Himalaya Spring 2019: Rescued Annapurna Climber Heading Home Although Questions Remain

Update: In the story below I mention a Sherpa who attempted to help the missing climber on Annapurna, but ended up running out of oxygen and having to leave him behind, only to end up injured and frost bitten himself. His name is Nima Tshering Sherpa and a GoFund Me page has been set up to help provide some support for his medical bills, recovery period, and so on. The goal is to raise $2000 –– which seems rather modest –– but as of this writing they have already brought in nearly $1400. Thanks to those who are contributing and helped to get this goin!

This weekend brought more activity across the Himalaya as teams of climbers continue to acclimate on Everest, Lhotse, and other major peaks across Nepal and Tibet. For now, most are on the 8000-meter treadmill, going up and down the mountain, resting, and repeating. In a few weeks time, all of that work should begin to pay off as their bodies adjust to the thin air and prepare for the eventual summit push to come.

On Everest, the South Side rope-fixing team is now above Camp 3 and installing the ropes at a stead pace. Provided the weather holds out, I would expect them to complete that work by sometime early next week, clearing the way for the commercial teams to soon follow. At the moment, they’re running just a bit behind schedule, but not so much that it should interfere with the schedule. Meanwhile, on the North Side in Tibet the Sherpas charged with fixing the lines have been finding themselves short on rope, which is throwing the schedule off there too. That situation is expected to be rectified soon however, with the hopes of making progress towards the summit picking up over the next week as well.

The big story so far this season is the dramatic rescue of a climber who went missing on Annapurna. Last week, Malaysian mountaineer Wui Kin Chin ran into trouble on his descent from the summit of that mountain and was abandoned by his guide. Later, after the rest of the team reached Camp 4, it became apparent that he wasn’t there and a search and rescue operation was mounted. Eventually he was spotted from a helicopter still alive after more than 40 hours at altitudes above 7500 meters (24,606 ft) and a four-person team consisting of Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja, Mingma David Sherpa, Galgen Sherpa, and Gesman Tamang was dispatched to bring him down. They were eventually able to do that, and later Kin Chin was evacuated from Camp 3 to Kathmandu where he was listed in critical condition.

On that front, there is some good news as doctors report that Kin Chin’s condition has improved some. He has reportedly stabilized enough that he will be flown back to Singapore for further treatment once all of the insurance paperwork has been sorted out. According to The Himalayan Times an air-taxi is already standing by in Kathmandu to help with the evacuation process. Reports suggest that he is suffering from severe frostbite, as would be expected, and is likely to lose digits and possibly limbs as a result of his exposure to the cold temperatures.

Speaking of insurance, the tricky use of rescue insurance in Nepal has become a hot topic once again thanks to this rescue operation. Purja, who had just summited Annapurna as part of the rope fixing team, but then went back up to assist in the rescue, took a few shots at Kin Chin’s evacuation insurance partner. He claims that they could have gotten to Kin Chin sooner had Global Rescue acted quicker and cut through the red tape faster. On his Facebook page, the former Gurkha soldier had this to say: “After knowing that Dr Chin was missing, I held my team and some of the strongest members on the expedition for the rescue of Dr Chin at Camp 4. We were waiting for oxygen to get dropped off at us by helicopter so we could go start searching for him on the mountain. (This is all what his insurance company had to do , just drop six bottles of oxygen at Camp 4 where I was on standby with my rescue team.) I was told that the rescue company denied the emergency help and I couldn’t hold my team any longer at the extreme altitude risking their life.”

Last week, the Seven Summit Treks team –– which handled logistics for the Annapurna climb –– claimed that Global Rescue was uncooperative in assisting with search efforts. In fact, a representative of the company said that GR refused to authorize a search at all and it wasn’t until Kin Chin’s wife called to say she would pay any amount to cover the costs that things truly got going. As a result, it was more than a day and half after the climber went missing before rescue helicopters spotted him on the mountain. That prompted the rescue team to be airlifted to Camp 3, but they still had to climb up to above C4 to locate their climber. All told, Kin Chin ended up spending more than 43 hours at altitude.

Of course, Global Rescue has a different spin on things. The company says that it assisted in the search and rescue operation from the beginning, releasing the following statement in response to criticism: “After supporting a successful rescue on Thursday on Annapurna, Global Rescue is currently participating in the coordination of a Malaysian climber’s medical care in a Kathmandu hospital. We stand prepared for further medical transportation as necessary. Global Rescue initiated the evacuation as soon as the member’s location was known and he could be safely reached.”

It should be noted that Seven Summit Treks and Global Rescue have a bit of dicey relationship which is a result of the so-called fake rescue scam that has been prevalent in Nepal in recent years. The guide service was one of the companies that took part in that scam, which bilked insurance providers out of millions of dollars. That situation has left relations between rescue groups and insurance providers tenuous at best.

There are also questions to be answered about why Kin Chin was allowed to go to the summit in the first place. There are some indications that he was already struggling on his way up the mountain and was in grave danger when he started back down. As for the Sherpa who left him behind, it has been revealed that he stayed with the Malaysian climber as long as he could, hoping that someone would come back to help. After a time, with his oxygen running out, he too had to descend for safety purposes. According to Seven Summit Treks, that Sherpa also suffered frostbite and was injured when he fell on the descent too.

As you can tell, this is a complex and tricky story with a lot of moving parts. At the end of the day, Kin Chin is extremely lucky to be alive. He faces a long, difficult, and painful recovery ahead, but he will be home soon to see his friends and family again. That alone is a bit of a miracle.

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