A Missing Sherpa

As we were going to sleep last night our Sherpas were preparing to carry oxygen bottles and tents up to 7800m. An amazing feat considering they each carry a couple of tents and 6 or 7 bottles, each weighing 2.5 kg! We had the intention of climbing up to 7500m early the next morning as they were coming down to try and get some more altitude under our belts, or should I say lungs!

When we woke at 5a.m., the wind was battering the sides of our tents. It is an eerie experience lying in your sleeping bag listening to that wind. You can hear it whistling down the snow slopes from further up the mountain before smashing into the side of your tent and shaking it violently. Sticking my head out of the opening to look at the conditions resulted in me getting a mouthful of snow.  Due to the strength of the wind we decided it wasn’t safe to climb any further up just then so chose to roll over and go back to sleep in the hope the winds would subside and we could climb, as planned, later. Little did we know what was happening further up the mountain at that time!

When we woke again the winds were calming down a little and we started to boil water in preparation for the climb. The first we knew of a problem further up the mountain was when the lead party of Sherpas arrived back into camp.

Ang was the first Sherpa in the lead group to arrive, closely followed by the others. As we were already boiling water we offered some to them. While sharing the water Sonam, another Sherpa, asked to borrow one of our radios. As I handed my radio over to him I asked if everything was ok, to which he replied ‘one of our Sherpas is missing’. By now the weather conditions were deteriorating again and this, in conjunction with the height the Sherpas had been to that night, meant we were immediately worried. Amazingly, though, none of the Sherpas seemed unduly perturbed, instead they were joking with each other while Sonam tried to contact the others, further up the mountain, who were still looking for the missing Sherpa.

Later Ang explained that they had found the Sherpa’s rucksack unattended and were worried that he may have fallen down a crevasse. For the next hour we continued to boil snow in our tent and wait for news. Finally a crackling came over the radio and Dodgeys’ voice, our lead Sherpa (serdar) started to speak. He was further up the mountain with some other Sherpas; they were now heading down as they had been walking all night. The radio conversation was in Nepalese, so I understood little of what was going on. Thankfully, Ang came back over to translate and tell us what was happening.

It transpired that the missing Sherpa was alive and well and had decided to rest in one of the tents already set up three quarters of the way between camp 2 and camp 1. His radio battery had run out, so he was unable to contact anyone to tell them what he was doing. It was a great relief to hear this news, as the Sherpas are up there for our benefit, helping us carry equipment and setting up camps for us, and to think that anything might have happened to one of them while helping us was a horrible thought.

Now that we knew that all the Sherpas were okay and the remaining Sherpas would soon return, we turned our attention to our plans. The wind was still very strong and we were unsure whether it would be safe to go up in the present conditions, therefore decided to wait another hour before making a final decision. However before the hour was up there was a knock on the tent just before the zipper opened to reveal the friendly face of Dodgey, he had just got in to camp 1 and had heard we were considering going up to 7500. After offering him a warm drink and a quick chat about how the night had gone for the Sherpas and himself Dodgey started to tell us how the weather further up the mountain was a lot worse than it looked from down here, and that to go up that day would be foolish. This was a massive blow, we were already well behind our other team members and this would mean spending yet another night at camp 1 in the hope that that the winds would subside and we could climb in the morning. Dodgey, though, is both an exceptionally experienced Sherpa and a good friend, after climbing with him on last year’s expedition, and I trusted him fully so we immediately agreed that we would try and wait the weather out instead of continuing that day.

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