What Happened on Shishapangma: The Climbers Speak Out

As they cross the border back into Nepal, Shishapangma climbers are starting to reveal what they went through during the tragic summit push last Saturday. They tell a story of toxic competition and disastrous consequences.

“Was a horrible expedition, I didn’t expect it would turn out like that,” Mingma G, leader of the Imagine Nepal team, admitted to ExplorersWeb on his way to hospital. “Everything was going smoothly, but the competition between the two ladies ruined everything.”

He is referring to the competition between Gina Rzucidlo and Anna Gutu. Both were vying to become the first U.S. women to climb all 14 8,000’ers. They each had 13, and had only Shishapangma left to do.

Mingma G’s group was the only one without fatalities, but Mingma G himself nearly lost his life while helping others during the rescue. Here, he tells the story:

Mingma G’s account

I had a 150m fall at 7,300m while rescuing Karma Gyalzen. We were all a bit tired while helping him and another rescuer [Kami Rita Sherpa of Climbalaya]. Phurba Sonam was taking control of the belay rope and I saw that he was about to get his feet tangled in it, so I managed to clear the rope quickly from his boots.

While doing so, I slipped. I tried to stop myself and was almost successful twice, but my body was already too tired…and I continued sliding down.

While I was falling, I saw a big rock getting closer to me and I was sure I would break bones. I tried to miss the rock, which I did. Then I hit other, smaller rocks, but on more snowy terrain. That’s why I survived.

Mingma with red cap and sun glasses, on a snowy ridge, sea of clouds below in the background.

Mingma G on the summit of Manaslu last month. Video frame from Mingma G’s Facebook


Mingma survived, indeed, thanks to luck but also to the fast action of Depon Gurung, who found him unconscious and not breathing.

“Depon Gurung Sherpa told us he performed CPR on Mingma,” said team member Sasko Kedev of Macedonia, a cardiologist. “Luckily, after some chest compressions and a few breaths in, Mingma G reacted and recovered consciousness.”

Amazingly, he slowly stood up, rejected further help, and walked slowly down.

“Mingma G returned to our tent at Camp 2, shaking and with blood all over his head and hands,” said Tracee Metcalf of the U.S., also a medical doctor.

Yet Mingma G walked all the way down to Base Camp the following day and boarded the group bus to the border.

Today at the hospital in Kathmandu, a CT scan revealed that Mingma G has a skull fracture as well as a fractured tailbone. He will get an MRI tomorrow to check for any internal bleeding.

Kedev noted that Mingma G had immediately begun a rescue operation after the avalanche. He worked non-stop, without supplementary oxygen! Asked if the team had spare oxygen systems to use in emergencies like this, Kedev said they had, but apparently, Mingma G didn’t deem it necessary.

Upgrading Sherpas

Seven Summit Treks has insisted to several journalists that Gina Rzucidlo, one of the U.S. women who died, was a member of the Climbalaya team, with no relation to SST. But then, why was she climbing with SST’s star sherpa, Tenjen Lama?

Rzucidlo had started high-altitude climbing years ago but changed outfitters from time to time. Last year and for part of 2023, she was with Imagine Nepal. Then she switched to 8K Expeditions, with whom she summited both Gasherbrums and Nanga Parbat this past summer.

She hoped to continue with them in Tibet, but 8K staff had problems obtaining visas for Tibet. (A similar situation happened with Kristin Harila’s sherpas in 2022). So Rzucidlo went to Cho Oyu under a Climbalaya permit. She summited Cho Oyu on Oct. 1 and left for Shishapangma right away.

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


In a stopover in Tingri, Rzucidlo said she wanted to have a faster sherpa than the ones provided by Climbalaya. She managed to hire Tenjen Lama, who was in Tibet guiding for Seven Summit Treks. Tenjen was the powerhouse who helped Kristin Harila summit all the 8,000’ers in just over three months and shared her record.

Rzucidlo paid SST for his services since Tenjen worked for them. She also had Kami Rita Sherpa of Climbalaya when she left for the summit of Shishapangma.

On reaching Shishapangma’s Base Camp, SST climbers assumed she was a new team member (Climbalaya and SST collaborated). Climbalaya confirmed Rzucidlo was a member of their team and also confirmed the collaboration with SST.

