The Chinese-Tibetan authorities have pulled the brakes. After two avalanches hit the summit zone of the eight-thousander Shishapangma on Saturday, they declared that “all climbing activities have been suspended in view of the unstable snow conditions on the mountain.” Apparently, this applies not only currently, but also for the rest of the fall season.
On Saturday, as reported, the US American Anna Gutu and her Nepalese mountain guide Mingmar Sherpa had died in a first avalanche. Their bodies had been found – unlike those of Gina Marie Rzucidlo, also from the U.S., and her Nepalese mountain guide Tenjen “Lama” Sherpa, who were swept away by another avalanche about two hours later. The search for the two missing people was suspended.
Mingma Gyalje Sherpa was able to descend on his own
According to the Chinese news agency Xinhua, 52 climbers had been on their summit attempts at the time of the avalanches. Three injured Nepalese were taken to the base camp. Among them was Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, expedition leader and head of the operator Imagine Nepal. During the rescue operation, he fell about 150 meters and injured his head, shoulders and knees, Mingma wrote to me. However, he was able to descend on his own, he said.
Kristin Harila: “I can’t believe he’s gone”
Among the dead was Tenjen “Lama” Sherpa, a Nepalese mountain guide who had made headlines around the world earlier this year when he led Norwegian Kristin Harila to the summits of all 14 eight-thousanders in just 92 days – using the normal routes, bottled oxygen, further Sherpa support and helicopter operations to get from mountain to mountain as quickly as possible and drop off materials (and sometimes helpers) at high camps.
Harila traveled to Kathmandu to be with the Tenjens family after the initial reports from Tibet. ” I can’t believe he is gone. Lama is the kindest and strongest sherpa I have ever met,” Harila stated. “I am devastated. I have lost a brother and a friend – and my compassion goes to his beloved family and his many friends in the mountaineering community.”
Ambition greater than prudence?
Shishapangma is the only eight-thousander that lies entirely within Tibetan territory. During the COVID-19 üandemic, like all mountains in Tibet, it had been closed to foreign climbers. For this fall, the authorities were late in issuing permits. Some eight-thousander “collectors” had wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. Among them were the two US-Americans Anna Gutu and Gina Marie Rzucidlo, who were only missing the 8027-meter-high Shishapangma, the lowest of the 14 eight-thousanders. If they had succeeded, they would have been the first women from the United States to stand on all eight-thousanders.
Was it really just fate, or were they possibly taking too big a risk so close to the finish? Gina Marie Rzucidlo and Tenjen Lama continued their ascent despite the first avalanche – allegedly on a different ascent route. Still, the question arises: why didn’t they all turn back after the first fatal accident? Was ambition greater than prudence? The expedition operators involved have not yet commented on what happened.
This is not the first avalanche accident on Shishapangma with a fatal outcome. In fall 2014, for example, the German Sebastian Haag and the Italian Andrea Zambaldi died in an avalanche in the summit zone. In fall 1999, U.S. climbers Alex Lowe and David Bridges were also killed in an avalanche on Shishapangma. A good 16 years later, in spring 2016, David Göttler and Ueli Steck found the remains of the two US climbers, who had been missing until then, in a melting glacier.