The Accident at Tashi Lapso Pass: Part One – The Accident

 

Trekking places like Kathmandu, Nepal is a life’s dream for a lot of us.

For some, the dream is perhaps to climb Everest (Sagarmatha/Chomolungma) or maybe even conquer the climbers’ ‘white whale’ that is K2.

For others, the dream may merely be the delights of leaving the modern world behind and exploring exotic villages and meeting the people to be found on the many awe-inspiring treks throughout some of the most unforgiving terrain on this fragile blue ball we live on.

But what happens when things go wrong?

A little over 12 months ago, Almanacker Louise Currie found herself in a very perilous situation when trekking Kathmandu and, over the next 12 days, we’ll bring you her story as she details events in The Accident at Tashi Lapso Pass.

The story begins below, and we hope that you enjoy Louise’s words.

 

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Saturday, 4th of January 2014

It was a very windy night. Strong gusts of wind ripped down from the Tashi Lapso Pass and from the nearby snow peaks, buffeting our tiny campsite below on the Ngole glacier. The wind continued to get stronger over the course of the night, lifting the sides of my tent which were secured with large stones. Then, one final strong gust of wind blew over both the kitchen and toilet tents. Although the kitchen tent was several metres away from mine, the strength of the wind was such that I heard a couple of its aluminium pegs land on the far side of my own tent.

Lakpa Sherpa, my guide, had said if it was very windy in the morning, we would not attempt the Pass. The Tashi Lapso Pass could be dangerous when it was windy, although the campsite up there was said to be sheltered. However, in the morning when we awoke, it was clear and sunny with only a very light breeze. Every peak was sharply illuminated, the views breathtaking. None of our small camping group – consisting of myself, Lakpa, our cook Nima and three porters – had slept well. However, Lakpa said to me, ‘it’s not windy so let’s go up to the Pass.’

We broke camp at around 9:15am. It was clear and still when we left.  Our camp was set up on rocks directly on the glacier and as we left the site, we continued to hop from one large rock to another across the body of the glacier for ten minutes before reaching the moraine on the other side. We commenced what was going to be a three-hour ascent through glacial moraine. It was very steep and as there was no discernable path, we had to negotiate our way through the rocks – which varied in size from small pebbles to large, car-sized boulders.

Lakpa went ahead and I followed closely on his heels, trying to step where he stepped most of the time. Having reached the summit of Everest seven times and being used to making his way through difficult terrain, Lakpa was sure-footed and never slipped. I knew him well and trusted him completely.  We had trekked together on several occasions, and had climbed to the summit of three 6,000 metre-plus peaks together over the previous four years. Our three porters were coming along behind – our two women porters about ten metres behind us, and Uttam, our young male porter, behind them. Nima was coming last and was about ten minutes behind the others.

Lakpa was about three metres ahead of me. Trying to follow him, I stepped forward with my left foot onto a rock about one foot by two feet in diameter. As my weight shifted onto the rock it started to slip forward. As it did, it dislodged a much larger rock – four foot by approximately six foot -which then fell forward, crushing my left leg underneath. With my leg under the rock, I fell backwards against the steep slope and landed on my 12 kilogram backpack. The pain was sudden and intense and it took my breath away.

I knew that my leg was broken without even being able to look at it. Luckily, the rock had fallen over a natural hollow in the side of the slope, so my leg was not trapped beneath. Lakpa leapt forward immediately and reached under the rock to pull my leg out. I screamed at him not to pull too hard.

He pushed my leg down and to the right and freed it from under the rock. He pulled back my trouser leg and my worst fears were immediately confirmed – it was badly broken a couple of inches above the ankle. My foot was hanging at an unnatural angle and there was also blood seeping out of the right side of my leg.   The sight and sensation of my broken leg made me feel sick but I reached forward to take hold of it, trying to keep it straight and the two broken ends together.

The shock of what had just happened was quickly settling in and I started to breathe in quick small gasps. I felt dizzy and for a little while, only vaguely aware of what was going on around me. Lakpa had his hand on my knee but then leaned forward and started to wipe my face with a cloth. It was only a couple of days later than I learned that a smaller rock had hit my face, and right then, I was bleeding quite heavily from my upper lip. Lakpa called down to our porters in Nepali that my leg was broken and they rushed up to where we were so they could help.

I was still lying on my backpack with my head angled downhill, trying to hold the two ends of my broken leg together. My good leg was resting on the boulder that had collapsed on my left leg a few moments before. Lakpa became anxious for all of us to move away from the immediate area near the boulder, which was obviously unstable.

Despite my broken leg, I was relatively comfortable in my half-upside-down position and reluctant to move at all. I kept telling Lakpa and the porters to leave me alone for a while. Finally Lakpa insisted and said, “it’s dangerous here; we have to move you away.” One of the women porters pulled out a camp mattress from one of our bags and placed it on another flat rock nearby. I allowed Lakpa and the three porters to pick me up and sit me upright on the camp mattress away from danger. The elder of our women porters was carefully holding my broken leg for me. Uttam was supporting one end of the mattress, Lakpa the other.

 

The accident area - Ngole glacier, Tashi Lapso Pass

The accident area – Ngole glacier, Tashi Lapso Pass

 

I sat there, letting the reality of the situation sink in, trying to slow my breathing and trying not to panic.

We were in a very difficult situation. At close to 5,300 meters in altitude, there would be no possibility of a helicopter evacuation from here as there was simply no safe place for one to land. There was no mobile phone network in the area and being the winter off-season, we would be unlikely to meet any other people coming over the Pass.

Ngole was remote.

Ngole was cold.

And we were completely alone.

About Louise Currie

Originally from Australia, although I have been living in Nepal since 2005. I worked for a long time for an international aid agency in Kathmandu. I am interested in community development and having adventures in remote places. I am married with one daughter.

Comments

  1. Hi Louise , I am dying to read what happens next.

    Your account reminds me of the book Into Thin Air, incredible!!

    Hope you are ok

  2. Riveting.

    I always wondered why I preferred darts.

  3. Ripper tale. Look forward to the rest of it.

    Sounds a bit like the book “Into The Void”.

  4. Ben Footner says

    I’m hooked!

  5. Hi Louise,

    You are brave that you tried not to panic under such circumstances. Did you adopt such attitude through previous trekking?

    I look forward to reading the rest of your story.

    Best Wishes

    Yoshi

  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Remote, cold, alone. Got the shivers reading this Louise. Beautifully written.

  7. Excellent stuff.
    Keep it coming.

  8. Louise Currie says

    Thanks everyone for your comments.

    Yes, I survived ok, Kate but even after year I still can’t run & jump.

    Panic? Well – I think I was more shocked than panicked!

    Louise

  9. Cindy Currie says

    Louise as your big cousin I say ” Get down from there young lady!”
    Fantastically written. Looking forward to the next installment.
    Stay safe. Xxx

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