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Climbing

Oct 16, 2017

Himalayan Database Soon to be Available Online for Free

Miss Elizabeth Hawley started recording information about ascents in the Himalayas in 1963.

WRITTEN BY

Michael Levy

Today her records are the most complete history of Himalayan climbing that exist, and starting in November, they will be available online completely free for the first time.

Ever wonder how many Polish climbers have summited Everest? Or how many expeditions were on Manaslu in 1988? Or the youngest climber to reach the top of Cho Oyu? Or any other of the countless obscure factoids and possible ways to construe information about climbing in the high peaks of Nepal and Tibet?

Starting in November, for the first time, anyone so inclined to look up such information will be able to do so with just a few clicks. The Himalayan Database—the most complete record there is of climbing in the Himalayas, with information on over 69,000 climbers’ attempts on nearly 460 peaks—will soon be available online, completely free of charge.  

The Database’s current form dates back to 2004, but the archives out of which it grew were started by Miss Elizabeth Hawley, in 1963. Miss Hawley was on assignment for Reuters covering the first sanctioned American expedition to Everest, on which Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld made the first ascent of the West Ridge via the Hornbein Couloir.

Over the ensuing decades, Miss Hawley became the de facto authority on Himalayan ascents, collecting as much information as she could about the various expeditions that came to Nepal each year. Billi Bierling, Miss Hawley’s assistant, says that back in those early days Hawley would simply “trump to the airport, look at the mountaineering boots of one of the four international flights that came into Kathmandu each week, and ask what mountain they were going to climb.”

Miss Elizabeth Hawley (left) – the founder of the Himalayan Database – and Billi Berling (right), her assistant. Photo: Ralf Dujmovits.

In 2004, after a decade of feeding all the existing data into a computer (regarding how long it took, Bierling jokes, “Miss Hawley’s handwriting is appalling”), Hawley and Bierling released the Himalayan Database in CD-ROM form. They had 1,000 copies made, each available for $69.

Now that CDs are a bygone technology, they decided it was time to have the archives available online. And since they never made any money on the CD-ROMs anyway—“The money we made by selling the Database was the same amount we spent on producing it,”—why not have it available for free?

When the Database goes live online in the beginning of November, armchair mountaineers, motivated first or repeat ascentionists, and climbers looking to break arcane records alike will all have a much easier time finding the information they seek. Bierling proudly explains how exhaustive the database is: “Every expedition has to be debriefed by the Ministry of Tourism [in Nepal], so some people ask why we do it separately. But we’re much more precise. We get pictures of new routes, find out where camps were placed, how dangerous it was. What you can download is very detailed.”

To this day, the small team at the Himalayan Database follows Miss Hawley’s example from way back when and interview as many climbers as possible in Kathmandu before or after their expeditions. With the explosion of popularity in Himalayan climbing and its increasing accessibility to non-professional alpinists in recent years, the amount of work required to do those interviews has risen significantly. So Bierling wants to ensure that would-be climbers know about the Database and reach out: “I still want to do the interviews personally, but there are so many now that we also have online forms where people can register. It’s pretty cool. The more people who help us, the more complete our records will be.”

Want to see the mountains that people climb to get their names in the Himalayan Database? Visit The Outdoor Voyage today and join a trek to Annapurna Base Camp!

Feature Image: Ama Dablam (left-most peak). Photo: Faj2323 (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons.

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Athletes & Explorers

Oct 15, 2018

9 Climbers Die at Gurja Base Camp: What We Know So Far

Even if many questions remain unanswered, a tragedy that seemed bizarre at first has slowly come to reveal itself, as a five member South Korean expedition and four Nepali guides die during a violent snowstorm.

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WRITTEN BY

Sean Verity

Since this article was published, The Outdoor Journal has published an update to this story, entitled: Update: 9 Climbers Die at Gurja Base Camp. What Really Happened? The Experts Opinion.

