Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The unlikely attraction of Nepal's Killer Mountain

Towering above the pine forests of Nepal's Budhi Gandaki river valley, the mighty Manaslu is nicknamed killer mountain by locals because more than 60 people have died on its treacherous slopes.

The world's eighth highest peak may not be as famous as its bigger neighbours Everest and Annapurna, but it again proved with the deaths of at least nine climbers on Sunday that its ice falls and fickle weather are just as deadly.

"Manaslu is a stepping stone towards Everest," said mountaineer Dawa Steven Sherpa, whose Kathmandu-based trekking agency organises treks on the 8,156-metre (26,759 ft) peak.

"A lot of people attempt it before Everest because it's another 8,000m mountain, but it's less technical. Because it's an easier climb, people who want to attempt Everest often try Manaslu first to know what it's like to trek at that high altitude."

Manaslu's long ridges and valley glaciers offer feasible approaches from all directions, but it is considered especially prone to avalanches.

While its name literally translates as "Mountain of the Spirit", it is known by locals as Killer Mountain after claiming the lives of 53 mountaineers between 1956, when it was first conquered, and 2006.

Fewer than 300 people reached the summit in that time, according to records available in private databases which cover only that period.

Manaslu saw its worst disaster when a South Korean expedition was buried by snow while attempting to climb the northeast face in 1972. The 15 dead included 10 Sherpas and the Korean expedition leader.

On Sunday a group of climbers from Europe were sleeping in tents near the top when they were hit by a huge wall of snow which killed at least nine of them, bringing the toll of deaths to more than 60.

Three climbers remained missing as of Monday afternoon.

Manaslu has been open to tourists since 1991, offering spectacular trekking along the border of Nepal and Tibet, but its dangerous slopes and relative obscurity are among the reasons it has largely been ignored.

People who take the risk are often seduced by the authentic experience the Manaslu offers, with trekking companies playing up the fact that just a handful of expeditions attempt the climb each year.

Others are persuaded by the relatively cheap cost of the expedition which, in the region of $18,000 per person, makes it at least half the price of attempting Everest.

But many are experienced climbers who will tackle other Himalayan peaks as well, said Sherpa, a two-time summiteer of Everest.

"People who normally climb up Manaslu have bigger peaks in mind, or they are people who are attempting to climb all the 8,000m peaks," he told AFP.

"Very few people climb Manaslu for the sake of just climbing Manaslu


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