At approximately 4:30 a.m. local time in Nepal, a massive avalanche high on Manaslu (26,759 feet), the world’s eighth-highest peak, wiped out Camp III, leaving 11 climbers dead or missing and at least 15 others seriously injured. The avalanche was triggered when a serac broke loose from the ridge high above the camp and then triggered a slab of snow to break loose and slide.
Garrett Madison—who I spoke with via sat phone and emailed with earlier today—and Lakpa Rita Sherpa, the head guide and lead Sherpa for Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International were lower down the mountain with their team, in Camp II, when they felt strong winds and ice penetrating their tents. (Madison and Rita also played a key role in last spring’s tragedy on Everest.) They quickly realized that the micro-storm was the blast cloud from the avalanche above them at Camp III, which is situated at approximately 23,000 feet.
Madison, Lapka Rita, and Mike Hamill (a guide with Ashford, Washington-based International Mountain Guides) immediately left their tents and climbed up to Camp III, where those who had survived the slide were conducting a frantic search for the missing.
“We found a massive debris field, and climbers who had survived the avalanche,” wrote Madison in an email. According to Madison’s count, the French team lost five members. The German Amical team lost one, the Italian team lost one of its climbers and a Sherpa, and British commercial outfitter Henry Todd’s Ice 8000 team is missing two climbers, and one Spaniard is confirmed dead. The names of the dead and missing won’t be released until family members are notified.
“We counted 11 total deceased or missing,” wrote Madison. “We were able to assist the French and German survivors some who were in pretty bad shape. We made a heli-pad and coordinated a rescue and evac'd about 15 people, and a few bodies. A lot of gear and a few bodies are still up there as the clouds moved in mid day.”
Since the Chinese have restricted access to Tibet this fall, many climbers, including American skiers Glen Plake and Greg Hill, who would have tried Cho Oyu or Shishapangma have instead opted to try Manaslu in the post-monsoon fall climbing season. If, as it’s believed, 11 have died, this would be among the deadliest single avalanches in Himalayan climbing history.
We’ll update you as we learn more.