The first fatality of the 2009 Mount Everest spring climbing season came Thursday when Lhakpa Nuru, a Sherpa with the Eco Everest Expedition that also includes Apa Sherpa, of Utah, was swept away by a massive avalanche through the Khumbu Icefall above base camp.
Apa, a Salt Lake City resident who holds the world record with 18 Everest summits and is climbing leader for the Eco Everest Expedition, was in base camp and not harmed when the avalanche struck.
Bill Burke, leader of the Eco Everest Expedition, offered details of the avalanche and the team's reaction to losing Lhakpa Nuru on an audio blog (http://www.byoaudio.com/play/WK3c1xjQ" Target="_BLANK">http://www.byoaudio.com/play/WK3c1xjQ), posted to his Web site Friday.
"Everyone is just devastated here as you can imagine in the first death of the Everest 2009 season," he said. "Yesterday was a sad and devastating day for all of us at base camp."
Burke said that smaller avalanches earlier in the morning proved to be a warning for those on the mountain.
"We were in the dining tent when we heard some avalanches. Apa said they were just a warning for a bigger one," Burke said. "At 10:30 [a.m. Nepal time] a huge avalanche roared down the west shoulder and covered the entire icefall. We could feel the blast of wind in base camp."
Two Austrian climbers, Walter Lasserer and Bernice Notenboo, were also caught in the avalanche with Lhakpa Nuru. The three heard the avalanche coming and sought shelter in a crevasse.
"The avalanche pulled Lhakpa out and down the mountain," Burke said. "The power of the wind from the avalanche pushed Walter down 30 to 40 feet into the crevasse head first. Bernice couldn't move. She started screaming and the Indian Army Team heard her."
Notenboo was relatively unharmed in the incident and was quickly rescued by the other climbers. Burke reported that a Sherpa had to climb down and carve away some of the ice to get Lasserer out.
Other climbers and Sherpas rushed to the scene to look for Lhakpa, but found only one boot with a sock still in it and his backpack. Efforts to find his body Friday were also unsuccessful.
Lasserer was able to walk back to base camp. Burke said the Austrians were both in good health Friday.
Apa Sherpa's family in Salt Lake City heard from friends in Nepal late Thursday night that Lhakpa Nuru was lost in the avalanche. The news was doubly hard for them: In addition to being a member of the Eco Everest Expedition, Lhakpa Nuru was also from Apa's hometown of Thame in the Himalayan Highlands.
"Yes, we knew him and his family," Tenzing Sherpa, Apa's oldest son, said from their home in Draper. "We are very sad."
Bud Allen, another member of the Eco Everest team, wrote in his blog that incidents like the huge avalanche always make climbers reconsider what they are doing in trying to climb the tallest mountain in the world.
"This is my second Everest Expedition and my second fatal tragedy. In any given season there are going to be deaths on the mountain. It is not a safe endeavor but many people come here for years without ever having an accident among their team. I have now had two in two expeditions," Allen wrote. "I think some of our members may head for home. Call it the abstract made personal. You come here knowing it happens but having it happen that close to home can be a shocker. A couple of my teammates were plus or minus 30 minutes from being front and center. As for my plans --- I still have not formulated a plan."