"I found the expedition to Manaslu the hardest compared to my last three climbs. Maybe K2 in 1996 from North was harder. I didn't have such a bad weather even on Kangchenjunga in 2001, and now I understand why even excellent climbers were talking about Manaslu with such a deep respect."
- Piotr Pustelnik
Forty miles east of Annapurna, Manaslu is the highest peak in the Gurkha massif of the Mansiri Himal, a sub-range of the Nepalese Himalayas. It is the 8th-highest mountain in the world, at 8,163 metres. Its name is derived from the Sanskrit Manas, which translates roughly to "mental" or "of the mind". Because mind in the Sanskrit sense is closer to what we might understand by the word "spirit" in English, Manaslu is usually translated as "Mountain of the Spirit". Apparently it was once known as Kutan, a name derived from the Tibetan word tang or "flat place" - presumably an ironic name, since Manaslu is capped by a steep, sharp peak that dominates the landscape for many miles around. Another name among the local peoples is Pungen Ri, a phrase for which I haven't been able to find a translation.
Not one of the better-known mountains in the world, Manaslu is nevertheless one of the most dangerous, with the 4th-highest fatality rate of the 8000-metre peaks, behind Annapurna, Nanga Parbat and K2. Like Annapurna and Dhaulagiri, 2 of the other Nepalese peaks, the dangers of climbing Manaslu are related to its heavy accumulation of snow and ice, leading to frequent avalanches and ice falls.
After reconnaissance in 1950 by H.W. Tilman, early attempts were made in 1952 and 1953, before Manaslu was finally summited in 1956 by a Japanese team led by Yukio Mita - actually reaching the summit first were Toshio Imanishi and Gyalzen Norbu Sherpa, followed 2 days later by Kiichiro Kato and Minoru Higeta. All four men ascended via the North face of the mountain. For some reason it was not climbed again until 1971, this time via the northwest spur.
1972 was a bit of a tragic year on Manaslu. First Wolfgang Nairz led an Austrian team including Reinhold Messner up the South face, a route which has gained a reputation as one of the toughest climbs in the history of mountaineering. Messner reached the summit, the only member of the team to do so, after his summit climbing partner Franz Jager turned back, feeling that he wasn't capable of the climb and was just slowing Messner down. A storm began to blow up as Messner descended, and soon he was lost on the summit plateau and struggling with hurricane force winds and zero visibility. He relates how at some point he heard a voice on the wind, which he presumed was Franz looking for him or calling to try to guide him to the tent. After a while Reinhold remembered that he had seen the storm coming in from a certain direction, and that if he walked against the wind he would be heading roughly in the direction of the high camp; this little memory saved his life, as he managed to find the tent, which was barely clinging to the mountainside in the violent winds and snow. However, Franz wasn't there, and was never found; two other members of the party who were waiting in the tent went out to look for him in the storm, and one of them, Andi Schlick, also disappeared. This was the second time Messner had climbed an 8000-metre mountain, and the second time he had lost his climbing partner - the first time, on Nanga Parbat, he lost his brother Gunther. Once again, he was blamed by many people for the disaster (unfairly, as all the members of his team attested). From this point on, Reinhold Messner decided never to join any more large expeditions, and completed his subsequent ascents alpine style, in small groups or solo.
Later in 1972, there was a much worse tragedy, when an avalanche ungulfed a Korean expedition, killing 10 sherpas, 5 Koreans and a Japanese climber. Overall, Manaslu's fatality rate is just under 22% (240 successful ascents and 52 deaths). The quotation at the beginning from Piotr Pustelnik, who had climbed 12 of the 14 8000m peaks, was made after Piotr and his climbing partner Krzysztof Tarasewicz, the only people to summit Manaslu in 2003, fell 300m when strong winds blew them off the mountain while they descended, and only made it home after struggling through a snowstorm with the aid of a compass.
Like Annapurna and Dhaulagiri, the Gurkha massif dominated by Manaslu is a trekking destination, with a trail that leads all around the massif through pristine countryside and high terrain. The Manaslu trail joins up with the Annapurna circuit after crossing Larkya Pass at 5100m. Another area of note for trekkers is the Tsum Valley, an ancient region of Tibetan origin containing ruins of the old Tsum Kingdom, which is also said to be the birthplace of the Buddhist saint Milarepa.
Everest News: http://www.everestnews.com/manaslufacts.htm
Messner's Ordeal: http://jerberyd.com/climbing/messner/manaslu/
Manaslu Trekking: http://www.nepalriver.com/trekking/manaslutrek.php
Tsum Valley Trek: http://www.ecotrekinternational.com/tsumvalleytrek.php