May 21: Everester Chanda Gayen from Howrah scaled Kanchenjungha on Sunday but is missing after being caught in an avalanche at an altitude of over 8,000 metres while trying to ascend an adjacent peak on Tuesday.
The 32-year-old was close to the summit of the 8,505m Kanchenjungha West when the avalanche came thundering down around 3pm, said Mingma Sherpa, the managing director of Seven Summit Treks, which organised the expedition.
Kanchenjungha West, also known as Yalung Kang, is the second highest peak in the Kanchenjungha massif that has four peaks around 8,500m high.
Kanchenjungha West is 81m lower than Kanchenjungha Main — the third highest peak in the world — which Chanda climbed around 9.30am on Sunday along with three other Everesters from Calcutta — Tusi Das of Dum Dum Park, Rajib Bhattacharjya of Baranagar and Dipankar Ghosh of Belanagar, Howrah.
Chanda and Tusi are the first women from India to climb Kanchenjungha Main.
While the other three city mountaineers started descending to the base camp after climbing the main peak, Chanda, along with Pemba Sherpa and Dawa Wangchu Sherpa, made a bid for Kanchenjungha West, known to be a very difficult climb. Both sherpas are also missing.
“An avalanche at this altitude sweeps away everything in its path. The only way to survive is to dig deep into the snow and find hard ground to anchor oneself. But an avalanche often does not allow enough time to do that,” said Mingma.
The constant threat of snowstorms and avalanches makes Kanchenjungha especially dangerous for climbers. Near the top, the oxygen in the air is about a third at the sea level. The conditions add to the challenge of a near vertical ascent to the top, said Basanta Singha Roy, an Everester from the city who had climbed Kanchenjungha in May 2011.
A helicopter search had to be called off today because of inclement weather. The search will resume tomorrow.
At Chanda’s home in Bagpaa, near Kona, her mother Jaya said between sobs: “Today morning, we were celebrating Chanda’s success when the news reached us. Everything has changed in a few hours.”
“A mountaineer from the neighbourhood called to say that he had heard that Chanda could not be found. We immediately started calling the contact numbers she had left with us but could not get through. We could only contact the brother of one of the sherpas with Chanda, who told us about the avalanche,” said the mountaineer’s elder brother, Jyotirmoy.
Chanda’s father Pasupati, who died in December 2010, had spurred her on towards mountaineering glory. “Whenever I went to any expedition, my father accompanied me till the base camp,” Chanda, who was chosen Sera Avishkar in Sera Bangali 2013 by ABP Ananda, had said earlier.
On May 18 last year, she became the second civilian woman from Bengal to scale Everest along with N.G.A. Tashi Sherpa. A graduate, Chanda sells dairy products for a living and has to look for sponsorships before every expedition.