American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Khumbu Himal, Everest, the Death of Babu Chiri

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002

Everest, the death ofBabu Chiri. Babu Chiri, the incredibly strong and fast mountaineer who was also the most famous Sherpa of recent times, died on April 29 at the age of 35. His most spectacular feats on Everest include staying overnight on the summit without any bottled oxygen for 21 hours in May 1999, and then, after returning to base camp, making another complete ascent later in the same month. The following year he achieved the fastest ever ascent made from base camp to summit on the Nepalese side, when he climbed to the top in just 16 hours and 56 minutes. In May 1995 he became the first person ever to make two ascents of the mountain in the same month. He made 10 ascents of Everest, and if he had been successful in the spring, his total of 11 would have been equalled by only one person, Appa Sherpa.

Babu Chiri was a fine person, a “gentleman” as one frequent American Everest summi- teer used to call him. He wanted to build a school for the children of his home village, Taksindu, which has none. His next climbing project was to attempt an incredible traverse of Everest from the Tibetan base camp to the Khumbu base camp, then immediately turn around and reverse the traverse. This was a plan only Babu Chiri would contemplate.

However, this dream died with him when he fell into a crevasse near Camp 2 in the Western Cwm. At around 4 p.m. on April 29 he told others he was going to take some photographs in the vicinity of the camp. When he hadn’t returned by 9 p.m., his brother Dawa went out to search for him. Another expedition leader, Willi Benegas, and his head Sherpa, Pemba Gyalzen, joined the search and around midnight found Babu’s footprints leading to a crevasse. Due to fresh snow, the crevasse was not readily visible and was only apparent because of the obvious hole caused by someone falling in. While two Sherpas belayed him, Benegas descended around 10 meters into the crevasse, found the body and ascertained Babu was dead. At 6 the following morning the effort to recover the body began and it was brought to the surface three hours later. His death was reported in the media around the world and tributes poured in. King Birendra of Nepal sent a message of condolence to the family. In this statement he declared that Babu’s “demise has caused irreparable loss to the nation and to the mountaineering fraternity.” The prime minister and other dignitaries paid their respects at the Sherpa Centre in Kathmandu, where Babu’s body, covered with flowers and Buddhist ceremonial scarves, had been brought.

Elizabeth Hawley

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