Following the tragic deaths of four climbers on Shishapangma reaction has been coming in from those that know what happened best – Team members and other climbers on the mountain.
Most seem to point towards the records that the protaganists were chasing, which seemed to see them take short cuts and make decisions that more patient climbers would not have chosen.
Naila Kiani was on the mountain at the time and close to all that was going on. She gave this reaction this week, just days after the sad events unfolded;
Last few days have been hard, we still can’t believe we lost four friends and colleagues. May their souls rest in peace. I’m sharing what I saw on the mountain, and I do apologize as it will hurt. However, this story needs to be shared so we can all learn from it. I made many mistakes in past too and this experience is making me rethink.
Imagine Nepal and Elite Expedition formed a joint team on both Cho Oyu and Shishapangma. Following our Cho Oyu summit, we departed Tingri on the morning of the 5th Oct, heading straight for Shishapangma basecamp.
However, our journey encountered challenges caused by the local authorities. They initially attempted to delay our early departure, then raised issues with Anna’s permit. Upon reaching the lower basecamp, they claimed a lack of yaks to transport our equipment, despite prior arrangements. It became increasingly apparent that someone had influenced them to delay our progress. This yak shortage posed problems for both the Elite and Imagine teams, forcing us to leave our duffle bags behind and carry only the essentials for the summit push to basecamp.
Upon reaching basecamp, we were all very disappointed. Anna was furious at Gina for creating such significant hurdles for our teams and sherpas, watched our sherpas laboring under loads that yaks should have carried. Gina later confessed to one of our team members who got to basecamp before us that she had delayed Anna’s team from getting yaks.
Nevertheless, Anna left with her sherpas that same night, heading directly to C2. The following morning, we reached C1 and commenced our summit push (although we wanted to rest that day), eventually reuniting with everyone at C2 since no one had the manpower to break the trail. Elite and Imagine teams started breaking the trail, it took us nearly 5 hours to traverse a plateau, gaining only 100m in elevation. I remained with Anna near the front for about six hours, where her anxiety was obvious.
At one point, I stopped to take my glasses out and take a drink, which caused us to separate. Anna continued straight up with two sherpas, despite the team’s calls to turn left. We saw Gina and her sherpas briskly following our trail, using oxygen from basecamp.
In summary, Anna was going to follow the traditional route and follow the summit ridge, witnessing Gina climb toward the summit through another route. Anna and her sherpas paused for a little and slowed down for some reason maybe due to some issue on their route. Nims asked them to descend. As we traversed the steep mountain, at app. 7660m, Nims instructed two of his team members and me to take a break. After a few minutes, Nims shouted “avalanche avalanche”. Initially, we didn’t grasp the gravity of the situation, but moments later, I spotted movement around 200m below and alerted Nims. He sent his team to investigate whilst we anxiously waited. Meanwhile, we saw Gina continuing her ascent despite the avalanche.
At this point, I decided to descend immediately, recognizing the gravity of the situation and the loss of our team members. My legs trembled as I descended 1000 meters.
Tragically, after I started the descent, another avalanche occurred within an hour of the first, claiming Gina and one of her sherpas. It was a devastating turn of events.
Gina & her Sherpas were informed of the avalanche but kept climbing. One can assume they kept climbing in pursuit of the record of being the first women from USA to climb all 14 8000 meter peaks. This pursuit of a record contributed to the loss of four lives.
We all share responsibility for this tragedy. If we prioritize the love of climbing over records and cultivate a culture that rejects toxic competition, perhaps such heartbreak can be prevented in the future.
Naila Kiani can be followed on her Instagram account here.