Asia, Nepal, Dhaulagiri I, Attempt and Tragedy

Publication Year: 1999.

Dhaulagiri I, Attempt and Tragedy. Chantai Mauduit and the Sherpa she often climbed with, one of several men named Ang Tshering (not a summiter of any 8000-meter mountain), were found lying in their second high-altitude camp at 6550 meters on Dhaulagiri I by Italians. Miss Mauduit preferred to climb independently from other foreigners. She and Ang Tshering, a team of just two, went up to CII on May 7 at a time when others on the mountain didn’t like the looks of the weather conditions and had already gone down to BC or did so the next day. The two remained there during the following days of snowfall and winds. She had already been as high as 7000 meters, where she had pitched her third high camp on about April 22 and from where a week later she had wanted to go for the 8167-meter summit, but strong winds had held her back.

Mauduit and Ang Tshering apparently never left CII. They arrived there at 4 p.m. on the 7th, a windy and snowy day; snow fell all that night, and next day it was very windy. Two Italians who were in their own CII slightly below descended to Base Camp that next day, leaving no one else in any other tents there. Other Dhaulagiri expeditions—there were also Spaniards, Slovenians, and a three-man team of New Zealand, American and Finnish climbers, as well as the Italians—never saw them move out of their camp, which had been pitched about 50 meters above those of the other teams.

Camp II was revisited by Italians on May 14, and one of them, Franco Brunello, went up to Mauduit’s tent and found it almost entirely covered by the recent snowfall—not by avalanche debris, he said—with snow and pieces of ice pressing against one side of it. Brunello opened its zipper a little and found no sign of life. The next day his teammate, Celestino Toldo, took a shovel up to the tent and removed the snow so that he could open the zipper wider. He discovered two sleeping bags with bodies inside them.

Mauduit’s expression was peaceful, but her jaw appeared to him to have been broken by a piece of ice on the outside of the tent. Brunello thinks that she was killed by ice striking her head and that she must have died “in a moment.” But her jaw could have been broken after her death, and it is not clear to Brunello why Ang Tshering died, although he supposes the Sherpa suffocated. Indeed, both may have died of suffocation. However, her family in France, to where her body was flown from Nepal, are reported to have stated that vertebrae in her neck were broken, probably by the weight of the snow; they believe an avalanche jumped over a rock band, part of it crashed onto her tent, and this killed her.

Elizabeth Hawley