Illegal Climb in Nepal Results in One Death and Dangerous Rescue

A strange and sad story is coming out of the Himalaya today, where ExWeb is reporting that Spanish climber Felipe Valverde lost his life, while his expedition partner David Suela had to be rescued from the remote peak they were descending. While that is tragic enough in its own right, it was later revealed that the men were attempting the mountain without an official climbing permit, which has already landed Suela in hot water with Nepali officials.

Apparently, Valverde and Suela were descending a 6257 meter (20,528 ft) mountain known as Chukima Go when Valverde’s rope became untied. When the Spaniard lost his footing he ended up plummeting 700 meters (2296 ft) to his death, leaving Suela stranded high on the peak with no way to get down. Fortunately for him, he was carrying the team’s satellite phone, which allowed him to call another Spanish team that was climbing nearby to ask for assistance. That team is made up of Mikel Zabalza and Sonia Casas, who put in a phone call to Alex Txikon — the godfather of Spanish mountaineering it seems — to ask for help.

Txikon, who isn’t in Nepal at the moment, leapt into action, getting on the phone with his extensive contacts in the Himalaya, and helping to organize a rescue operation. He shares some of the details of that operation in a Facebook post and from the sounds of things, it was a bit of a hairy situation. Suela’s position on the mountain didn’t allow for a helicopter to land and even if it would have, strong winds would have made that a trick proposition. Instead, he had to be airlifted out on a long rope, which wasn’t particularly easy in those winds either.

The professional pilots and search and rescue teams in Nepal have gotten much better at handling these types of situations in recent years and  before long they were able to pluck Suela from off of Chukima Go. Not long after, he was airlifted back to Kathmandu where he was treated for some minor injuries and exposure. But, it wasn’t too long after his arrival that government officials began to take a closer look at the situation, realizing that neither Valverde or Suela had a permit to climb the mountain. Representatives from the Nepali Department of Tourism say that a permit for that peak had been issued to two Spanish climbers, but the names on the permit do not match up.

For now, Suela isn’t going anywhere. Officials have confiscated his passport while they try to sort out the mess. Hopefully there is a good explanation for the mix up with the permit and David will be allowed to travel home soon. He is no doubt still grieving for the loss of his friend while also having to deal with these legal issues too.

Our condolences go out to him, as well as the friends and family of Felipe Valverde.

Kraig Becker