'Inclement weather turned an uncomplicated trek for experienced mountaineers into a death trap'

07:25 PM Jun 07, 2024 | PTI |

Bengaluru: “If not for the inclement weather, they all would have survived and returned home safely,” said S Srivatsa, Secretary of Karnataka Mountaineering Association (KMA), capturing the shock of veteran mountaineers over the death of nine experienced trekkers of their group in Uttarakhand. A 22-member trekking team from the association began a 35-km long trek from Uttarkashi on May 29, but nine of them lost their lives in Uttarakhand due to extreme weather conditions, while the 13 who survived were rescued in a coordinated operation by the Uttarakhand and Karnataka government.


“This tragedy happened only due to this fatal bad weather. They were all trained and experienced trekkers. It was not very tough terrain also. The terrain was very accessible to any common person. Because of this very inclement weather, they were caught and went into hypothermia. This happened only because of this bad weather or they all would have survived,” Srivatsa said.

Among those who lost their lives is 71-year-old Asha Sudhakar, a KMA member for over three decades and one of the oldest women trekkers from the state.

According to KMA, she had been on several such treks with her husband S Sudhakar in the past, who was the team leader of this trek. He, however, survived the calamity.

“Age was not an issue at all. Asha was an experienced mountaineer and trekker. This team was a combination of mountaineers and trekkers. They were all experienced. In fact, Asha’s husband was the leader of the team. Caught in the inclement weather, she unfortunately lost her life but her husband survived,” Srivatsa told PTI.


The group comprised physically fit, experienced trekkers in the age group of 34 to 71, he said.

When the incident took place, Srivatsa himself was at the Everest base camp in Nepal and rushed to Dehradun to help coordinate the rescue.

“I know each one of them personally. They all are KMA members and I have trekked a lot with them in the past but during this trek, I was in Nepal,” he said.

“Primarily, before going on an expedition, there are two-three mandatory local treks as a prep for physical fitness. Apart from that, we meet every Saturday. As soon as I got to know about the incident, I rushed to Dehradun.

“I was there with them at the hospital, consoling them. They were in complete shock, shattered and depressed. Some of them were sitting with the bodies for nearly 36 hours, It was depressing,” he recalled.

“When I interacted with them, they (trekkers) shared how because of heavy wind, their windcheater, jackets and gloves were flying and visibility was zero. So, they took shelter next to a big boulder. But because of exhaustion, hypothermia and lack of sufficient oxygen, four of them collapsed. Five others collapsed later.

“They said they were unable to move, caught in a blizzard, and became exhausted. They were carrying food but could not eat because they were unable to open the tiffin boxes amid strong winds.

“Later, from the lower camp, a guide and other mountaineers sent two more tents with sleeping bags and a cook managed to give them them some hot water. With that help, the (rest of them) survived. Otherwise, they would have also collapsed,” he said.

He recalled how they often organised pre-monsoon and post-monsoon treks across India and to neighbouring countries like Nepal.

“We organised three expeditions in Nepal and all of them were successfully completed. Two were Everest base camps and the other was Annapurna Base Camp Trek. A camp in Manali was also organised for children between the age group of 12-15 years. In Uttarakhand region alone, two other camps were held recently, which were completed successfully. This was the last expedition.

“This itinerary was from May 29 to 8. They (trekkers) left on May 29 and were supposed to reach Bengaluru on June 8,” he told PTI.

Talking about the incident, Srivatsa said that after reaching Uttarkashi, they established a camp at Sahastra Tal. From there, they went to a high point, but while climbing down, the weather turned bad.

On June 3, due to bad weather, they all took shelter at the big boulder. Due to intense cold and inclement weather, people went into hypothermia and four among them collapsed at night and the next morning, few of them (trekkers) came down with the guide, he said.

“After the guide reached the nearest signal point, he gave me a call on the evening of June 4, and with the help of the Secretary of Indian Mountaineering Foundation, we organised logistics for rescue on June 5. So, Chief Secretary of Karnataka and Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand both coordinated and helped us.

“We lost nine members while 13 survived. They all were rescued and brought to Dehradun hospital. After treatment, they were put up at the state government guest house where they were taken care of,” he said, adding that the bodies of the deceased were sent to Bengaluru after post-mortem.

When PTI contacted some of the survivors, they were still in shock and said they needed time to recover. “We are still in shock and are not able to come to terms with what just happened. We are grateful to the government for their efforts but, unfortunately, we have lost some of our friends in this tragedy. We need time to come to terms with it,” one of the survivors said.

All nine bodies have arrived and been handed over to their respective families for final rites.


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