Rescue in the high Himalayas is a very tough and demanding endevour. Mountain climbing or mountain expeditions are extreme adventure activities. Thus it is inevitable that there is bound to be fatalities among the enthusiasts or for people like us who guide them hand-in-hand to the summit.

I am Dawa Ongju Sherpa, a mountaineer. I work with my company Himalayan Global Expedition Pvt. Ltd.  (www.himalayanglobal.com). Since 2004, I have joined various high altitude rescue missions. Over the years, I have participated in approx. 15 rescue missions, out of which six were rescues of dead mountaineers. Most of these rescues were carried out over 8,000m, while two of them were undertaken between 7,000m – 8,000m altitude.

What high altitude rescues mean to us.

Being a Sherpa, and since these high Himalayas are our homeland, we feel that all those who come visiting are our guests (Atithi Devo Bhava). We feel duty bound to try and help or to attempt rescue missions to the best of our ability and efforts, even though, it is difficult or even near impossible since the weather or the terrain might not be in our favour. This is even more so since I have been involved in the mountaineering field for over 30 years. I genuinely feel from within myself the need to attempt or help rescue if I ever come to know that there is someone in need.

Rescued Area Data:

  1. Ladakh (India) Gaya (7,000m +): 1 Live, 1 Dead
  2. Tibet Mt. Cho Oyu (8,000m +): 2 Live, 2 Dead
  3. Nepal Mt. Makalu (8,000m +): 1 Live, 1 Dead
  4. Nepal Mt. Everest (8,000m +): 5 Live, 1 Dead
  5. Nepal Mt. Kanchenjunga (8,000m +): 1 Dead

Live Vs Dead Rescues

During live or dead rescues, we face extreme difficulty because of the overall situation, time of the mission, weather, terrain, requirement, and above all due to the sensitivity of the situation.

Extra responsibility and alertness are needed while carrying out live rescues since they come with time constraints. We need to take into consideration the rapidly deteriorating health condition and altitude descent. We also need to consider the safety of the team, self and the victim. Sometimes, live rescues turn into fatality when the victim dies while on the way to Base Camp where health experts and facilities await.

It is even more difficult to conduct dead rescues due to psychological reasons. We need to give due respect to the dead while rescuing under extreme conditions. It is further amplified when we feel an extra burden on our shoulders because of the fact that the news is usually picked up by the international media.

Although we take every precaution to make our team, the dead victim and the rescue mission safe, there are literally hundreds of things that could go wrong. This very much depends on the difficult terrain that is extremely remote with very unpredictable weather.

The Difficulties

If our safety line breaks, we could lose the dead body, the victim or even our own team member into the abyss of the Himalayas forever, never to be found again. This could cast a very negative outlook on the overall rescue mission and the climbing fraternity. Therefore, the psychological burden that each rescue mission brings is huge.