German-Nepal Friendship team experiences heavy snowfall along GHT High Route

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

Four climbers – Pemba Jangbu Sherps, Darinji Sherpa, Pemba Rinji Sherpa and Pasang Gelu Sherpa were rescued by a Kailash Air helicopter on Monday as they ran out of food in the mountain area while embarking on a trek namely “German Nepal Friendship: The Great Himalaya Trail in Winter”.

It was really an unusual snowfall in the region, one of the team leaders Pemba Jangbu shared.

“We had to to turn around due to heavy snow in the Barun-Valley in Sankhuwasabha this season,” he said, recounting that as this is 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-Nepali friendship,” German Geographer Hannes Kuenkel, who is also a leader of the team, added.

This year the crew regrouped and was joined by seven experienced Sherpa - Darinji, Pemba Rinji, Pasang Gelu, Dafuri, Pasang Dawa, Phurba Sonam, Pasang Tendi - from Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Municipality-1, Solokhumbu, German photographer Martin Poetter and Austrian videographer Julia Brunner.

As they started their trek from Olongchun Gola where they had to break up last time and then crossed the snowy Lumbha Samba Pass (5,175m), the team 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 and we had 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 met the Sherpa again in Khumbu and together finished 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 Makaulu Base Camp in up to two-metre deep snow and the crew experienced 120 hours of continuous snowfall between January 22 (1pm) and January 28 (1am).”

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 28th January, a helicopter rescue was successful. It was just in time as the crew run out of gas and food.”

This winter the extraordinarily heavy snowfall did not allow the team to continue. So the team returned to Kathmandu were they stay together as friends and already prepare plans for a next attempt, according to Kuenkel, who visited Nepal for 15 times.

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

According to team members, Pemba Jangbu, also owner of IAM Trekking & Expeditions and the German Geographer Hannes met during an Everest North Side Expedition which was shattered by the big earthquake in 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 Kantschendzonga, crossing the Nango La (4700m) to Olangchung Gola. That year the German became heavily sick in Olangchung Gola and had to give up early.