Shishapangma Avalanche: Two U.S. Women, Two Sherpas Dead/Missing

Tragic news from Shishapangma: Anna Gutu and her supporting guide Migmar Sherpa are confirmed dead, while Gina Marie Rzucidlo and Tenjen Lama are missing.

Tenjen Lama Sherpa had accompanied Kristin Harila on her three-month speed climb of all the 8,000’ers. After finishing with Harila on K2 in July, he returned to guiding for Seven Summit Treks. He had already summited Manaslu and Dhaulagiri this fall.

All the victims were caught in a series of avalanches that struck this morning at 7,800m while they were on their way to the summit. Gutu and Rzucidlo were racing to become the first U.S. women to complete the 14×8,000’ers.

Rescuers, led by Mingma G, recovered the bodies of Gutu and Migmar Sherpa on the spot. The other two remain missing. An unknown number of climbers, including Kami Rita Sherpa, Mitra Bahadur Tamang, and Karma Gyalzen Sherpa, were also injured in the slides.

Pasaban and other climbers traverse a mild snow slope on their way to the summit ridge.

The upper slopes of Shishapangma, at the approximate altitude where the avalanche took place. The exact route that the climbers took is unclear, as there are several variations. Photo: Edurne Pasaban

Sketchy details

Eyewitnesses told The Himalayan Times that “at least two avalanches hit the climbing route when two American women climbers along with their guides reached above 7,800m.”

Most EliteExped and Imagine Nepal climbers turned around at 7,600m. While details are sketchy, Naila Kiani’s tracker stopped registering movement for over an hour before she turned around. The climbers might have stopped if they heard or saw avalanches above them. Kiani, who is climbing with fellow Pakistani Sirbaz Khan, is already at 6,400m (the altitude of Camp 1).

Communication from Tibet is difficult, but climbers who had joined the summit push are reporting over inReach as they return to Base Camp. “I had a bad feeling all day,” Uta Ibrahini texted.

There is no rescue helicopter service in Tibet. All rescue attempts must be done on the ground.

The climber stands on front of a tent with a banner featuring her climb and grace Tseng's.

Gina Marie Rzucidlo at Cho Oyu Base camp some days ago. Photo: 8K Expeditions

Fierce competition

Gutu and Rzucidlo were in fierce competition to become the first American woman to complete the 14×8,000’ers. Gutu climbed with EliteExped. With no previous Himalayan experience, she was on the run to summit all 14 in six months. Shishapangma was the last mountain on her list.

Rzucidlo, who is from New York City, climbed both Gasherbrums and Nanga Parbat, then Manaslu this summer. Finally, she headed to Tibet for the two remaining peaks.

“Hers was just a multi-year project to complete the 14×8,000’ers,” said fellow American Chris Warner. “It was only this year that it became a race.”

She climbed Cho Oyu with 8K Expeditions/Climbalaya but was with Seven Summit Treks on Shishapanga. As with Gutu, this was her last peak.

Rzucidlo summited Cho Oyu on October 1, while Gutu summited three days later, on October 4. She then moved to Shishapangma right away. Gutu set off from Base Camp on a full summit push, together with the rest of Elite Exped and Imagine Nepal teams yesterday. Rzucidlo was already in Camp 2 by then, according to climbers in Base Camp.

Several climbers told ExplorersWeb that the atmosphere in Tibet was thick with competition, as several climbers, not just the two U.S. women, vied for records.

Mario Vielmo of Italy, who spent the last two nights in Camp 1, told his home team that it was bitterly cold and windy on the mountain.

“Winds were fierce at 7,000m,” he reported after reaching Base Camp today.

Recent weather has been rough on both sides of the Tibet-Nepal border, as confirmed by Simone Moro on Pumori, the Russian team on Cho Oyu’s south side, and the Cho Oyu summit photos of October 4. Fresh snow followed by cold and wind is a typical pattern in the formation of potential avalanche slabs.

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.