video on Instagram, the 19-year-old said he did not know about the summit controversy and although he had received the certificate, he would not be counting this summit which is a part of his project to climb all 8000-metre mountains and said he would return to Nepal to reach its true summit.

“What Mingma G did was amazing and I hope I can get there and earn my summit certificate,” said Kashif on Instagram.

Hope of correcting a historic ‘wrong’

Mingma G had lined up best of the best mountain guides Nepal had to reach the true summit of Manaslu. Photo: Mingma G

But, why do not they fix the ropes to the true summit?

Well, a few mountaineers say that fixers are lazy. As it has been the norm to fix ropes to a certain point, they stop there. The last part of the climb is quite tricky too as the final ridge is narrow and does not have good spots to put up anchors.

“I tried walking through the ridge, but I felt it was too dangerous. Only slip and the entire team would be affected, which is why I went down and traversed it diagonally and then climbed up,” says Mingma G, adding it took him less than 20 minutes to reach the true summit from the fore summit.

This moment has been beautifully captured by photographer and climber Jackson Groves where it shows Mingma G leading from the front while some members of his team are following him while some are waiting at the fore summit for his green signal.

“That was quite cool, no,” he says.

Mingma G at the summit of Manaslu.

The Himalayan Database hopes that things will change from 2022 onwards as now they have all proof of what the true summit looks like. The institution is considered an authority across the world when it comes to Himalayan mountaineering.

Billi Bierling, who leads the legendary institution, says the team will sit together and come up with a strategy on how to deal with future and past summits. “What Mingma G has done is remarkable and impressive. Hopefully, this puts this debate to rest,” says Bierling.

She says it is likely that the organisation would only be taking Mingma G’s 2021 summit as the real summit.

“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.”

Apart from the database, the Department of Tourism that offers summit certificates to climbers to reach the top will also have to make changes. But, the department’s director Meera Acharya says the department is not aware that Manaslu has two summits. She says the department had been giving certificates to everyone after confirming from the expedition organisers.

“This is news to us. We’ll discuss it among ourselves and expedition operators,” says Acharya.

More risk in ‘more truth’

Video shows Mingma G fixing ropes to the true summit.

In the meantime, 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. She says that many commercial teams will still go to the fore summit and the database will record it as the fore summit and not the true summit.

Meanwhile, Mingma Sherpa, the chairman of Seven Summit Treks, a leading expedition organiser of Nepal, says people cannot discount those who have reached the fore summit as the government has been recognising the summit.

“It’s the same if you look at it,” says Mingma Sherpa. “If people want to go to the other summit, we’ll take them, but be rest assured, if more people start going there, there will be more deaths and that is bad for Nepal’s mountaineering.”

“Remember that almost 90 per cent of accents of this mountain have been until the fore summit,” he says.

But, Bierling says that the two summit’s heights are not the same and these claims are quite baseless. Mingma G, on the other hand, is hopeful this will change. “Most people will demand to get to the true summit. I’m sure things will change because like I said before, a summit is a summit.”

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Pant is an independent journalist based in Kathmandu. He covers issues ranging from tech, music, mountains, biodiversity and environment.

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