at least 17 trekkers have died over the past two days as a result of heavy snow and unusually bad weather in the Himalaya. The poor conditions have been spurred on by the arrival of cyclone Hud-hud in eastern India. While the storm isn't hitting Nepal directly, it is altering atmospheric conditions in the region, creating dangerous conditions in the mountains as a result.
According to CNN, a dozen of the travelers who have died were hiking in the Annapurna region, one of the most popular trekking destinations in the entire world. The group was hiking through the famed Thorung La Pass in Mustang district, located at 5416 meters (17,770 ft) when they were struck by an avalanche. So far, only four bodies have been recovered, with eight more still buried under the snow. The fear is that there may be many more trekkers stranded or killed in the mountains, but the poor conditions are making it impossible to know for sure right now, and disrupting communications to and from the area.
The other five trekkers who have been confirmed to have perished included four Canadians and one Indian travelers. They were exploring the remote Manang region yesterday, and their bodies were discovered today. The exact cause of death hasn't been made clear, but has simply been blamed on "heavy snow." That would indicate that perhaps another avalanche occurred.
Fall is a popular time for climbing and hiking in the Himalaya, but typically it isn't a dangerous time to be there, particularly for trekkers. It is unusual for backpackers to run into problems on the popular trekking routes, such as the Annapurna Circuit or the walk to Everest Base Camp. The incredibly bad weather is altering that perception however, as the CNN article indicates that 38 more trekkers were rescued by army helicopters today as well.
Unfortunately, CNN also took this opportunity to rehash the avalanche on Everest last spring, and compare that accident to what is happening now. It is important to point out that climbing an 8000 meter peak is in no way like trekking in the region. The trekking routes are generally safe, include numerous villages and tea houses, and are found at lower altitudes. It is not unusual for avalanches to occur high on the mountains, but these events impacting trekkers in the Himalaya are far from the norm.
Thousands of travelers visit Nepal on a yearly basis, and a lot more of them are there to hike the mountains, rather than climb them. Trekking in the region is a strenuous, challenging activity, but rarely is it dangerous. The conditions in the Himalaya must be incredibly bad indeed if they are causing the deaths of so many people. Let hope the climbing teams that we've been following the fall continue to be safe in the days ahead as well. Most are preparing summit bids for the coming days.
I'll keep you posted as more news of these trekking deaths is released.