Shishapangma Closes, Many Questions Remain

Chinese authorities declared Tenjen Sherpa and Gina Marie Rzucidlo dead yesterday. The American climber and her Sherpa guide have been missing since Saturday’s avalanche on Shishapangma.

Mingma G, who took a serious fall during the rescue efforts, will reach the Nepalese border tomorrow. The only injured climber still on the mountain this morning was Karma Gyalzen. He spent last night in Camp 1 and was being brought down today.

Kami Rita Sherpa, also injured, reached Base Camp before the other casualties and seems to have already reached the Nepal border. He flew to Kathmandu today.

The tragedy, due at least in part to the competition for a national record of little significance among clients who needed sherpa support, is raising many questions among guides, expedition leaders, and others in the mountain community.

Shock at Tenjen Lama’s death

The loss of Tenjen Lama has particularly affected the Himalayan climbing industry. Tenjen Lama had a big role in the success of many international climbers. He was with Alex Txikon on winter Manaslu, and led Kristin Harila on every stage of her 14×8,000m speed record, sharing the achievement.

Instead of resting after his assignment with Harila, Tenjen Lama kept guiding non-stop: on Manaslu, Dhaulagiri, and now Shishapangma. It was unexpected to find Tenjen there with Gina Marie Rzucidlo. She had climbed her previous peaks with 8K Expeditions. On Shishapangma, she was under Climbalaya’s permit but she was guided by Tenjen Sherpa of Seven Summit Treks.

The climbers in high altitude clothes, but at some indoor office.

Tenjen Lama and Kristin Harila during their speed record quest. Photo: Seven Summit Treks


“Honestly, mountaineering is not for unhealthy competition, every person must know it’s 100% risky,” Nga Tenjing of Pioneer Adventures wrote on Instagram while expressing condolences for the death of Tenjen Lama. Yet most companies outfitting the 8,000’ers have promoted or at least supported all kinds of records among their clients.

No word from the mountain

Many questions remain about the events of Saturday, Oct. 7 on Shishapangma. Climbers, such as Italian IFMGA guide Mario Vielmo, reported on extreme cold and high winds at altitude, which came after a snowy spell. It is unclear how conditions were assessed and decisions were made. Why were the two competing women and their sherpa guides climbing ahead of the team leaders? And why did Rzucidlo, Tenjen Lama, and possibly other climbers continue up after the first avalanche killed Anna Gutu and Migmar Sherpa of Elite Exped?

None of the companies who outfitted the dead and injured climbers (Elite Exped and Seven Summit Treks) have shared reports. Some climbers told ExplorersWeb that the expedition leaders are still busy with the injured climbers (and probably dismantling camps) and that everyone in Base Camp is devastated at the events and in no mood to post on social media.

A traumatic experience

Imagine Nepal‘s team members were unharmed by the avalanches but traumatized by the drama that they experienced. Their leader, Mingma G, was seriously injured during later rescue attempts. He and others are currently on their way to the Nepalese border, where they will reach tomorrow. A helicopter will be waiting to take Mingma G to the hospital.

Seven Summit Treks, in collaboration with Climbalaya, outfitted two groups on the mountain. The first group launched their summit push at the same time as EliteExped and Imagine Nepal. (This doesn’t include the Italian members, who planned to climb without oxygen and needed further acclimatization.)

A second group of climbers, including several record seekers, reached Shishapangma’s Base Camp on the same day that the avalanches struck. The group had just summited Cho Oyu hours before. Their climb will presumably be canceled.

Elite Exped has not reacted to the death of their client and their staff member. Anna Gutu hired EliteExped to help her climb all the 8,000’ers in record time, and thus “beat” Gina Marie Rzucidlo. Rzucidlo had started her 8,000m quest years before and had not felt compelled to compete until this year.

Since the catastrophe, the Chinese authorities have halted all activity on the mountain “due to unsafe snow conditions.” Climbers say that China has decided to close the mountain for the season.

Mario Vielmo told his home team yesterday that the mountain has now settled down and is in good condition. If so, the tragedy could easily have been avoided with a bit of patience.

The right way

EliteExped leader Nirmal Purja is still in Tibet, as far as we know. His last Instagram post before heading for Tibet read: ‘’Mountains should be open for everyone to enjoy. To make sure they stay that way, it’s on us to make sure we climb them the right way.”

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.