Seven men and one woman who were part of an expedition to climb 24,389-foot Nanda Devi East, the second-highest peak in the Indian Himalaya, are presumed dead. The group was attempting to acclimatize on an unclimbed 6,477-meter peak (peak 6477) near Nanda Devi East when they were last heard from, more than a week ago. Helicopter sweeps by Indian authorities this week spotted five bodies strewn throughout an avalanche field, though poor weather has kept air and recovery crews from recovering the bodies.
The victims included climbers from Australia, Britain, the US, and India.
Twelve climbers in all set out for Nanda Devi East at the end of May, with four climbers splitting off to head for the summit, and this group of eight heading to the peak 6477 to settle in and let their bodies adjust to the altitude before making a summit push. Led by their guide, Martin Moran, the group radioed to base camp on May 25 and announced that they intended to head for the peak the following day. When they didn’t arrive back at base camp, a SAR operation was assembled.
Guide Mark Thomas led an introductory search of peak 6477. Thomas spotted an avalanche debris field, but no sign of the missing climbers before his team was airlifted out because of avalanche danger.
“It now appears that all the climbers were caught in an avalanche quite close to the spot where they had camped for the night,” Amit Chowdhury, an official at the Indian Mountaineering Federation, told the New York Times. “Plans are now being made to retrieve the bodies.”
Nanda Devi is considered an extremely difficult and dangerous climb because of very steep slopes and ever-present avalanche danger. Many seasoned mountaineers have tried and failed to climb the mountain, including those organized in a Cold War-era expedition organized by the CIA to install a sensor on the peak to observe Chinese nuclear experiments.
“The main peak is surrounded by gorges,” said a climber, Anup Sah, who has failed to climb the mountain on four separate occasions. “It is a very dangerous fixed-rope climb. God forbid you slip — you go deep into the gorge.”