The Himalayan Times were the first to report that “at least nine climbers including five Korean nationals were killed when a massive landslide buried the base camp of Mt Gurja (7,193 metres) on the lap of the south face of Mt Dhaulagiri in western Nepal”. This was according to the expedition organiser, Wangchu Sherpa, Managing Director at Trekking Camp Nepal.

“Endless glaciers under my feet make my heart throb, I feel like I should discover every corner of the Himalayas.” Kim Chang-ho.

It was the deadliest accident within Nepal’s climbing community since 2015, and those that passed away included decorated Korean team leader Kim Chang-ho. Kim had previously topped the world’s 14 highest peaks, in record time, and was of the few that had done so without the aid of oxygen. The rest of Kim’s team, from the Korean way Gurja Himal Expedition 2018, included Lee Jaehun, Rim Il-jin, Yoo Youngjik, and Jeong Joon-mo. The Nepali support team who also lost their lives were named as Chhiring Bhote of Hatiya-2 , Dena Angjuk Bhote of Hatiya-6, Phurpu Bhote of Hatiya-6 all in Shankhuwasabha district, and Natra Bhadur Chantel of Dhaulagiri Rural Municipality-1 in Myagdi district.

The Dhaulagiri Range, home to Gurja Photo: MITESHSTHA

SNOWSTORM, AVALANCHE OR LANDSLIDE

The climbers were waiting out the weather as they planned on a summit attempt, the nearby 24,000 foot Gurja. Only 30 people have successfully reached this peak, in stark contrast to the 8000 people who have made the summit of Everest. The goal of this particular expedition was to establish a new route to the summit, and name it Korean Way: One Korea – Unification of North and South Korea. However, in the early hours of Friday 12th October, a violent snowstorm hit the camp and the BBC reported on a freak accident that scattered the bodies as far as 500m, but contrary to the Himalayan Times did not report a landslide or avalanche.

“Base camp looks like a bomb went off”

The Kathmandu Post reported that upon arriving at the camp, Nepali climbing guide Lakma Sherpa said “When a team of locals reached the site, it was clear immediately that the camp was hit by snowstorm” and that “officials suspect that a massive avalanche on the mountain may have triggered the snowstorm.”

Meanwhile, Shailesh Thapa Kshetri, a police spokesman in Nepal, told the New York Times that it was unlikely that an avalanche had struck the team, because the bodies were not buried.


The reality of what had happened in base camp on Friday night is clearly open for debate. However, all eyewitnesses were agreed upon a scene of total destruction. Helicopter pilot Siddartha Gurung told AFP: “Everything is gone, all the tents are blown apart”. Dan Richards of Global Rescue, a US-based emergency assistance group assisting in the retrieval effort that “Base camp looks like a bomb went off” and “at this point we don’t understand how this happened. You don’t usually get those sorts of extreme winds at that altitude and base camps are normally chosen because they are safe places”. Suraj Paudyal, a member of the rescue team hypothothsised when talking to CNN “It seems that a serac (a piece of glacial ice broke) and barreled down the couloir (a gully on a mountainside) from the top ridge of the mountain and the gust created the turbulence washing the climbers and staff from their tented camp at the base camp”.

There are clearly more questions than answers remaining, but perhaps those questions will begin to be answered over the next few days as investigations continue.

RECOVERY EFFORTS

On Saturday, a helicopter was dispatched to the site and the bodies of the victims could be seen. However, due to high winds, and not having a safe place to land, the helicopter was forced to return to base. Locals reached the basecamp on Saturday evening, but were again beaten back by the weather, before the helicopter again returned in the early hours of Sunday morning, and all nine bodies were recovered within a couple of hours.

Eight of the bodies have now been airlifted back to Kathmandu, whilst the body of local Netra Bahadur Chhantyal was handed over to his kin upon retrieval.

Having become the first Korean to summit Everest, Kim was once quoted as saying “Endless glaciers under my feet make my heart throb, I feel like I should discover every corner of the Himalayas.”

Cover photo: The Dhaulagiri Range, home to Gurja by Prajwal Mohan

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