He just wanted to take some cool photos and end up changing the story. He also downgraded his own rise of Manaslu in the process.
Photographer and blogger Jackson Groves has become the star of this fall’s Himalayan season, thanks to the incredible drone footage he shared on social media. The images captured the Manaslu summit area like never before. The side views and glimpses removed all previous doubts about where the mountain’s highest point is, what it looks like, and who really got there.
The summit of Manaslu will no longer be alike
Groves’ images have been unanimously applauded by the international climbing community. At the same time, it sparked one of the most heated debates in years. The photos unequivocally showed that most climbers had stopped at the end of the ropes, at a point well below the summit. It also showed the Imagine Nepal team crossing the western side of the ridge to reach the real summit.
The public rushed to congratulate Imagine Nepal leader Mingma G, but did not spare criticism of fellow climbers who, rightly or wrongly, claimed a summit. The photos showed for the first time that they still had some way to go.
Some of these precursors didn’t realize the effect of the Groves images until they looked at their social media feeds. Instead of praise, they found themselves strewn with questions. The backlash only intensified after the Himalayan database confirmed that no one had reached Manaslu since Guy Cotter led his clients in the spring of 2012 and all fall highs since. 1976 were actually pre-summits.
The man who didn’t know he knew too much
Groves was one of those who had stopped dead. Ironically, when he posted his images on social media, he hadn’t noticed the shape of the summit ridge, or the tiny figures of Mingma G and her team. Groves himself explained the facts to ExplorersWeb.
“At the time of the flight, I couldn’t really see the group crossing to the real summit [because of] the shape of the ridge, ”he told ExplorersWeb. “I didn’t even notice them while flying the drone.”
He explained that the extreme glare at this altitude and the blazing sun made it difficult for him to notice such fine detail on a small LCD screen. He was just trying to capture the line of people heading for the regular summit (the pre-summit).
The images and the commotion they caused took Groves by surprise. Over the past five years, he had traveled, hiked, backpacked, taken photos, flown his drone, and fed his personal blog, Journey Era. He had never been to an 8,000m peak before.
“I am also new to the discussions surrounding the ‘real’ top and the ‘lower’ top,” he explained. “I’m surprised that no photo or video has emerged before this that shows the side profile of the mountain! “
Rather than launching into a controversy in an activity he did not know, he prefers “to let an image speak [rather] than to make complaints about summits, false summits, records, etc.
Unwittingly, Groves showed how drones can be a game-changer in high altitude mountaineering. The broader vision they offer can not only end controversies, but also explore new approaches to rescue and communication.
How to fly a drone at 8000 m
However, getting drones means flying (and coming back) above 8000m is not easy. Groves explains:
“First, the air is thinner, so just like it’s harder for a helicopter, there’s less resistance against the propellers to create flight. [Second], extreme cold at altitude can prevent the batteries from functioning. It is important to keep them warm inside your jacket or pockets until use. “
The climber must also carry the heavy drone up to such altitudes. “In this case on the Manaslu, we had a team of Sherpas capable of carrying heavier loads (including camera equipment) at altitude. “
Groves used a DJI Mavic Air2. Its main problem was to run the batteries in the cold.
“I had three batteries with me and the first two didn’t fire because of the cold battery warnings,” he recalls. “But the third one made the propellers move. I then let it warm up on the ground for a few minutes before trying to take off.
On its first attempt, the drone hovered a few inches above the ground, then fell. But the second time around, he was able to fly it around the top for 20 minutes. Once it was warm and flying, the drone no longer had issues with cold batteries.
Easy to lose drones
In the past, drones used on 8000m peaks sometimes flew but suddenly fell and were lost forever. This was Alex Txikon’s experience on the Nanga Parbat three winters ago, when he researched Tom Ballard and Daniele Nardi. One of his drones approached the infamous Mummery Spur where the pair had disappeared, but suddenly lost power and fell into a crevasse.
Nanga Parbat winter is colder than Manaslu autumn, and Groves has not experienced such problems. “The drone successfully landed in the same place it took off,” he said. “I threw it just below the regular top ridge, about 8,100m. He flew around the regular top [foresummit] and then I also had a good view of the first string fasteners up to the “real” summit.
Drones have other uses in high altitude expeditions, besides proving their success, says Groves.
“Drones could be used in search and rescue operations that are too dangerous for helicopters,” he said. “DJI actually has drones that can send signals and even have speakers, so the pilot can give people on the ground certain instructions or messages. There are also thermal drones for search and rescue. Even drones like mine that cost a little over $ 1,000 can search for people, explore routes, or analyze mountain topography, as in this case.
Below is a video of Groves life and work over the past five years:
About the Author
Senior journalist, published author and communications consultant. Specialized in high altitude mountaineering, with an interest in everything that surrounds the mountain: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional lines, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. I have felt at home ever since!