American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Pumori, Ama Dablam, and a Season-Ending Storm

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1996

Pumori, Ama Dablam, and a Season-Ending Storm. These two popular destinations had eight and 17 teams on them respectively. A total of twenty-eight people summitted Pumori by its standard route up the southeast ridge and face, and altogether 67 climbers gained the summit of Ama Dablam by its usual route on the southwest ridge. Leaders returning from Ama Dablam commented on how smooth relations were amongst the large international community on their mountain, a situation that was a very pleasant surprise for many of them. Ama Dablam summitters included a 15-year-old high school student from the United States, Mark Pfetzer. They also included a New Zealand mountain guide, Russell Brice, who amazed others by his ascent that began from Camp 1 at 5200 meters at 6 a.m., found him on the top (6812 meters) at 9:20 a.m., and then safely back to Base Camp at 4600 meters in time for lunch at 1 p.m. "It was just a nice day out for me," he said, "a half-day holiday." Brice's summit day, November 8, was the final day on which anyone got to the summit of Ama Dablam. On November 9, an unusual snowstorm began about noon and by the time it ended on the night of the 10th, it had dumped a remarkable two meters of fresh snow at base.

Such massive amounts of snow or rain is most unusual in the autumn. The summer monsoon rains often bring numerous fatal landslides which carry away small houses in Nepalese villages. Foreign trekkers do not normally venture into these areas in the summertime. The world's television, radio and newspapers carried many stories about this epic storm, however, and especially about the tragedy in the Gokyo Valley, where a massive avalanche smothered the tiny village of Panga, where all 13 Japanese trekkers and ten of their eleven Nepalese staff, plus two local residents, were killed. Farther east, at the site of the north Kangchenjunga basecamp, another Japanese group was hit by the heavy snowfall, and three Japanese and four Nepalese died. In the Manang region, just north of the great Annapurna massif in north-central Nepal, a landslide caused by constant rains buried a cluster of houses and lodges, and six foreign trekkers — a German, an Irish woman, a Brit and three Canadians, plus local residents — also died.

As soon as the dimension of the November disaster was realized in Kathmandu, the Nepalese government set up a search and evacuation task force, and helicopters were sent into the northeastern quarter of Nepal daily from November 11 to find and airlift to safety everyone who needed help because of the very deep snow or landslides in Khumbu, the basecamp areas of Manaslu, Makalu and Kangchenjunga, the Langtang Valley and Manang. Within about a week, 541 people, including 250 foreign nationals, were evacuated to safer places. No mountaineering expedition members were amongst the evacuees, but the climbing season had come to an abrupt and dramatic end.

Elizabeth Hawley

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