Manaslu FAQ
Nepal
26,759 feet 8156 meters
Manaslu is considered one of the 'easy' 8000 meter mountains. I am focusing on the Northeast Ridge since it is the normal route and the one I climbed in 2013. I am asked many questions about climbing especially since I am not a professional climber. So here are the most popular questions with my answers. As always, this information is based on my experience and are my opinions so always consult with a professional before making any serious climbing decisions.
About Manaslu Training, Gear & Communication Expedition Basics My Experience

About Manaslu

Q: Where is Manaslu?
A: It is located in west-central Nepal about 50 miles from Kathmandu. It is the 8th highest mountain on earth at 26,759' and has a reputation as one of the "achievable" 8000m mountains. The nearest airport is Kathmandu. Most people fly into Kathmandu and take about a week by off-road vehicles and trekking to reach base camp. Some teams will helicopter in and out of base camp saving time but then spend time acclimatizing before going higher. View Larger Map

Q: When is it usually will climb?
A: As with most Himalayan peaks, pre and post monsoon but Spring is popular since every day it gets warmer with less threat of snow. The Fall season is just the opposite with colder days and increasingly unstable weather. I climbed in September and experienced the usual rain at Base Camp that marks Manaslu. Most guides climb in the Fall since they are occupied with Everest in the Spring.

Q: I understand that Manaslu is an easy 8000m climb. How hard was it?
A: It was not 'easy' - no 8000 meter mountain is easy. It is a serious high-altitude mountain where climbers lose their lives every year - 16 people died in the Fall of 1972 from a major avalanche and 11 died in 2012 also from an avalanche. The actually climbing was more difficult than had been advertised. While I was not climbing with crampons on smooth rock or doing extensive rock climbing; the snow sections were quite taxing given the altitude. The section between Camps 1 and 2 was technical with many sections of near vertical snow and ice climbing. The route between Camps 3 and 4 was very long and steep giving many people problems. Some climbers on other teams started using supplemental oxygen at C3, much lower than normal. The route was set by Sherpas with a fixed line mostly from Camp 1 higher.

Q: How does Manaslu compare with Denali or Aconcagua?
A: The climbing is significantly more difficult than either of these mountains. It is a longer climb but similar to Denali in spirit in that you climb on steep snow slopes most of the time but obviously at a significantly higher altitude. Also you are using fixed ropes continuously from Camp 1 on. Finally on Denali you are pulling a sled with personal and group gear whereas on Manaslu Sherpas usually carry the tents and stoves while you carry your personal gear including food, clothing and sleeping bag and pads. This depends on your expedition logistics. It is measurably more difficult than Aconcagua due to the snow, weather and length of the expedition. Huascaran is a better comparison than Aconcagua.

Q: How does Manaslu compare with Everest or other 8,000m peaks?
A: It is a great training climb for aspiring Everest climbers to see how their body reacts to high altitude - 8,000m. The climbing from Camp 1 to Camp 4 is harder on Manaslu than on Everest but the summit night on Manaslu is easier and much shorter than on Everest. Manaslu was much harder than Cho Oyu in 2013 and in my overall experience. There are no features on Manaslu like Everest's Hillary Step or the Yellow Band but the overall atmosphere is similar.

Q: Is a Manaslu climb dangerous?
A: Absolutely. You should only attempt Manaslu if you have the proper experience and logistics for emergency situations. Most deaths are a result of avalanches and falls but the weather and altitude takes it's toll. Two independent climbers from Slovakia got in trouble in 2013 narrowly escaping death.

Q: How many people had summited and how many people had died trying?
A: According to the Himalayan Database 64 people have died with about 672 summits through the Autumn of 2012. The success rate is about 60%. About half summit without using supplemental oxygen. The first ascent was in the Spring of 1956 by Japanese Yuko Maki.

Training, Gear & Communication:

Q: How did you you train for this climb?
A: I climbed over 25 of my Colorado 14,000' mountains in 2013 mostly with a 30 pound pack. This increased my cardio, stamina and overall strength. I no longer run due to bad knees. I did not work out in an indoor gym. I feel real-world training is the best prep if possible. If you live at sea-level, find a sandy beach and walk/run with a large pack to work the micro-muscles and climb stairs in a high-rise office building.

