The Top Adventure Stories of 2012: 11 People Die in Manaslu Avalanche

Benedikt Böhm becomes the first to summit and ski the world’s eighth highest peak in the aftermath

Jan 4, 2013
Outside Magazine

On September 30 at 9:00 a.m., German climber Benedikt Böhm stood on the summit of Manaslu and tied a prayer scarf to a carabiner he had used roughly a week earlier to help haul boots to survivors of an avalanche that killed 11 people. He shared the details of his summit in a dispatch for EpicTV. At the top, he waited roughly an hour for his teammates Sebastian Haag and Constantine Pade. They didn’t show. They had stopped 500 feet below the summit, deciding to save their strength for the ski down. Böhm met them there, where the trio began what he called “the worst ski descent ever.” The terrain was windpacked, unpredictable, and covered by avalanche debris. Just over 23-and-a-half hours after departing from Base Camp, Böhm reached the bottom, becoming the first and only person to summit and ski the 26,759-foot peak without the assistance of supplemental oxygen in less than 24 hours. The space between his successful summit bid and the resting spot of his teammates near the top was just hundreds of feet. The gap between teammates who either died or survived the avalanche a week earlier was even smaller.

On the morning of Sunday, September 23, skier Glen Plake was in his tent reading the Bible next to expedition mate Gregory Costa. At roughly 4:30 a.m., a serac broke off a glacier, hit the snow, and triggered an avalanche that rumbled roughly 3,000 feet down the mountain. It swept through Camp III, where Plake and Costa rested in the same tent, and sent them reeling before careening down into Camp II. If left bodies and gear scattered in a mess that Plake described as a “war zone” after he emerged injured, but alive. Costa and several others were nowhere to be found. 

One of the first people to help in the rescue effort was skier Greg Hill. He had set up his tent off to the side of Camp II on an ice shelf because he was worried about conditions. When he arrived at the scene, he was shocked. “There were injured people stuck in their tents with the dead body of their tent mate wrapped around them,” he wrote on his blog. “The line between life and death was inches. Some people were talking to their tent mates as it happened, and when the avalanche stopped their partners were nowhere to be seen.”

Eight bodies were recovered and three were missing. Teams responded to the tragedy differently. Mountain Professionals remained and attempted a summit. Alpine Ascents International returned home. Three Members of Altitude Junkies returned home, while other members of the expedition stayed. Hill was the third member of Böhm and Haag’s team. Like others at Manaslu, the trio had intended to climb Cho Oyu in Tibet, but China had denied them access and so they filtered over to Manaslu in Nepal. Hill decided to return home. The Germans replaced him with Pade.

As the season ended, the death toll remained at 11. In October, while funerals for those lost we’re held continents away, two bodies had still not been found. Costa was one of them.

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