The Telegraph
Friday , May 23 , 2014
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Snow foils search for climber

Chanda Gayen

The search for Everester Chanda Gayen, who went missing on the Kanchenjungha after being caught in an avalanche, was hampered by inclement weather for the second successive day.

The 32-year-old from Howrah was on her way to Kanchenjungha West (8,505m) on Tuesday afternoon after climbing Kanchenjungha Main (8,586m) on Sunday when the avalanche occurred.

Pemba Sherpa and Dawa Wangchu Sherpa, who were with Chanda, are also missing. Tashi Sherpa, who had last year climbed Mt Everest with Chanda and was leading the expedition to Kanchenjungha West, has returned to base camp (5,100m), according to sources.

“We sent a helicopter today morning to find the missing mountaineers but had to call off the operation because of the weather. We sent a helicopter twice but because of whiteouts and blizzards, the rescue party could not locate any of the missing mountaineers,” Mingma Sherpa, managing director of the agency that had organised the expedition, said on Thursday.

The avalanche occurred at over 8,000m, on a large sloping plateau known as the Great Shelf. A hanging glacier covers the plateau and climbers have to negotiate an icefall to cross the area.

“Normal helicopters generally cannot fly above 6,000 metres, so special choppers are used for a rescue mission. But even these cannot land on the mountain. Rescuers are dropped on the mountain once they locate trapped or missing mountaineers and try to reach them on foot,” a veteran sherpa said.

The trapped or missing mountaineers must then be carried down on foot through the treacherous terrain in unpredictable weather, said Pasang Sherpa, who is familiar with the terrain.

Time is of the essence since the temperature in the area where the avalanche occurred drops as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius at night, said Everester Basanta Singha Roy, whom Chanda had consulted before the expedition. It is difficult for even a healthy mountaineer to survive for days under the open sky in such weather.

One of the sherpas missing with Chanda, Dawa Wangchu, was instrumental in rescuing Singha Roy when he fell sick on Mount Dhaulagiri (8,167m) last May.