American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Dhaulagiri Ascent and Tragedy

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1991

Dhaulagiri Ascent and Tragedy. October 31 was a tragic day for our small expedition of four members. Lithuanian Dainius Makauskas, having reached the summit with Nuru Sherpa and me, disappeared on the descent. It was a bitter ending to our trip in which all four members summited by the northeast ridge. We had hoped to do a new route on the east face. We traveled to Pokhara on September 17 by bus. Our approach took us ten days by way of Beni and then west in the marvelous and wild Miyagdi Khola. Base Camp was established on September 27 at 4600 meters, among six other expeditions already on the mountain. Three days later, during our first day’s exploration of the icefall, Dainius stepped through soft snow into a six-inch-wide crevasse. His pack caused him to fall to one side and he tore severely the ligaments of his left knee. With help of a Thermarest inflatable mattress, we got him to Base Camp at 7:30 P.M. I came down with a bronchial infection that same evening. As neither of us was in immediate condition to climb, George Lowe and Nuru went ahead over the next seven days to set up some tents at the northeast col at 5600 meters and on the northeast ridge at 6400 meters. The abundance of new snow convinced them that the east face was unreasonable and they shifted efforts towards the northeast ridge. George’s newly wedded wife Elizabeth, an orthopedic surgeon explained alternatives to Dainius. He decided to remain in Base Camp as an observer. My condition remained in limbo. On October 8, I came down with a serious fever. On October 8, I left Base Camp with the assistance of George and the three Base Camp staff. George and Nuru returned to the northeast col after two days’ rest on October 13. They sat out a severe storm for the next three days. When the storm cleared on the 17th, they climbed to 6400 meters. Nuru then returned to Base Camp and George remained alone. The next day, he climbed to bivouac at 7280 meters and at two P.M. on October 19 reached the summit. He descended to his bivouac tent under difficult conditions and with poor visibility and strong winds three hours after dark. George explained, “It was exceptionally strange to be alone in high camp. A second personality kept telling me what to do to take care of George.” Descent to the col took him another 1½ days due to an afternoon storm. Meanwhile, I spent a lazy week between Marpha (2670 meters) and Muktinath (3600 meters) and recovered from my bronchitis. When I returned to Base Camp on the 18th, I was surprised to find Dainius determined to climb. He had been hiking regularly and the day before had covered 15 kilometers when he went over the 5300-meter French Col. We decided at least to look at the northeast ridge. Between the 20th and the 25th, we acclimatized on the ridge. Nuru, who had accompanied us to the col on the 20th, descended with a tired George to Base Camp. With mildly frostbitten fingers and toes, he decided to leave for home immediately. Dainius and I accustomed ourselves to descending at different paces as his knee prevented descent at his normal pace. Nevertheless, we were both satisfied with his knee’s performance after descending 2100 meters from 6700 meters on October 25. It was by now quite cold, even at midday. During a summit bid starting on the 28th, Dainius, Nuru and I set out for the northeast col with all the warm clothes we could carry. We climbed to 6400 meters on the 29th and bivouacked on the 30th at the same spot as George at 7280 meters. On October 31, in extremely cold but otherwise good weather, we set off for the summit and reached the top at 3:15 after 10½ hours. On the descent, Dainius took his time, as was normal. Nuru and I went ahead. The wind was light, the sky clear and the moon nearly full, but it was terribly cold. At six P.M. we stopped to see if Dainius was in view, but the terrain of the north face hid the summit ridge. After the sun set, the cold was so intense that we dared not stop for more than several minutes at a time. Nuru told me he was so cold that he wasn’t sure he could make it back to the tent. Stopping was out of the question. At 8:30 P.M., Nuru and I reached the tent. We sorted ourselves out, melted snow and prepared a simple meal. To our horror, Dainius never returned. After a stressful night, we began to realize that Dainius had most likely been killed in a fall or frozen in an open bivouac. We waited until midday on November 1, hoping that Dainius might yet appear after a terrible night. With both Nuru and me suffering from severe frostbite and possessing only the strength to descend, we abandoned the bivouac at one P.M. In case Dainius was alive, we left all survival equipment behind and reached our 6400-meter tent that afternoon. On November 2, when he did not appear, Nuru and I descended to Base Camp to a tearful reunion with our Base Camp staff. Our cook, Mingma made an extremely rapid trip to Jomosom on the 3rd to call for a helicopter rescue. Thanks to his efforts and the efficiency of the Nepali military, we were in Kathmandu the next day, November 4. While Nuru chose to be treated in Nepal, I entered the specialized hospital clinic for frostbite in Zaragoza, Spain, on November 15. Nuru has suffered the loss of almost all his left toes and I have lost two centimeters of my left big toe at the time of writing this report.

Carlos P. Buhler

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