KATHMANDU, Nepal – Rescuers were searching through piles of snow and ice on the slopes of Mount Everest today for four Sherpa guides who were buried by an avalanche that killed 12 other Nepalese guides in the deadliest disaster on the world’s highest peak.
Krishna Lamsal, a Nepal Tourism Ministry official at the base camp, said the bodies of the 12 guides were pulled out and brought down Friday. Weather was fine this morning, but conditions could quickly deteriorate and hamper the search efforts, he said.
Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International’s Gordon Janow said Friday from Seattle that some of the company’s Sherpa guides had gone up the mountain to help set up camp and check out conditions for other climbers. He learned of the deaths of five of the company’s guides from others at base camp.
The avalanche swept down a climbing route when the group of Sherpa guides were making their way up to the higher camps to fix ropes and dig a path for their foreign clients ahead of next month’s peak season for scaling the summit.
The avalanche struck an area known as the “popcorn field” for its bulging chunks of ice at about 6:30 a.m. Friday.
An injured survivor told his relatives that the path up the mountain was unstable just before the snow slide hit at an elevation just below 19,000 feet. As soon as it occurred, rescuers, guides and climbers rushed to help.
Four survivors with serious injuries had to be airlifted to hospitals in Kathmandu. Others with less serious injuries were being treated at base camp.
The avalanche struck just as hundreds of climbers, guides and support crews were at Everest’s base camp preparing to climb the summit when weather conditions are at their most favorable early next month. They had been setting up camps at higher altitudes, and guides were fixing routes and ropes on the slopes above.
One injured guide, Dawa Tashi, lay in the intensive care unit at Grande Hospital in the capital late Friday after being evacuated from the mountain. Doctors said he suffered several broken ribs.
Tashi told his relatives that the Sherpa guides woke up early and were on their way to fix ropes but were delayed because of the unsteady path. Suddenly, mounds of snow came tumbling down on the group and buried many of them, according to Tashi’s sister-in-law, Dawa Yanju.
The Sherpa people are one of the main ethnic groups in Nepal’s alpine region, and many make their living as climbing guides on Everest and other Himalayan peaks.
More than 4,000 climbers have summited Everest since 1953, when it was first conquered by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. Hundreds have died attempting to reach the 29,035-foot peak.
The worst recorded disaster on Everest had been a fierce blizzard on May 11, 1996, that caused the deaths of eight climbers, including famed mountaineer Rob Hall, and was later memorialized in a book, “Into Thin Air,” by Jon Krakauer. Six Nepalese guides were killed in an avalanche in 1970.