Manaslu Avalanche: Disaster that Led to 11 Deaths in 2012

A rough peak rises high in the northern Himalayas of Nepal. Towering over the nearby mountains, Mount Manaslu is the eighth-highest peak in the world and rises to an impressive elevation of 8,156 meters. From a distance, the mountain appears to be equally beautiful and terrifying due to its unusually steep slopes and extensive ridges covered in jagged cornices. This terrifying mountain has lived up to its reputation as it has claimed the lives of over 80 people. One event that led to the death of 11, was the Manaslu Avalanche in 2012.

Just like the rest of the mountains, people dream to stand on their summit in awe of the world below. However, the mountains don’t always submit to the climbers easily. This blog covers the events of September 23, 2012, and how overconfidence of commercial expeditions led to the tragic death of 11 people in an avalanche.

The History of Mt Manaslu – First Summit Attempt in the 1950s

Manaslu became fascinated with foreigners in Nepal when British mountaineers first became aware of Manaslu in 1950. After the discovery of the mountain by outsiders expedition teams began devising a plan to climb the mountain. Many teams noted a possible ascent route from the mountain’s northeastern face. Even though the British expedition made plans to climb Mt Manaslu they never attempted to climb.

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Toshio Iminishi of Japan

Even though the British didn’t attempt to summit the mountain then, several Japanese expeditions tried to reach the summit. Eventually, Mount Manaslu was conquered by Toshio Iminishi of Japan and Gyaltsen Norbu of Nepal in 1956. Although the mountain was popular at the time, the next successful ascent of Manaslu happened in 1971.

One reason it took so long was because  the locals did not view the mountaineers positively at the time. They had gradually grown hostile to climbers during the excursions from 1950 to 1956. Especially after a bad avalanche in 1954 that destroyed a monastery and killed 18 people. Because of this, locals from the area began to think that the climbers had offended the gods.

Despite this, by the 1970s, the locals once again started allowing climbers to the mountain again without further hostilities.

Manaslu offers a unique mountaineering experience

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View of Mount Manaslu from the trek route

Though it’s not the most popular of the 8000-meter peaks, Mt Manaslu’s climbing experience draws mountaineers to its sharp steep slopes in the hopes of reaching its treacherous pointed peak. Despite its intimidating exterior, the most popular route for climbers to reach Manaslu’s summit is rather straightforward and provides a unique climbing experience compared to the other 8000-meter Himalayan peaks. 

Many climbers also use Manalsu as a ‘warm up’ mountain before they attempt to climb Everest. As it is an easier 8,000 meter mountain to climb, it serves as a milestone for many, before they decide to take on the highest mountain in the world.

Climbers on Everest are familiar with disaster as well. Read about the more than 200 dead bodies still on Mount Everest.

Since Manaslu typically experiences considerable snowfall during the Himalayan monsoon season, most summit pushes are attempted in the early fall. The extra snow that builds up on the mountain eases climbers’ ascent once it has had time to settle and harden. Navigating the mountain’s steep, rocky ridge in the spring is much more challenging since it has yet to be completely covered in snow and ice. 

The difficulties compound when the mountain is hit by strong winds, forming the distinctive cornices that line the mountain’s summit. These cornices are so large that it’s believed most climbers mistake a false top as the summit and never actually make it to Manaslu’s true summit.

Mount Manaslu – Simple but dangerous climb

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Mount Manaslu also known for its large unsupported cornice

Many people assume that climbing beyond the fourth summit of Manaslu would be borderline suicidal because the true summit sits on a sharp rocky outcropping that, when completely covered in deep snow in the autumn, appears to be a large unsupported cornice.

Manaslu is regarded as one of the simpler 8000-meter mountains to climb, aside from the final push to the summit, because of its comparatively easy gradient and the absence of demanding technical expertise. The summit is considered to be a terrifying experience as it straddles a sharp drop off of hundreds of meters.

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Route to Mount Manaslu

Despite this reputation, Manaslu has seen a great deal of fatalities compared to other 8000-meter summits like Cho Oyu. The ascent of the glacier is fraught with massive gaping crevasse fields, a particularly active ice fall between camps 1 and 2, and large ominous serac ringing its top ridges. Moreover, the risk of avalanches on the mountain has also raised concerns about the safety of the mountain.

Along with these risks, climbers who want to reach the summit of Manaslu must be vigilant about the snow conditions to avoid being swept away by a natural disaster. This is because the mountain receives a lot of snow each year and has typically warmer weather than other 8000-meter peaks.

Manaslu 2012 disaster: September 23

Manaslu’s climbing season was in full force in September 2012. Snow fell over several days in 2012, which was not a good start to the climbing season. Although the weather was not favorable at first, a 10-day window appeared around September 15, prompting the mountaineers to clammer of the mountain for their summit bid. 

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Climbers on their way to the base camp

What was different this year was that Camp 3 was placed lower than normal during the climbing season that year since a sizable serac field would provide wind protection at the lower camp 3. While the normal Camp 3 site was located approximately 100 meters higher up the mountain, it was also significantly more exposed to the strong winds that were constantly pelting the mountain. 

