Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, who this autumn climbed the (true) summit of Manaslu, and who last winter made the first winter ascent of K2 with ten other Nepalese, has patiently built his success. Founder of the company Imagine Nepal a few years ago, the rising star is a result and reflection of the fast-paced changes taking place in Nepal’s 8000ers, where pawns are quickly promoting into bigger pieces, determined to dominate the game on the highest chessboard in the world.

With his precious mountain guide diploma in his pocket, certified by the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations, it was time for Mingma Gyalje to found his own mountain guiding company on the highest peaks of the world: Imagine Nepal was created. In 2017 he climbed Broad Peak (with a disputed summit claim) and K2 again. Harsh conditions pushed two big (Western) commercial teams back, but Mingma G continued. Later on, he told Alan Arnette that he had trusted the weather forecast provided by Krishna Manandar, a Nepal-based meteorologist who had been also one of Mingma’s teachers, Manandar predictions proved right and Imagine Nepal’s team returned with a 100% success.

Four years later Manandar would also be key in the Nepalese’s triumph on winter K2. One of the clients who summited in Mingma’s team that summer of 2017 would also play a major role on winter K2 history: John Snorri of Iceland.

On 22 July 2018, Mingma G. put an end to the controversy over his unsuccessful ascent of Broad Peak the previous year, this time reaching the true summit… ©Coll. Mingma G. Sherpa

Mingma G, together with his two companions and seven other nepali climbers bagged the first ever winter summit of K2

K2 winter ascent, then Annapurna in spring

Imagine Nepal got present in expeditions every season, but the idea of attempting K2 in winter was always present in Mingma’s ambitions, specially since the attempts by Polish, Russian and Spanish teams failed.

Imagine Nepal launched a first attempt on K2 in the winter of 2019-20. Surprisingly, it was conceived as a commercial expedition, with three clients: Gao Li of China, Tomaz Rotar of Slovenia and Iceland’s John Snorri. The best that can be said about that expedition was that all members returned home safely. Otherwise, it didn’t go very far and ended bitterly. Mingma G ensured one of the Sherpa guides was injured and, although no one believed him at first, his Chinese client wanted to return home when his family warned him about a “strange kind of flu” spreading across the country. Snorri (who refused to go home when Mingma G called the attempt off) and Rotar believed the expedition leader had never had an intention to launch a summit and instead used poor excuses to cancel the attempt. Their suspicions were only got firmer when, one year later, after an economically disastrous year due to the COVID pandemic, Mingma G announced he would be back to K2, but without bearing the burden of having clients in tow and, instead, as a three-member, only-Sherpa team, and a clear intention to climb without O2.

Both Snorri and Rotar returned to winter K2 as well; the latter as part of a commercial team launched by also Nepalese outfitter 7 Summit Treks, and Snorri as an independent team, together with father and son Ali and Sajid Sadpara of Pakistan. What happened on that expedition is history. Rotar and his team never went beyond Camp 3, Snorri died on the mountain, and Mingma G, together with his two companions and seven other nepali climbers bagged the first ever winter summit of K2.

First winter ascent of K2 : Nirmal Purja salutes Mingma G. in the Bottleneck traverse at 8300 metres. ©Coll. Mingma G. Sherpa

Back from K2 in winter ©Coll. Mingma G. Sherpa

K2 winter ascent : Sherpas who made it to the top. “Only we know the pressure we had, the hard work we did, how much we suffered in -65°C temperatures and cold wind.” Mingma G.  ©Coll. Mingma G.

Yet, it is worth noting that, although the feat was celebrated as a collective triumph and a feat for Nepal’s mountaineering, it was Mingma G who came with the idea first. He was also the one, among the Nepali team, who clearly stated that there was a competition for the Nepalis to get there first and that they were determined to reach that summit for Nepal, whatever it took. He also provided the most detailed account of the summit climb, honestly mentioning that nearly turned around from Camp 3 and that he used O2 from that point.

The Nepalese team was hailed as heroes back in Kathmandu, but Mingma G had not much time for celebrations. He had to work. A month later he was fixing ropes up on Annapurna, at an insanely-commercialized summit push with nearly 70 people behind him, and then Everest, with COVID cases swelling among all teams in the mountain. The poor management of cases among climbing teams in Nepal got all citizens banned from Pakistan in summer. It was by that time when Mingma G opened another fat can of worms, by announcing that he would climb Manaslu in fall. It’s nothing special on its own but, as he pointed out on social media: “This year we will be going to main summit of Mt. Manaslu. Commercial Expedition in autumn season rarely reach final summit on Manaslu. Hopefully this year we can make it to main summit and it will be regulation from next year’s autumn season. I also hope this will be historical ascent on Manaslu which will be given as an example for the future climbing and climbers.

The pictures proved Mingma G’s feat made clear that all other teams stopped well below the highest point and the main difficulties.

Mingma G. on the summit of Annapurna, last April 16th ©Coll. Mingma G. Sherpa

Manaslu true summit

And once again, Mingma G did exactly what he had promised. Moreover, he followed a very smart climbing tactic: once at the point where the fixed ropes end – that is, where the summit ridge narrows too much to permit clients to go up and down in relative comfort – , he rapelled down 10 metres and traversed underneath the ridge, across the west side, until he got below the highest point, and then went up. Although steep and technical, Mingma G ensured the passage was safe enough for himself and his clients.

That was not all on his lucky day: a drone happened to be flying and photographing the mountain when Mingma and his team were traversing to the “true summit”. Neither Mingma nor the drone pilot, Jackson Groves, even noticed they were changing history. Groves later admitted that he just wanted to get some footage of the summit area, and just shared the photos on his Instagram upon returning to Base camp, without having a good look at them. Never the phrase “an image worth as thousand words” fit better. The pictures proved Mingma G’s feat made clear that all other teams stopped well below the highest point and the main difficulties.

September 27 : in the background, Mingma G. is climbing towards the now undisputed summit of Manaslu. ©Jackson Groves

“I feel privileged raising these flags on the real summit of Mt Manaslu.” Mingma G. ©Coll. Mingma G. Sherpa

There will be no more excuses. Mingma Gyalje Sherpa.

Some weeks later, The Himalayan Database announced that, although they would not change or delete past summit accreditations, they would definitely update criteria for all future Manaslu climbs, accepting as summiteers only those who proved they had reached the mountain’s highest point. “There will be no more excuses,” Mingma G concluded. He had won again. Next year, it will be interesting to see his work as expedition leader on Kangchenunga. But it is the Mingma G climber, where he is, in his own words, really tough, who has yet a lot to say and show.

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