Pumori debrief: "A short while later all hell broke loose"

Posted: Nov 13, 2007 06:43 am EST

(MountEverest.net) A few months back, Australian Philip Ling wrote a debrief from the day he almost reached Lhotse's summit, without O2. Instead of summit joy, Philip watched Sherpani Pemba Doma fall to her death.

Italian Fausto de Stefani, Sergio Martini, and their younger climbing apprentice, Roberto Manni were there too. A few weeks earlier their Sherpa had been killed by a rock or block of ice at the bergshrund at the base of the Lhotse Face. "I helped Sergio bury the body and clean up the mess, and we lent them one of our Sherpas," Philip wrote at ExplorersWeb.

Coming down from the climb, Phil watched another peak; sitting just across from Everest BC. The perfect cone is hard to mistake; she is Pumori (7121m), the bitter-sweet daughter of Everest.

Today, Philip is sharing a second debrief - from a climbing drama that took place last year, but has not been published until now he says.

The dark side of the bride in white

The beautiful, snowy peak in upper Khumbu valley, right on the frontier between Nepal and Tibet has become a popular target for its superb views of Everest western cwm from the summit. And as a perfect training spot before her taller brothers. Or is she.

Pumoris name has too often been related to mountain tragedies. Her avalanche-prone slopes make the mountain a very exposed climbing target. In September 2001, an avalanche killed five Spanish climbers there - 10 years after their leader had watched another avalanche kill a French and a Sherpa on the exposed slopes. When the young mountaineers failed to establish contact shortly after leaving C1 (6200m) early morning; their leader therefore feared the worst. His fear was warranted; only silence was the answer from the upper slopes of Pumori.

The stories continue, and Philip has his own tale to tell from the treacherous ice cream cone. Here goes his debrief, written in Namche Bazaar shortly after the expedition.

Philip's story

"On the 23rd of March 2006 we set out from Camp 2 at around 6600m for the summit of Pumori, 7167m. As we climbed up the summit ridge we got glimpses into Tibet including Cho Oyu, at 8201m the 6th highest mountain in the world. The weather was excellent with no wind and perfect visibility."

"One year earlier almost exactly to the day, I had turned around on this same mountain as the result of poor weather. (The very next day one of our members Alex Chen along with sherpa Phurba Tamang had fallen to their deaths while coming down from the summit)."
"Nothing will stop us this time though, I thought to myself..."

"Due to some quite heavy snowfalls earlier during the expedition which had put us behind schedule, we were following some 200 to 300m behind two Sherpas as they climbed ahead of us fixing the route."

"After a few hours we reached an ice wall about 8 metres high at around 6900m. Dennis Jonnson started climbing the ice wall with Jonas Ahlman starting behind him shortly afterwards. I waited at the bottom of the icewall with Jay Reilly and a few others watching them climb up."

"He was caught up in the rope and spinning around"

"As I watched the rope suddenly went slack and Dennis and Jonas both fell down the wall. Dennis immediately shouted in pain that he had hurt his leg."

"As I approached Dennis to help him, Lhakpa Chiri Sherpa, who had been above and beyond the wall I estimate by about 150m, suddenly tumbled over the wall. He was caught up in the rope and spinning around."

"He was moving quite fast but because he was caught in the rope he slowed quite quickly and came to rest about 50m below me. As I was still trying to work out what had happenned, Tenje Sherpa launched over the wall at amazing height and speed."

"He literally flew over my head and landed about 30m below me before sliding down the hill at an astonishing pace. It seemed that Lhakpa, who had been attached to the same rope as Tenje and is quite a big man, had catapulted Tenje backwards as he (Lhakpa) fell down the wall."

"Les had cut him from the rope that entangled him"

"Jay and I yelled at Tenje to self arrest but he was moving way too fast to do so and he would not have heard us anyway. He slid about 200-300m down the hill before coming to a sudden stop when he slammed into a crevasse."

"Jay immediately went down to help Tenje while I went to help Lhakpa. Meanwhile John Percy was helping Dennis."

"The initial diagnosis for Tenje made by Jay was a broken shoulder and possible broken hip. When I arrived at Lhakpa Chiri, Les Williams was there and had cut him from the rope that entangled him."

"The initial diagnosis for Lhakpa Chiri was two broken legs and broken ribs with possible internal injuries. On the basis of these initial diagnoses it was immediately decided to abandon the summit attempt and commence a rescue operation of the three injured climbers. The time was now around 11.30am."

13 hours of lowering

"Both Sherpas and Dennis were slowly helped back to Camp 2. Jay, myself and other team members put both the Sherpas in sleeping bags with sleeping mats tied to the outside and started lowering them lowered towards Camp 1."

"As the route involved lowering them down a large ice wall and across three crevasses it proved very difficult. Luckily we were met at the large crevass by Walter Reisinger who had climbed up from Camp 1 to help."

"Along with John Percy and Shera Sherpa, I was helping rescue Lhakpa Chiri. With Walter now helping us too we finally got him down to Camp 1 at around 1.30am on the 24th - 13 hours after we started and he was by now extremely cold."

A very cold night outside under the stars

"Matt Vulk, who had stayed at Camp 1 in preparation for our arrival had prepared plenty of hot water etc. We put Lakpa into the tent and a fresh sleeping bag and began to warm him by putting hot Nalgene bottles into the sleeping bag."

"By morning his freezing condition had stabilised somewhat. Tenje and his rescue team arrived not long afterwards. As we had not expected to spend another night in Camp 2 on the descent after summitting, most of the tents had already been pulled down and taken to Camp 3. So most of us spent a very cold night outside under the stars."

