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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.

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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Athletes & Explorers

Oct 31, 2019

New World Record: Nirmal Purja Summits the 14 Highest Peaks in Just 6 Months

Nepali ex-soldier Nirmal Purja just smashed the record for summiting all the 8000ers in just half a year—the previous record? The same achievement took Kim Chang-ho, over seven years.

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WRITTEN BY

Himraj Soin

Nirmal Purja is a Nepali mountaineer and a former British Marine. He joined the British Army in 2003, became a Royal Marine in 2009, and only started climbing as recently as 2012—when he decided to climb Everest. In 2018, Purja was awarded the MBE, a civilian honour, by Queen of the United Kingdom.

According to his Instagram post on October 29th, Purja or “Nims”, and his team reached the summit of Shisha Pangma at 8:58 AM local time. This was his 14th peak, and his team members were Mingma David Sherpa, Galjen Sherpa and Gesman Tamang.

Previously, South Korean climber Kim Chang-ho was the record holder, completing the summits in seven years, while Polish climber Jerzy Kukuczka completed them in a little under eight years.

Purja climbed Annapurna in Nepal on April 23rd, Dhaulagiri in Nepal on May 12th, Kanchenjunga in Nepal on May 15th, Everest in Nepal on May 22nd, Lhotse in Nepal on May 22nd, Makalu in Nepal on May 24th, Nanga Parbat in Pakistan on July 3rd, Gasherbrum 1 in Pakistan on July 15th, Gasherbrum 2 in Pakistan on July 18th, K2 in Pakistan on July 24th, Broad Peak in Pakistan on July 26th, Cho Oyu in China on September 23rd, Manaslu in Nepal on September 27th, and finally Shishapangma in China on October 29th.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

United we conquer ! Here is to The A-team 🙌🏼 . .(Climbing team ) @mingma_david_sherpa , @gesmantamang , @geljen_sherpa_ @zekson_srpa ,Halung Dorchi . . . The journey of 14/7 has tested us all the way though at many levels. Together we have been through so much, we climbed not only as a team but as brothers with one sole goal to make the impossible possible pushing the human limitations to next level. Now, the BROTHERHOOD that we share between us is even STRONGER ! . . #trust #brotherhood #team . . 14/14 ✅ #14peaks7months #History . . #nimsdai #BremontProjectPossible ‬ #dedication #resilience #extremehighaltitudemountaineering #uksf #extremeoftheextreme #nolimit #silxo #ospreyeurope #antmiddleton #digi2al #adconstructiongroup #omnirisc #summitoxygen #inmarsat #thrudark #gurkhas #sherpas #elitehimalayanadventures #alwaysalittlehigher

A post shared by Nirmal Purja MBE – Nimsdai (@nimsdai) on

Apparently, he could’ve made better time had it not been for a few hiccups along the way—from being help up for permissions to climb in Tibet, to stretching out his Lhotse, Everest, and Makalu climbs to take a break. During his descent from Annapurna, Purja and his team rescued Malaysian climber Wui Kin Chin, who was not doing well at 7500m. On their descent of Kanchenjunga, Purja and his team gave up their oxygen to three climbers who had run out of their supply. While climbing Everest, he had to wait in line for hours, and ended up taking the viral photograph of the “traffic jam” on Everest.

Today, Nims gave a shout out to his teammates on Instagram, “United we conquer! Here is to The A-team! The journey of 14/7 has tested us all the way though at many levels. Together we have been through so much, we climbed not only as a team but as brothers with one sole goal to make the impossible possible pushing the human limitations to the next level. Now, the BROTHERHOOD that we share between us is even STRONGER!”

Apart from climbing all 14 of the world’s 8000m peaks in under 7 months, and partly due to this enormous feat, he also holds a few other records—most 8000m mountains in the spring season (climbing six), most 8000m mountains in the summer season (climbing five), fastest summit of the three highest mountains in the world—Everest, K2, and Kanchenjunga, fastest summit of the five highest mountains in the world—Everest, K2, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse and Makalu, fastest lower 8000ers, Gasherbrum 1, 2, and Broad Peak, and fastest higher 8000ers, consecutive summits of Everest, Lhotse and Makalu in 48 hours (beats his own previous record of five days).

The backbone of the climbing industry in Nepal, sherpas are often overlooked and don’t get nearly as much international recognition as their comrades from the west. In Purja’s case, as his website mentions, the reason you may not have heard of him before is that he spent the last 16 years serving in the UK military. For more information on Purja, head over to projectimpossible.co.uk.

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