American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mahalangur Himal (Khumbu), Nagpai Gosum, Chinese Military Encounter

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003

Nagpai Gosum, Chinese military encounter. My partner Jeff Lamoureux and I traveled to Kathmandu on September 5 to attempt a new route on 7,350m Nagpai Gosum. We discovered three different names for the mountain: Nagpai Gosum I, Cho Aui, and Pasang Lhamu Chuli. The third of these names was given after the death in 1993 of Pasang Lhamu Sherpa on her descent from the summit of Mt. Everest. The peak is now usually referred to by that name. The peak had three previously recorded ascents. One team ascended in 1986 from the north gaining the prominent north west ridge to the summit. The second and third teams followed the entire northwest ridge from its base near the Tibet-Nepal border in 1996.

On September 11 we flew to Lukla to begin our trekking route via Namche Bazaar, Tham, and Arye before arriving at basecamp. This is the standard trade route eventually crossing the Nangpa La on the border between Nepal and Tibet. On the 16th we arrived at our planned basecamp on the Sumna Glacier at approximately 5,100m.

Early on September 20 we left our basecamp to trek up toward the Nangpa La and have a better look at the planned descent route. After an hour or so of walking we had almost arrived at the yak herder’s post of Lunag (approximately 13 km. south of the Tibet border) when we encountered someone in a military uniform carrying an A.K.-style firearm. He seemed startled by our presence and told us to sit down on the ground. He spoke a few words of English. Through motioning and broken words he told us he was Chinese military and repeatedly pointed at his uniform’s emblems. He asked for food and water, which we gave him. Despite the strange encounter we continued up the valley.

After another hour I saw a different individual 100m in front of us dressed the same as the first. He jumped behind a large boulder when he saw us. We tried unsuccessfully to make verbal contact with him, but he did not come out from behind the rock. We were uncomfortable with the situation, so we turned around and headed back down the valley to the south. As we returned to Lunag we encountered the first individual again where we’d left him, and again we gave him food and water. We kept walking down valley for 10 minutes until we heard a shot. A little while later another bullet passed within feet of our heads. The two men were together, shooting at us from about 100m behind. We began to run but soon realized we couldn’t continue with our packs on. After ducking behind a large boulder we ditched our packs and continued on. The two men continued to follow us firing shots at us. We ran for 45 minutes until we were able to hide for three hours in a side valley before returning to basecamp.

When we reached basecamp, our sirdar and local cook felt we must return to Namche Bazaar that night, so we packed up and hid our basecamp equipment. We traveled through the night and reached Namche the next afternoon, where we reported the incident to the military and to the police.

Two days later we returned to the site of the incident with the Namche police chief. En route we met a Tibetan refugee who had crossed the pass the evening before our shooting incident took place. He told us he crossed the pass with a group of approximately 20 other Tibetans but had been left behind because he was too slow. He also indicated that he was in our vicinity when the shots were fired because he could hear them and knew there were two foreigners in the area. He had been left near the 5,700m pass for three days without food or water and was making his way down toward Namche Bazaar. At the incident site we recovered shell casings that the police chief took back with him. We were able to recover all of the items from our base camp, however we were not able to recover our backpacks or their contents. Our liaison officer then requested we return to Kathmandu to report the incident to the Ministry and request a credit for our royalty to be used at another time. We also met with the U.S. Embassy and discussed the incident with the Consular General. We give a great thanks to the AAC Helly Hansen Grant for the support of the grant. We have yet to decide whether we will attempt this expedition again.

David Morton, AAC

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