Friday, October 17, 2014

Himalaya Fall 2014: More Trekkers Rescued, Search Continues For Those Missing

I wanted to post an update on the ongoing crisis in Nepal, where dozens of trekkers are still missing, even as search and rescue operations are being conducted. The weather has improved across the Himalaya, allowing SAR teams to reach some of the areas that have been cut off for the past few days, and as a result more trekkers are being airlifted from the mountains. Sadly, the number of deaths attributed to this unexpected, and incredibly powerful, blizzard continues to rise as well, with officials saying that at least 29 people have now lost their lives as a result of the bad weather.

Earlier today, search teams were able to reach the Thorung La pass on the Annapurna circuit, where they were able to locate 40 trekkers, and evacuate them to safety. The pass was at the center of the storm, and as a result, many of the deaths have occurred near there. According to some reports, a number of the deaths occurred because the hikers caught in the pass tried to descend and escape the blizzard, with some freezing to death as a result.

Officials from the Ministry of Tourism say that the death toll will likely continue to mount, as there are still a lot of trekking routes to be checked, and heavy snow still hinders the search. Yesterday alone, more than 200 trekkers were rescued, and they suspect that there are still more waiting to be found. Operations will continue through the weekend in the hopes of rescuing more stranded backpackers, and recovering bodies.

Sadly, the finger pointing game has already begun, with some of the trekkers firmly placing blame for this disaster on the guides. In one BBC story, hikers say that the guides were ill equipped to deal with the poor weather, and made the wrong choice of continuing into the mountains, even when they knew the forecast called for heavy snows. One of the trekkers is quoted as saying that the guides pressed the team to move forward, even though the snow was so bad that it had become disorienting, and no one knew where they were going. He describes a harrowing tale of descending for two hours along a trail that no one could see, as they searched for marking poles in whiteout conditions that are described as an "abyss of nothing."

Meanwhile, over on Makalu, the British Tri-Services team have launched their summit bid as expected. They report sunny skies and clam winds as the squad begins their climb. They reached Camp 1 yesterday, and discovered one of their tents was crushed by the weight of the snow that had fallen, but they were able to make alternate means of sleeping, and repaired the damage this morning before moving up further. Hopefully they'll find conditions remain solid on their way up. The heavy snows could make things unstable, but so far the team is happy with their progress.

That's the latest from Nepal. While it seems certain that the number of trekkers killed by the storm will continue to climb, lets hope it doesn't increase by many more. With the weather improving there, the worst of the situation is now behind us.

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