Private Expeditions, Trekking Experts, Comment on the Annapurna Disaster

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Team from Private Expeditions were on Thorung La Pass a week ago and witnessed first hand the seeds of this disaster.

Calm before the storm

Just over a week ago a team from Private Expeditons crossed Thorung La in bright sunshine. . It might seem hard to believe that just 10 days later over 2 metres of snow fell and up to 85 people have tragically died.

But of course it should not be hard to believe: the mantra that mountains make their own weather is true even for 1000m hills in the UK, when you are talking about a pass that reaches nearly 5000m the chances of freak, adverse weather multiply a thousand fold.

So why did an event that should have been no more than a major inconvenience for properly prepared and guided trekkers become such a disaster? As ever when disasters happen the story of what went wrong will unfold in complicated twists and turns with conflicting views and facts confusing the picture. But whatever does emerge over the coming weeks the seeds of a disaster were very clear even when we there last week in perfect weather.

First, there were a large number of unguided trekkers on this route carrying very little kit and certainly nothing appropriate for the severe storm that happened. Nepal is looking to make having a guide mandatory in all the National Parks and until they do this we should not be surprised to see problems like this recur. Often when we are hiking in the Lake District we see people on the fells with no proper footwear, carrying no weather protection and no water! These are the self same people that have to saved by Mountain Rescue teams. People under-estimate the dangers and when something goes wrong are ill-equipped to deal with the consequences.

Second, where there were guided groups one guide was often looking after 15-20 clients. With altitude making walking difficult a group of this size will fragment over more than half a mile and with visibility down to yards the guide has no chance of protecting his clients. Costs may push people into big groups with low guide to client ratios but unless you have one guide to every 4 people or less the guide will be almost powerless in the event of a disaster.

Third, a lot of the guides in Nepal have no formal Mountain guide qualifications. They know the way from A to B but not a lot more. No experienced guide would have taken his clients out of the lodges at the camps below the pass knowing the weather forecast. There was plenty of opportunity to just bunker down and sit the storm out. Instead, inexperienced guides trying to ensure their clients stayed on schedule took clients out from a warm secure lodge and led them to disaster. And of course those people without any guides tagged along thinking it would all be OK.

Nepal needs to tighten up its regulation of trekking to address these problems and it needs to do it fast. More disasters like this could kill the goose that lays the golden egg for Nepal and that would be very sad for a country of the most amazing people.

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Paul Deakin
since: 10/2012
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