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Asia, Nepal, Ganesh IV Tragedy

Ganesh IV Tragedy. The Australian Army Expedition was composed of Zac Zaharias, Jim Truscott, Phil Pitham, Rob Philpot, John Cashman, Roy McDonald, Fritz Schaumberg, Dave Simpson, Dave Sloan, Sherpas Maila Pemba and Temba, and me as leader. We hoped to climb the Japanese route on Ganesh IV (7102 meters, 23,300 feet) from the south, through the icefall to the eastern ridge and then direct to the summit. We established Base Camp at 13,125 feet on April 8 and Camp I at 16,400 feet on April 12. On April 13 the start of the route from Camp I to II was broken by Truscott, Maila Pemba and Sloane. It wormed under a teetering sérac, up an avalanche-littered gully, and out into the centre of the icefall, where the going became steep but straightforward. On the 14th Maila Pemba, Temba, Simpson and Cashman pushed the route further, amid much avalanche debris. Eventually they found a campsite at 5800 meters (19,029 feet) on a broad ridge, which should shed avalanches, and under ice cliffs, which should fire any falling debris over the top of the camp. The ferrying of stores began, but because of increasingly heavy snowfalls we retreated to Base Camp. Cashman reports: “We returned to Camp I and on the 22nd we set off at three A.M. for Camp II, some of us ferrying stores and four—Truscott, Maila Pemba, Sloane and Simpson—to rebuild and man Camp II. As we returned to Camp I, we didn’t like what we saw of the icefall. There was fresh avalanche debris everywhere. In the afternoon more snow fell, more avalanche fodder. On April 23 Zaharias and I made a sortie into the lowest part of the icefall and found a way to avoid the gully. We were bragging of our discovery to the others at Camp I when our story was lost in the seismic boom of a large avalanche. We stared at the ice cliffs which overhung the icefall. Suddenly they exploded in powder snow. The face of the avalanche was a mile across. Millions of tons of snow and ice were sweeping across Camp II. After a while we heard a voice on the walkie-talkie. Then we saw Maila Pemba at the head of the icefall, coming down. They had lost all their equipment, he said; they couldn’t move without boots. We immediately started up with boots and sleeping bags but were defeated by a storm only halfway up. The following morning a second party left Camp I at 1:30 and reached them at six A.M. When the avalanche had hit, they were slouching about the camp. After they had dug themselves out, they were in different places. The camp was smashed, gear everywhere. They probed in the snow in vain with tent poles; Dave Sloan was gone.” We struck Base Camp on April 28.

Brian J. Agnew, Captain, Australian Army