Four stranded climbers evacuated from GHT high route

Sankhuwasabha, January 30

Four Sherpa climbers who were stuck between Yangri Kharka and Mt Makaulu Base Camp in two-metre deep snow in Sankhuwasabha for over a week said that the high route of the Great Himalaya Trail witnessed unusual snowfall this winter.

Four climbers — Pemba Jangbu Sherpa, Darinji Sherpa, Pemba Rinji Sherpa and Pasang Gelu Sherpa were rescued by a Kailash Air helicopter yesterday. They had run out of food in the mountain area while embarking on a trek namely “German Nepal Friendship: The Great Himalaya Trail in Winter”.

Snowfall in the region was very unusual, one of the team leaders Pemba Jangbu said. “We had to turn around due to heavy snow in Barun-Valley in Sankhuwasabha this season,” he said, recounting that as this was a friendship project between Nepal and Germany the crew continued to Barun Dobhan trying to reach the high passes — Sherpani Col 6,110m, West Col 6,100m and Amphu Labtsa 5,700m — to cross into Khumbu.

“This is not only the story of the first ever attempt of the GHT High Route in winter but a story about German-Nepal friendship,” German Geographer Hannes Kuenkel, also a leader of the team, added.

This year the crew regrouped and was joined by seven experienced Sherpas — Darinji, Pemba Rinji, Pasang Gelu, Dafuri, Pasang Dawa, Phurba Sonam and Pasang Tendi — from Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Municipality, Solokhumbu; and German photographer Martin Poetter and Austrian videographer Julia Brunner.

They started their trek from Olangchungola and crossed the snowy Lumbha Samba Pass (5,175m) and reached Arun Valley on January 11.

“As all routes up to Makulu Base Camp were very difficult, we tried the High Route above Hongon up to Malun Pokhari at 4,000m. We experienced heavy snowfall and up to two feet high snow, which made it impossible to hike with heavy loads,”  Kuenkel said.

As the weather was very unpredictable and the route not marked or built, the team decided to take their only chance for the High Route by splitting the group in Gadhi on January 19 and sending the four strongest Sherpas led by Pemba Jangbu with only minimum equipment and light packs via Keke La pass (4,100m) towards the high passes while the others returned to Tumlingtar and flew via Kathmandu to Namche to meet up with the crew again, according to him.

The plan was that the Germans would meet the Sherpas again in Khumbu and together finish the Eastern part of the GHT via the icy Trashi Labtsa Pass (5,777m). “Unfortunately the weather became worse and the Sherpa team got stuck between Yangri Kharka and Makalu Base Camp in up to two-metre deep snow and the crew experienced 120 hours of continuous snowfall between January 22 and January 28.”

On January 24, the snowfall stopped for 13 hours but the helicopter could not start from Kathmandu due to bad weather there. Pemba Jangbu who led over 26 expeditions told that he never experienced this kind of snowfall before. “On January 28, a helicopter rescued us successfully. It was just in time as the crew had run out of gas and food.”

The extraordinarily heavy snowfall this winter did not allow the team to continue. So the team returned to Kathmandu where they are preparing for the next attempt, according to Kuenkel, who has visited Nepal 15 times.

The two expedition leaders Pemba Jangbu and Kuenkel mentioned that they would continue this project for three reasons: to promote trekking in Nepal, sensitize people to the consequences of global warming and demonstrate how strong and powerful international friendship can be.

According to team members, Pemba Jangbu, also owner of IAM Trekking & Expeditions, and German Geographer Hannes met during an Everest North Side Expedition which was called off due to the big earthquakes of 2015.

In January, 2017, they started the first attempt of the GHT High Route in winter. As the eastern part of Nepal has the highest mountains and passes they decided to take that challenge first and go from East to West starting in Taplejung. They went up to Pangpema BC of Kanchanjunga, crossing Nango La (4,700m) to Olangchungola.