NEWSLETTERS - 2014 Expeditions

The Daily Moraine - Everest, Lhotse and Makalu #414 April 2014

All teams united at base camp doing the Puja

On Friday, the last group of the Himalayan Experience crew arrived at Everest Base Camp with Jacob and Suzanne leading their Makalu climbers as well as some trekkers to their temporary home on the Khumbu Glacier at 5,350 metres.

As the Ncell 3G network in the Khumbu only works intermittently, I had been unable to get anyone on the phone for a few days. But finally on Sunday morning I reached Russell, who had just come from a staff meeting "All climbers, trekkers, guides and Sherpas have arrived at Everest base camp and we are having our Puja later today", he told me.

Mount Everest
Mount Everest

The Puja is a Buddhist blessing, which is very important for the Sherpas as it is an auspicious ceremony bringing good luck on the mountain. It is usually done by a monk and members as well as Sherpas will have a piece of their climbing gear, such as harness or ice axe, blessed to protect them on the mountain. During the ceremony, the team gathers around the Chorten (Buddhist altar, which is built by the Sherpas each season) and tunes in to the chimes of the monk for at least one hour. The ceremony is concluded by having some blessed sweets and the odd glass of Rakshi (Nepalese schnapps) is also handed out.

According to Russell, the Himalayan Experience Camp is currently very busy as everyone, including film crews and trekkers, have now arrived. "We had a great housewarming dinner last night. Bob, Lacchu and the rest of the kitchen crew were rather busy with cooking for 51 people," he said.

Everyone will rest at base camp for a few days before they will embark on the second phase of the trip. The Everest and Lhotse teams will meander back down the valley to climb Lobuje East while the Makalu crew will stay at base camp for another two days before they walk back down to Pheriche, from where New Zealand pilot Jason Laing will pick them up and lift them over to Makalu base camp.

This is Jason's second spring season in Nepal and he has been rather busy trying to fly trekkers and climbers into the Everest region, especially when fixed-wing flights are being cancelled due to bad weather. He was also particularly busy on 3rd April, the day Russell and the Makalu team were going in - as that day Jason was involved in an exciting rescue mission on Ama Dablam.

As this was the highest rescue Jason had ever flown and maybe was even the highest ever done by a Kiwi pilot, I thought it might be worth giving his amazing effort a space in our newsletter.


Rescue mission

On 2 April, two foreigners and Sherpa took a fall after summitting the 6,170 metre high mountain. One of the climbers fell into a crevasse and was apparently badly injured.

"After I got a call from the agency at around lunchtime I collected Chhiring, my 28-year-old long-line rescuer, and immediately started the engine to flew to Lukla," Jason said.

They had been told that one climber was seriously injured and had supposedly been hanging on a rope all night. "We knew it had to be quick and it was amazing how it all came together with so many people helping."

Jason briefly stopped in Lukla, where the helicopter was 'rigged', which means that doors and seats to were taken off to make the big bird lighter. "We then took off towards Ama Dablam to do the first reccie and see where we would have to do our work. I felt absolutely comfortable with the situation, especially with Chhiring, who has been trained by Air Zermatt and is a very skilled rescuer."

After the team had touched down at Ama Dablam BC and lightened the load even more by getting rid of canisters of fuel, they were set to do the long-line rescue – the highest Jason had ever done.

"It all went very smoothly but after Chhiring had lowered himself down to attach the injured climber to the rope, I noticed that I was getting very low on fuel as I have been hovering for quite a while. For a moment the situation was a bit iffy."

After Chhiring had clipped the injured climber onto the longline, Jason flew him down to Ama Dablam base camp, then returned back to the mountain with a water flask for the sherpa and the other climber, collected his wingman Chhiring and then flew the patient from base camp to Lukla hospital.

The young climber was in a very bad state and the doctors at Lukla hospital knew that he had to go to Kathmandu as quickly as possible. "One of them kept on calling out: "For god sake, oxygen oxygen – get him out of here," Jason remembered.

While the medics were trying to stabilise the very sick patient, Jason nipped back to Ama Dablam, collected his wingman, picked up the patient from a very relieved doctor in Lukla and started his journey to Kathmandu.

"The weather had turned really bad and I was flying through a hailstorm. Had the rescue been a few hours later we would not have been able to do this," he said.

About four hours after the initial phone call, Jason landed his helicopter at the helipad of a Kathmandu hospital, where the climber was immediately taken care of and is now on his way to recovery.

For Jason, this rescue was truly rewarding despite being physically very draining for him.

"I think it's fantastic that I could save a life and so many hands helped together to make this possible", he said. "But afterwards, I was exhausted. I had been under so much pressure and I could not have done another leg to Lukla."

Finally Russell and the stranded members were picked up by another Simrick pilot and were flown straight to Phakding from where it is only a stone throw away to Monjo, where they met the rest of the team just in time for dinner!

Watch this space for more news to come soon.

Billi Bierling, Namche Bazaar