TENJI SHERPA: THE MERIT OF THE ALPINE STYLE
The eyes of the world have been on Nirmal Purja and his companions, who went down in history when they reached the summit of K2 on 16 January
However epic and extraordinary, their legendary winter ascent is not an isolated exploit, but one of many adventures for those who live in the Himalayas and climb their local mountains for work or love.
This winter saw a lightweight, silent expedition to Manaslu, the world’s eighth-highest mountain, consisting of Tenji Sherpa and Vinayak Jaya Malla. Both international guides with IFMGA certification, the two Nepalis are exceptionally well-prepared in technical and physical terms (Tenji used to climb with Ueli Steck, no less). They were attempting a winter ascent in the purest of styles, the Alpine: no well-stocked camps, no fixed lines, no external support. Just the two of them, alone on the mountain, light and fast, against the 8163 metres of Manaslu.
“Our way of climbing is more important than reaching the summit at any cost”
Their challenge lacked the thrill of a world-first (Manaslu was first climbed in winter by a Polish expedition in 1984), but it had all the characteristics of a true adventure. Once again the mountains provide the scene in which all can participate, with skill and imagination. We were in direct satellite contact with Tenji at base camp: we received a few updates, but most of all the excitement of those who were there, at the foot of the mountain, waiting with the characteristic patience of great mountaineers.
“Considering the winds forecasted for the next few days in the mountains, we’ve made ourselves comfortable here at base camp. We’re acclimatised and we’re doing fine. We’ve had some beautiful days and spectacular sunrises, but the winter winds, which increase the higher you go, make the air bitingly cold. Now’s the time to be patient and wait for a window of opportunity: we only need three days of good weather…
Meanwhile down here we’re spoiling ourselves a little, eating dal bhat (rice and lentils, a typical Nepalese dish). At the higher camps, we’ll only have energy bars and freeze-dried meals, and even so, our rucksacks weigh more than 30 kilos!”
What are the conditions like at the moment?
“I’d say typical winter conditions, a lot of snow, but changeable. When we were opening the trail to base camp we were sinking into a metre of soft snow. On the mountain, at C1 and above, there’s a lot of fresh snow, lying on the hard ice layer underneath. A perfect combination for avalanches… Also, because it’s winter, the conditions force us to make frequent, efficient changes to the way we move forward: shoes, boots, skis, crampons. Unlike other seasons, it’s a constant switching between gear and equipment!
Our priority is to move safely, so we look at the weather forecast and make decisions on a daily basis about how to proceed. Thanks for contacting us and for the support. Speak soon!”
Later we unexpectedly receive news about the end of the expedition. After careful consideration, Tenji and Vinayak had to come to terms with the reality: this year Manaslu is more difficult than usual, tougher than expected. The safety margins could be increased by using a different strategy, establishing higher camps, and moving more slowly.
But for the two Nepalese guides, climbing according to the rules they’ve chosen is more important than making it to the summit at any cost: setting aside the lightness and speed of the Alpine-style would be like failing in their dream. Giving up is a wonderful lesson inconsistency with their own values and loyalty to the mountain. Stay safe, and there’s no place too far!
Originally published on “SCARPA”, https://en.scarpa.net/post/mountaineering-tenji-sherpa-manaslu.html, Accessed on June 28, 2021.