Thursday, May 23, 2013

Himalaya 2013: Kangchenjunga Claims Five Lives

Now that the dust is settling on Kangchenjunga, more information is filtering out about what happened there over the past few days. While there is news of multiple successful summits, it seems that the mountain has also claimed the lives of five people, making it one of the most deadly seasons in recent memory.

Yesterday I reported that Hungarian climbers Zsolt Eross and Peter Kiss had spent the night without tents or sleeping bags at 8300 meters (27,230 ft) following a successful summit bid. The two men had been in touch with the support team and were letting them know that they were on the move, although it was slow going. At the time, they were attempting to reach Camp 4 to rest and collect supplies, but after that they lost contact and haven't been seen or heard from since. What happened to them remains unknown, but considering Kangchenjunga is one of the deadliest mountains in the world, it seems likely that they perished while trying to descend.

Unfortunately, Eross and Kiss weren't the only casualties on the mountain. An avalanche swept Korean climber Park Nam Su, as well as Phurba and Vivas Sherpa from the mountain. This incident apparently occurred higher up the slopes as another avalanche blew through Camp 2, causing damage there but not killing anyone. Like Annapurna, Kangchenjunga is notorious for its powerful and unpredictable avalanches.

ExWeb is reporting that 11 people reached the summit of Kangchen on Monday, May 20. In addition to Eross and Kiss, Iranian climber Raza Shahlai and Mingma Gyalje Sherpa topped out. There were two Korean climbers not far behind them. Catalonian climber Oscar Cadiach and Italian Mario Vielmo also topped out, as did Korean alpinist Kim Hong-bin. These successes have to be bittersweet at this point however, considering the number of climbers who turned back, as well as those who have lost their lives in the pursuit of the summit.
On Dhaulagiri Polish climber Pawel Michalski has returned to Camp 3 after making a final summit push. His website doesn't give much information but it does say that he reached 8100 meters (26,574 ft). If that is true, that means he came up just 67 meters (220 ft) short of the summit. It is always difficult to turn back when your objective is so close, but with weather conditions deteriorating rapidly, those final 67 meters could have been the difference between survival and struggling to get down alive. It appears that his expedition is over and Pawel will return to BC and then head home.

The outlook is better on Makalu, where Kinga Baranowska and Rafal Fronia have now reached Camp 4. As of their last dispatch, the duo were resting and preparing for their summit push. If all goes according to plan, they should be on their way to the top today. The wether is reportedly good, although winds are still of concern.

Finally, the word from Cho Oyu is that high winds kept teams in place earlier in the week but they should be on the move again now. A weather window was expected to open starting yesterday, which means teams could be on a summit push now. We'll have to wait for confirmation on success or failure from that mountain soon.

More updates to come as we get news.

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