Himalaya Spring 2009 Update: Tragedy in the Himalaya

When I set out for Australia, the climbing season was winding down, and there wasn’t much to report any more. The teams had pretty much made their attempts across the entire range, and all-in-all, it was a pretty successful season. The monsoon also seemed to be settling in, which is usually brings down the curtain for the spring as well. Unfortunately, I came home to find that there was sad news to report, and that not everyone was finished in the Himalaya.

As most of you no doubt know by now, Micah Dash, Jonathan Copp and Wade Johnson, three American climbers, were working a route on the remote Chinese peak of E Gongga, a 6818 meter (22,368 feet) peak located in Western Sichuan. When the trio failed to catch their June 3rd flight home, red flags were immediately sent up, and search parties began combing the region. There was still hope that the climbers would be found alive, but stranded on the mountain. Those hopes were dashed over the weekend, when Copp’s body was found in an avalanche. Johnson’s body has also now been discovered, leaving little doubt to what has happened. There has already been an outpouring of support from the climbing community, but let me add my thoughts and sympathies to the friends and families of these three men.

Meanwhile, on Everest, there was one more team making a summit bid from the North Side, despite the fact that the weather conditions were less than stellar, and even the Sherpas were refusing to go up the mountain. But today we have word that Canadian climber Gabriel Filippi has called off his attempt on the mountain, and has returned to BC. He’ll be packing up and heading home now. Better luck next time Gabriel!

One other expedition I wanted to follow up on was the Polish team climbing Nanda Devi. When I set out for Oz, the team was making a summit bid, and while in transit, I was never able to really find out what happened until I returned home. Turns out, they were forced back due to bad weather, and then elected to give up their climb altogether as well. The monsoon seemed to show up a bit early this year, then slammed the weather windows shut, closing things down very quickly. It is a shame that the team never had a true chance at the summit. Nanda Devi is widely considered one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, and this climb was to commemorate the first ascent from 75 years ago.

That about wraps it up for the Himalaya. Now the attention will shift to Pakistan, and the Karakorum climbing season. Teams are already en route to the remote regions there, including Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, who has her sights set firmly on K2. Lets hope it is a safer season on that mountain, and the entire range, than it was in 2008.

Kraig Becker

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