Q: Was altitude a problem on this climb?
A: Yes, it is always a challenge on 8,000m climbs. The camps on Manaslu are far apart. I used supplemental oxygen from Summit Oxygen for the summit push and was extremely pleased with their system as compared to Poisk or TopOut. Altitude can be a problem for anyone above 8,000', much less when you are going above 22,000'. To acclimatize in route, the travel to base camp takes about a week. As usual when climbing big mountains, you follow the climb high, sleep low routine. About half the previous people who summited Manaslu used supplemental oxygen.

Q: Can you prepare for the altitude?
A:Not really. The common approach is to move slowly up the mountain (1000' a day maximum) spending your days at a higher altitude than where you sleep up until your summit bid. The human body simply does not function well at high altitudes and especially above 8000m (26,300'). As you go higher, the barometric pressure decreases, although the air still contains 21% oxygen, every breath contains less molecules of oxygen.

Everest legend Tom Hornbein explained it to the American Lung Association this way:

The lower oxygen stimulates chemoreceptors that initiate an increase in breathing, resulting in a lowering of the partial pressure of CO2 and hence more alkaline blood pH. The kidneys begin to unload bicarbonate to compensate. Though this adaptation can take many days, up to 80% occurs just in the first 48 to 72 hours. There are many other physiologic changes going on, among them the stimulus of low oxygen to release the hormone, erythropoietin to stimulate more red blood cell production, a physiological and still acceptable form of blood doping that enhances endurance performance at low altitudes. Adaptive changes are not always good for one’s health. Some South American high altitude residents can have what’s called chronic mountain sickness, resulting from too many red blood cells; their blood can be up to 84-85% red blood cells. The increased blood viscosity and sometimes associated pulmonary hypertension can result in right heart failure.

You cannot do much to acclimatize at low altitudes but there are companies that claim to help the acclimatization process through specially designed tents that simulate the reduced oxygen levels at higher elevations. I have no personal experience with these systems but you can find more details at the Hypoxico website. They cost about $7,000 or can be rented for about $170 a week. Outside Magazine posted an article in 2013 questioning their effectiveness.

Q: What kind of equipment did you you use?
Click for a larger view of my Everest gear. A: Mostly I used the same gear I used on Everest. I use a 3 layer system: base, warmth and wind/cold. My personal technical equipment included a long handle ice axe, harness, carabineers and crampons. It is always critical to protect my toes, fingers and face since these were most susceptible to frost bite. See my gear page for a complete discussion and my gear list updated for 2013. I am very pleased with all my gear but had a few standouts that I note on my gear page.

Q: Anything special in your gear for Manaslu?
A: I used everything on my gear page under Everest including the full down suit. It can be extremely cold and windy so multiple down layers were required. We were lucky to have good weather on summit night with temps around freezing. It was also a very rainy on the trek so fast drying light clothes were in order with good trekking shoes that dried easily. I cannot emphasize how wet Manaslu is both on the trek and at Base Camp.

Q: Did you you use a Sat Phone?
A: I used my Thuraya sat phone and it worked well. Altitude Junkies provided a Bgan but the costs was ridiculously high due to Immarasat. For details on my expedition communications, please see this tutorial.


Expedition Basics

Q: Which route is most popular?
A: The Northeast ridge is the most popular with over 650 summits. The South face is a distant second with only 21 summits.



Q: How long did it take?
A: A week to get to base camp, 3 weeks on the mountain and a few days to get back to Kathmandu. It was 5 weeks total.

Q: How much does a standard climb cost with and without a guide?
A: The costs can range from $13,000 to $20,000 depending on who you use. If you use a logistics company only, you might be able to cut the highest cost by a third. See my Guide page for more details.

Q: Do I need a permit to climb?
A: Yes a climbing permit is required through the Nepal Ministry of Tourism of $1,800 per person. There are other fees for example a trash fee of $3,000.

Q: Do I really need a guide for Manaslu?
A: You will need help getting a permit and entering Nepal at a minimum thus need a ground agent. Once there, It all depends on your skills, money and time available. Manaslu is a serious high-altitude climb. Some people go to Manaslu without a formal guide and contract with local agencies for yaks, porters or carry everything themselves. There are usually a lot of climbers on Manaslu so you would probably not be alone but easily could be. In harsh weather (white-outs) or in a medical emergency, you will be on your own so consider your skill level carefully. Climbing alone or in too small of a team is never a good idea.