"Luckily Les was a fireman in NZ and in the past had rescued people by tying them on to ladders!"

"Later that morning on the 24th, at around 10.30am, we started to lower both Sherpas down towards ABC at 5800m. Meanwhile Lhakpa Congle Sherpa had been sent up to Camp 2 to bring Dennis down safely with what at the time was a suspected broken ankle."

"We tied both Sherpas on to ladders that had been left over from the route and had been brought down from the crevasses to Camp 1 by Phuri Sherpa and used them as stretchers."

"Luckily Les was a fireman in NZ and in the past had rescued people by tying them on to ladders! His knowledge of this procedure proved invaluable."

"After another 16-17 hours we (Walter, Matt, Shera Sherpa, Jay and myself), finally stood above the steep pitch above ABC. However the rope had by this time worked itself loose and Lhakpa indicated he was being choked by the ropes. We frantically untied him to let him breathe."

"We knew the situation was now very critical"

"But we found we could not retie him to the ladder as well as he had been before and he kept slipping down so that his feet protruded beyond the end of the ladder. Then his feet, which had been hard up against the base of the sleeping bag, finally broke through. This meant that every time we lowered him he banged his feet and ankles on the ice and rocks."

"This was excruciatingly painful for Lhakpa. After much debate about what to do we decided to turn him around and lower him headfirst for the last few hundred metres. However this caused his mouth to fill with blood, and for him to vomit blood, presumably caused by blood which had flowed into his stomach from his broken ribs and was now preventing him from breathing."

"We tipped the ladder on its side to allow the blood to drain out his mouth. We knew the situation was now very critical."

Army said they could not perform rescue due to Maoist security concerns

"Eventually we managed to get Lhakpa to ABC, arriving at about 3.00am on the 25th. The second rescue team of John Percy, Les, Lhakpa Gamu Sherpa and Phuri Sherpa arrived about 1-1.5 hours after us with Tenje. We made Lhakpa as comfortable as we could but it was very evident he was in a lot of pain."

"By the morning Tenje had recovered somewhat, his shoulder, initially thought to be broken turned out to be only dislocated and had since popped back in."

"The condition of his hip was still unknown though he was able to walk with a heavy limp. He was able to make it down to BC under his own steam short roped to Lhakpa Gamu. That same morning Lhakpa Chiri was again lowered down to a place near the bottom of the hill on a ladder much to his reluctance after the previous night, for an army helicopter rescue early on the 26th."

"However the army changed its mind overnight and now said they could not perform the rescue due to Maoist security concerns. After what we presume was intervention from Murari, our agent in Kathmandu, the helicopter finally did decide to come after all and picked all 3 injured men up from the flat area between the two lakes at Pumori Base Camp."

"All members of the expedition made a superb combined effort to complete this rescue. It appears that an anchor above the icewall had pulled out starting the chain of events."

"I would also like to make a special mention of Lhakpa Chiri. Despite this ordeal and the pain he was in caused by both his injuries and from the effects of us hastily lowering him down the mountain he never once complained and remained humble and courteous to the end."

"His humility, courage and dignity are qualities I will never forget. Tenje, in an amazing recovery and despite doctors orders, went on to summit Everest later that season."

"Philip Ling"

Philip Ling is a regular climber with the outfit SummitClimb.

"Unmarried Daughter" in Sherpa language, Pumori got her name by George Mallory, due to her location in the shade of Big E - eight km West, to be accurate. Since then, climbers sometimes refer to Pumori as "Everest's Daughter". It was first climbed in 1962 by Gerhard Lenser, member of a German-Swiss expedition.

Pumori stands at the top of the Khumbu valley, on the border between Nepal and Tibet. White and sweet as an ice cream cone, she poses a striking image before trekkers cameras, and a beautiful temptation to climbers ambitions.

The views from the summit are amazing: The high Tibetan plateau to one side, and the rugged shining peaks of Nepal to the other, plus perhaps the best panorama of Everest Western Cwm. In addition, the altitude of 7121 meters should make Pumori a good peak to climb as training for the big Eighthousanders. Some outfitter websites refer to Pumori as The Easiest 7000er in Nepal.

Sadly enough, Pumori's climbing history offers much less confidence. Although not technically difficult, Pumori is a dangerous mountain prone to avalanche, especially in the post-monsoon season.

The normal route on Pumori starts with a climb over an ice fall to the Southeast buttress, next traversing across open slopes to the East Ridge which can be followed to the summit.

Base camp is usually set up at 5300m. A 4 hour climb through the glaciers takes you to Camp 1 at 5700m. Next up are 500 meters on the face with 40-60 degrees slope. Finally you pass a snow wall and reach camp 2 at 6200m on a narrow ridge. Another 500 meters through ice with 30-60 degrees slopes passing through ice walls and crevasses are critical. Big seracs hanging on the shoulder above pose an avalanche risk. Camp 3 at 6500m is set on the ridge. On the summit push, expect crevasses up to the Pumori cliff just before the summit.


An army helicopter airlifts Lakpa and Tenje back to Kathmandu. (Click all images to enlarge).
Pumori from BC. Tempting but dangerous.
Climbing up between ABC and Camp 1 on Pumori.
Looking into Tibet from Pumori at 6700m on a heavenly summit day. A short while later and all hell broke loose.
Lhakpa Chiri Sherpa and Tenje Sherpa prior to the accident
Lhakpa Chiri in ABC tied onto the ladder in preparation for the descent to BC.
Philip Ling at Camp 1 at 6200m on Pumori with Everest, Lhotse, the Khumbu Icefall and the Western Cwm behind. All images courtesy of Philip Ling (click to enlarge).

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