September 29, 2012
Climbers who survived the avalanche on the world’s eighth highest peak (26,759 feet) have added light to the September 23rd tragedy. As dawn began to break over Camp 2, bodies of their companions littered the mountain.
Nine people, including four French climbers, a Spaniard, an Italian, a German and a Nepali guide, were killed while two Frenchmen and a Canadian man remain missing.
Italian climber Christian Gobbi, 42, said he and his friend, Silvio Mondinelli, 54, had woken and were talking when suddenly their voices were drowned out by a giant roar before their tent was swept away.
"It was only a few seconds and we did not know what had happened, but we had slid more than 200 metres (650 feet). Then it stopped," he told AFP.
Gobbi and Mondinelli ventured outside their tent in the pitch black. But as the sun came up, they discovered the body of Dawa Sherpa, the Nepali guide who had led them on the hazardous trek and their friend, Italian Alberto Mariano, among broken tents, scattered belongings and the bodies of the other climbers.
"We were terrified -- we didn't know what to do," said Mondinelli, one of the world's most experienced climbers, who in 2007 became the sixth person in history to scale all 14 of the world's peaks above 8,000m without oxygen cylinders.
Rescuers found 13 people alive after the avalanche, described by survivors as looking like a "war zone", with several flown to hospitals in Kathmandu by helicopters.
"We were without boots and gloves -- we had only the sleeping bags. We waited an hour until sunlight and we found some boots and wore them," said Gobbi.
"There was one American, who was screaming and asking for help, but we couldn't do anything."
Gobbi said he and Mondinelli were not injured and were able to walk down to a lower camp, helping people along the way and applying dressings to their wounds.
"We checked to find out who was alive and who died. I alone saw seven dead bodies," said Gobbi.
A team of high-altitude sherpas ended a third unsuccessful search this week for three missing climbers, police said, with almost no hope that they would be rescued. District police chief Basanta Bahadur Kunwar said the sherpas had been using snow shovels, ice axes and bamboo sticks to search for the missing.
"I feel miserable, I don't know where I am anymore. I keep thinking of those who disappeared in the crevasses, who will probably never be found. It's a real shock," said French survivorvArnaud de Fouchier.
Experts have questioned the timing of the Manaslu expedition, arguing that the mountaineers should have waited a few more days. New snowfall, associated with the autumn season, which comes after the monsoon, is the most frequent cause of avalanches.
"Though the monsoon season usually ends by mid-September, they were a little early. One should attempt the summit in late September or early October," said Ang Tshering Sherpa, vice-president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.
But there are questions being raised about whether too many people were on Manaslu last weekend. There were 30 teams registered to climb Manaslu, a 50 per cent increase from the previous year, Nepalese outfitter Ang Tshering told the Associated Press. In all, there were 231 climbers and guides camped along the trail leading up to the peak.
Overcrowding is in large part due to the result of heightened tensions between Chinese authorities and Tibetans; China rejected climbing permits this year for mountaineers hoping to scale peaks in the Tibetan Himalayas, forcing many onto mountains in Nepal.
A violent gust of wind stirred Greg Hill awake as he lay in his sleeping bag Sunday, his tent staked in the snow on one of the tallest mountains in the world.
It was 4:45 a.m. The Canadian extreme skier and his group had set up camp at 6,400 metres above sea level on Nepal’s Mount Manaslu, just above Camp 2 and off to the right to avoid the path of a potential snow slide. It took only a moment for them to realize that an avalanche had indeed hit.
“Right away, we started hearing voices and people shouting and so we got out of our tents and looked up the hill and we could see headlamps in the dark,” Mr. Hill said from Kathmandu.
The six of them gathered their gear and hiked up. It took them about 30 minutes to reach the disaster. They were the first rescuers to arrive. Tents and bodies, some alive and some dead, were everywhere.
The rescuers first focused on helping the people they could see atop the snow, providing oxygen bottles, laying people on mats and wrapping them in sleeping bags to keep them warm from the bitter cold.
Mr. Hill and his group dug with their hands and shovels to free those who were partially buried, including one man who was enveloped by snow to his shoulders and stuck in his tent. Among the climbers caught in the avalanche was American freestyle skier Glen Plake, who escaped with a black eye, broken teeth and sore arm. His expedition partner, French skier Greg Costa, is among the missing.
After a frantic hour, other climbers began to arrive to help.
“For about five hours, we basically rescued those that we could and dug up those that we couldn’t rescue,” recounted Mr. Hill to The Globe and Mail-Canada. “It was extremely tragic,” he said. “I have never witnessed death first-hand before.”
Mr. Hill and his group had initially planned to climb Cho Oyu in the Tibetan region of China, but changed their destination when they couldn’t secure a permit from Chinese authorities. Mr. Hill was serving as a videographer for an expedition accompanying German climbers Benedikt Bohm and Sebastian Haag. The German pair was attempting to set a speed-climbing record to Manaslu’s 8,156-metre summit.
The day before Sunday’s avalanche, Mr. Hill remembers seeing more than 100 people working their way up a rope line. “Looking up seeing all these people there, no doubt made me wonder if it is in fact a safe thing to have that many people on a mountain,” Mr. Hill said.
Renowned American extreme skier Glen Plake was another survivor.
Plake is a champion hot-dog skier who has appeared in many extreme-skiing documentaries, including 1988's "The Blizzard of AAHHH's," and also is well known for the tall mohawk he wears on the slopes. He had planned to ski down Manalsu, after reaching the summit.
"I was awake in my tent reading my Bible. ... The tent began to shake. We thought it was the wind but in fact it was an avalanche," Plake told reporters Wednesday at the Katmandu airport after returning from the mountain in a helicopter. "It was like an earthquake; it was like a tsunami."
Though he said he is "probably the luckiest person in the world," he was unable to find his friends and climbing companions, Remy George Lecluse and Gregory Ugo Costa, both of France.
"You are doing everything you can do because your friends' lives depend on your next action," he said. "Unfortunately everything I did proved to produce nothing. At that point, I had to think about my own life and start preparing."
Lecluse, Costa and a third person are still missing.
Nepalese mountaineering officials say eight bodies have been recovered: Fabrice Priez, Philippe Lucien Bos, Catherine Marie Andree Richard and Ludovic Paul Nicolas Challeat of France; German Christian Mittermeyer; Italian Alberto Magliano; Spaniard Marti Roirg Gasull; and Nepali Dawa Dorji.