Q: How do you get on an expedition to climb Manaslu?
A:
Most reputable guides ask for your climbing resume and require some serious climbing experience. Ideally they want to see climbs of Denali or Aconcagua. But most anyone can get on a Manaslu commercial expedition these days without many questions so be careful who you select since you may get caught up in a mess. There are horror stories of using low cost Nepal based guides but also some with excellent results.

Q: What is involved if I plan my own climb?
A: Basically everything: permits, travel, hotels, food, gear, routes, communications, emergency contentions - everything. There are local companies in Katmandu who can provide some services such as getting food or heavy tents to base camp. And some can provide a Sherpa at low costs. You can save a lot of money this way but as I said before, consider your skills in the event that something goes wrong - are you 100% self sufficient? What are your medical skills? HAPE and HACE are really possibilities on Manaslu - do you have the proper medicine and training to deal with it? And a hundred more questions. See my guide page for more. Again, climbing alone or in small teams is never a good idea. Saving a few thousand dollars is not worth your life.


My 2013 Climb

Q: Did you you summit?
A: Yes on September 25, 2013

Q: Why did you you choose Altitude Junkies Consultants as a guide service in 2013?
A: I have known Phil Crampton, owner of Junkies, for many years and was on Everest with him in 2008 and Alpamayo in 2012. Phil is not a "guide" but rather provides the logistics and attracts independent climbers which I like. Phil runs an efficient and fun experience. His signature is a daily "Happy Hour" that attracts other climbers around BC and is a lot of fun.

Q: How did they perform?
A: Very very well. The Base Camp facilities were outstanding with individual sleeping tents, a huge dining and communications tent plus advanced shower and toilet tents. Phil provided laptop computers and Bgan Internet connections. The constant rain created solar power issues but overall things went smoothly.

The food was the best I have ever had on an expedition and for the first time I did not loose significant weight. The Sherpas were efficient, albeit a bit aloof, establishing the higher camps with tents, stoves and fuel. They also helped Himex fix the overall route to the summit. We carried all our own personal gear and food which was substantial weight at times. A Sherpa accompanied each climber on the summit push. The overall climb was run very independently as expected. While Phil climbed with us he was not hovering or micro-managing anyone's decisions. It was extremely independent. Some climbers might have need a bit more attention but that is not what Phil does.

Q: Which route did you you take?
A: The standard Northeast ridge. We had five camps including base camp at 15.7K, 18.7K, 21K, 22.3K, 24.5 to the summit at 26.7K. The summit itself was the scariest I have experienced being quite narrow with a soft edged cornice on both sides dropping of thousands of feet.

Q: What kind of weather conditions did you have?
A: 2013 was a mild year on Manaslu with reasonable temperatures. it was 9F when we left for the summit and 21F on the summit with low winds - exactly per the forecast Phil received. It rained at BC, as usual, for days on end but not as much as in previous years. We had very little new snow in 2013.

Q: Was there avalanche danger in 2013 similar to 2012 that killed 11 climbers?
A: Avalanche danger is always present on mountains like Manaslu but the cornice that collapsed in 2012 took the snow to the rock thus reducing the danger in that section. However, 2013 was a dry year thus exposing a lot of crevasses and making the route between Camps 1 and 2 very difficult and dangerous.

Q: Did you you use bottled oxygen?
A: Yes, I used oxygen from Summit Oxygen on the summit push. I used their complete system including bottle, regulator and mask. It was outstanding - the best oxygen system I have ever used including Poisk or TopOut. It was efficient and supplied steady oxygen throughout the climb. Most importantly, when needed in demanding moments, the extra oxygen was delivered quickly.


Bottom Line

Manaslu was a nice climb. The route required real climbing, not trekking or high altitude walking. It tested our compete repertoire of climbing skills. The mountain was stunning with the East Pinnacle looming above us each day at Base Camp. The summit itself was the scariest I have experienced being quite narrow with a soft edged cornice on both sides dropping off thousands of feet. Manaslu is a solid climb on its own or as a great prep for higher or more difficult Himalayan mountains.