Friday, September 26, 2014

Himalaya Fall 2014: Tragedy on Shishapangma, New Speed Record on Manaslu

We have more bad news from the Himalaya today, where tragedy has struck the Double8 team that we have been following so closely this fall. An avalanche hit the squad high on the peak, killing two climbers, and bringing a tragic end to their attempt to summit two 8000-meter peaks in seven days.

As you may recall, earlier this week the team set out for a second summit push on Shishapangma, after being turned back on their first attempt last week. Heavy snows and the danger of avalanches made it impossible for them to top out the first time around, but they were hoping that conditions had improved in the days since. For their second summit bid, they were joined by Ueli Steck, who had set a speed record on Shisha a few years back. The plan was for Ueli and Benedikt Böhm to leave Base Camp on Tuesday, and meet up with Sebastian Haag at Camp1, followed by Andrea Zambaldi at Camp 2. They were also joined by a 5th climber, as Martin Maier joined the squad at the last minute as well. All seemed to go according to plan, and the men headed up the mountain on schedule. If everything were to unfold as they expected, they would top and be back in BC in one day. Unfortunately, that is not what happened.

The team found it tough going on the upper slopes of the mountain once again. Deep, heavy snow made it difficult to break trail, and they were still exhausted from their first attempt. Still, they pushed on, and by 6:55 AM local time on Wednesday they had reached 7900 meters (25,918 ft), which put them just 113 meters (370 feet) below the summit. It was at this point that they were hit by an avalanche which dragged Sebastian and Andrea off the mountain, falling some 600 meters over the side of a cliff. Martin was also hit, and buried by the snow.

Ueli and Benedikt immediately contacted Base Camp and called for help, and then proceeded to try to search for their missing companions. According to reports, they attempted to find an approach to the avalanche zone for four hours, but could not find a way to descend to where their friends had fallen. Exhausted from their efforts, they eventually descended to Camp 3 to rest.

Yesterday morning, after spending a night out alone on the mountain, Martin wandered into C3 as well. He had survived the avalanche, although he is beaten and battered. Several members of other teams on Shishapangma climbed up to assist in bringing him down. He, Ueli, and Benedikt should be back in BC by now.

Sadly, Sebastian and Andrea are missing, and presumed dead at this time. My condolences go out to their friends and family.

In other news, as I previously reported there were a number of successful summits on Manaslu yesterday, with commercial squads putting their clients on top. But there was also a new speed record set on that mountain when Andrzej Bargiel managed to go from BC to the summit in a mere 14 hours and 5 minutes. Ironically, he broke the previous record which was set by Benedikt Böhm back in 2012. At the time when Bargiel was making his ascent, Böhm was probably wrapping up the search for his missing friends.

Andrzej had planned on making a ski descent of Manaslu, but heavy fog made that impossible. instead, he descended all the way back to BC in a round-trip time of 21 hours and 14 minutes. Certainly impressive work.

That's all for now. I'll post updates on the events on Shishapangma as the story becomes more clear, and I'll continue to monitor the progress of the teams on other mountains as well.

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