On September 22, 2012, a severe blizzard blanketed Manaslu, trapping the climbers hoping to reach the summit. Isolated in their tents, they spent the night trying to weather the storm and get some rest before sunrise.

On September 23, around 4:30 a.m., while most climbers on the mountain were sleeping, a massive serac estimated to be about 600 meters wide broke off above camp 3, triggering a terrifying avalanche that swiftly gained momentum while it crashed down the mountain. The 31 individuals at camp three were carried away in the avalanche as it tore down the mountain and through the camp, uprooting the tents as it went.

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Professional skier – Glen Plake

Glen Plake, a professional skier, aiming to reach the top of the mountain without oxygen and ski back down, recounted reading in his tent while Gregory Costa slept next to him in his sleeping bag. Costa was launched from the tent and was never seen again. 

After the initial gust of wind from the avalanche blasted the tents and climbers at camp 2, they figured the worst was over. They turned their attention up the mountain to evaluate the disaster’s severity.

Camp 3 was swept away by an avalanche – Putting 31 lives in danger

mount manaslu disaster, manaslu avalanche, Canadian professional skier, Greg Hill
Canadian professional skier – Greg Hill

Greg Hill, a Canadian professional skier, recalled seeing headlamps strewn along the mountain above him and initially assumed that the climbers were doing some early-morning acclimatization. However, he soon noticed that Camp 3 was no longer visible and immediately realized that the avalanche had swept the camp and its inhabitants away. 

Hill and the other climbers at Camp 2 decided to hurry up the mountain to assist in rescue efforts. By daylight, helicopters had been called, and a thorough search for survivors of the 31 climbers hit by the avalanche began. 

Eight climbers dead, with three missing at Manaslu’s camp 3

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Remy Lecluse: Glen Plake’s Team Guide

By the end of September 23, 2012, eight people had been identified as deceased, while three were still missing. Unfortunately, the three missing people’s destinies had all but been decided as the days went by in the wake of the catastrophe. Many of the surviving climbers gave up their push for the summit, while a few persisted and tried to reach the summit of Manaslu. 

One of the missing climbers was Remy Lecluse, a Frenchman who served as Glen Plake’s team’s guide. As a somber burial was held for him and several other French climbers back in Chamonix, France, Remy Lecluse’s wife heartbreakingly looked for him on the glacier.

However, a short time later, his body was discovered in a crevasse after being carried there by the avalanche.

Manaslu Avalanche: Mountains have a way of dealing with over-confidence

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Close up view of Mount Manaslu

In the end, the tragedy resulted in the deaths of 11 people. Luckily, several small independent teams had abandoned their climbs just days earlier due to concerns about a likely avalanche. Although some climbers were saved thanks to sound thinking, others continued on and put themselves in harm’s way. 

Herd mentality played a large role in people dying during the accident. Even though the warning signs were present, the larger commercially led teams continued to push up the mountain, and the other large commercial groups felt pressured to get their clients to the top of the mountain, foolishly continuing. A similar case reoccured on Oct 14, 2014 where 43 people died on the Annapurna Circuit.

With false confidence pulsating through the groups, many experienced climbers and leaders were making poor decisions. These poor decisions turned into dangerous ones as guides were not clipping in while crossing crevasse fields, resulting in their clients doing the same.

This herd mentality had penetrated the psyche of even some of the most experienced climbers. While extremely unfortunate, the avalanche in 2012 served as a much-needed wake-up call to many of the large commercial expedition companies. The companies were overlooking potential safety concerns and ended up putting people in danger. 

Fortunately, the companies and climbers learned their lessons due to that unfortunate event. 

FAQs about the Manaslu Avalanche:

This section includes information about some of the most frequently asked questions regarding Manaslu, as well as the Mount Manaslu disaster on September 23, 2012.

1. How many people died in the Manaslu Avalanche in 2012?

Around 4:45 AM on September 23, 2012, Nepal time, 11 people were killed by an avalanche at Camp 3 while sleeping in their tents. The avalanche debris covered a distance of 7,400m to about 6,300m.

2. How many people died in the Manaslu Avalanche in 2022?

An avalanche at 24,000 feet engulfed a group of climbers in the first few days of October 2022, killing a Nepali guide by the name of Anup Rai and wounding more than a dozen others. Ski mountaineering great Hilaree Nelson, 49, passed away higher on the peak after falling just before the summit.

3. What caused the Manaslu Avalanche?

There has been a lot of snowfall on Mount Manaslu. It was reported by Yukta Gurung, one of the Sherpas in charge of managing the climbing routes, that constant snowfall was what caused the avalanche – as there was continuous snowfall for 15 days.

4. How many people have died on Mount Manaslu?

As of December 2022, there have been a total of 89 deaths on Mount Manalsu. The first death was recorded in May 1971, with the last being in October 2022.

5. Is Manaslu known as Killer mountain?

Manaslu is a spectacular mountain that rises majestically up in Gorkha, Nepal. Manaslu is referred to as the “Killer Mountain of the World” and is also known as the “mountain of the spirit.” The eighth-highest mountain has seen more than 60 mountaineers lose their lives while climbing it.

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