If there is a lesson to be learnt from the avalanche on 20 October at the base of the 6,800m Mt Kang Guru it is that the mountains are not be taken lightly no matter how much experience you have.
Sadly, it was something that the 22-member expedition (seven French nationals and 15 Nepalis) ignored. Eighteen people died as a result.
The expedition reached Kang Guru base camp on 19 October. The weather had been fantastically clear until then and the next day the party made it to the advanced base camp at 5,700m. This was when the weather and their luck changed. It began snowing heavily and the team decided to return to the lower base camp at 4,200m.
The French team was led by 56-year-old Daniel Stolzenberg, an experienced mountaineer and a recently retired teacher at the l'Ecole Nationale de Ski et d'Alpinisme in Chamonix, France. The head of the Nepali team, Iman Singh Gurung, had many years of experience running the Chure Himal Treks and as president of the National Guide Association.
The base camp however was in a poor location, surrounded by 35-40-degree mountain walls right in the middle of an avalanche zone. One hundred metres below the camp is a narrow gorge 400m long. Deep enough to need ladders and special equipment to climb into. Reportedly, one of the porters had suggested the camp be moved to a safer location downhill but the idea was dismissed.
The party arrived at the camp around 4PM, had tea and were just entering their tents when the avalanche struck, sweeping the camp away and burying 18 trekkers. Four Nepali porters managed to escape the tide of snow. After the initial shock, they made their way slowly along the snow-covered trail to the village of Meta, which they reached at 8.30 PM and then relayed the news of the catastrophe.
The next day the Himalayan Rescue Association formed a search and rescue party of experienced mountaineers, including myself. But for two days bad weather in Manang delayed us. Finally on 23 October, the skies cleared slightly and a seven-member team flew to Meta. Three of the four surviving porters were flown to Kathmandu while the leader remained behind to help with the search.
On 24 October we reached the base camp and began looking for survivors but with little hope. The next day we resumed our search at 7AM. At 8.30 AM we discovered the body of one of the French climbers, Syarle Bruno. It was taken downhill and we returned to Meta. The next day the body was taken to Meta and then to Chamme, the district headquarters, before being flown to Kathmandu. The other 17 bodies have still not been found and we believe they remain where they were swept into the gorge below the base camp.