Why does this matter? Because driven as she was, it is not clear who Rzucidlo answered to, and who had the authority to make her turn back.

Leadership and rational thinking at altitude

Sasko Kedev, 61, started climbing 8,000’ers in 2009. Since then, he has summited eight of the 14 peaks. His wide experience helped us try to understand what happened.

“Leadership is critical in these situations,” Kedev said. “Clients may want to pay more to their sherpas so they will continue. That is why a true leader is required, to make the right decisions for all the team members.”

The duelists

Climbers mentioned that the competition for records was strong but “not toxic” until the final stage of the race between the Americans. Shishapangma was the last mountain for many: Sirbaz Khan and Shehroze Kashif hoped to become the first Pakistani 14×8,000’er summiter. (Note that Khan has done most of his peaks without oxygen.) Adriana Brownlee aimed to be the first British woman and also to set an age record.

Many others on the mountain were also on track to collect all 14 peaks. Even two of the leaders, Mingma G and Nirmal Purja, were about to finish their 14 peaks without oxygen. “Yet no one’s competition was as fierce as the American women,” Kedev said.

Close shot of Gutu with down jacket and hood on.

Anna Gutu. Photo: Anna Gutu/Instagram


Anna Gutu

“I didn’t know Anna, but she gave me her hand warmers when I was freezing cold on Cho Oyu, and that made me appreciate her,” said Naila Kiani of Pakistan. “Gina called Anna the Instagram Climber, but I think Anna was a really nice girl.”

Kiani added: “Things went really sour after we climbed Cho Oyu and returned to Base Camp. Gina had left just a few hours before, and we expected to leave right away, but we were delayed by local authorities and then had several problems with the yaks.”

Although there is no proof, team members were suspicious that Rzucidlo might have encouraged the officers to stall the second team, in order to delay Anna Gutu’s transfer to Shishapangma, said Kiani.

“In order to get Anna there in time, we had to leave our duffel bags behind and head to Shishapangma Base Camp with only the gear we needed for the summit push,” Kiani said. “That made us all angry.”

“Both [Rzucidlo and Gutu] got so focused on the competition, that they somehow lost control of the situation and the entire team suffered from it,” said Kiani. “If only they had collaborated, like so many people on the mountain told them! It’s such a shame that we women don’t support each other.”

Tracee Metcalfe, the third in line

“I have been on several expeditions with Gina and I would say that I know her pretty well,” says Tracee Metcalfe. “I have really enjoyed climbing with Gina over the last few years. She was known for being extremely uplifting and funny. Her infectious laugh could get the whole room laughing.”

Metcalfe admits that the competition between Rzucidlo and Gutu had turned toxic in the last three months. “I think that Gina was very interested in being the first U.S. woman to complete all 14 peaks,” Metcalfe said. “She was surprised at how quickly Anna was able to climb them.”

Anna Gutu was new to the climbing scene and had only gone with Elite Exped. In a post today, the company described her as “our beloved, funny, happy, amazing star…with [a] great sense of humor.”

Metcalfe during a partial climb on a Himalayan peak.

Dr. Tracee Metcalfe, currently the American woman with the most 8,000’ers summited (9). She is in no hurry to finish. Photo: Tracee Metcalfe


Ironically, Tracee Metcalfe is now the U.S. woman with the most 8,000m summits — 9. That was never a problem for Rzucidlo because Metcalfe despises record fever. She’s been climbing at altitude since 2014 while working as an expedition doctor, and she is in no hurry to climb the four remaining peaks.

“I climb for the joy of climbing and have never been interested in records,” she says, adding:

I do not like this record fever at all. I feel it detracts from the experience of climbing. I used to enjoy all parts of the expedition, the trek in, doing rotations, getting to know the team etc. Now everyone is in such a big rush. I also think that there are people climbing now who are in it for perhaps the wrong reasons? Things like social media attention? Like I said before, I enjoy the beauty of the mountains, and this is the reason why I climb. These competitions do not sit well with me.

The race

Gina Rzucidlo set off before the Elite/Imagine Nepal team reached the mountain, but stopped at Camp 2, because there was no open trail and no ropes, Naila Kiani said.

The joint team of EliteExped and Imagine Nepal reached Shishapangma Base Camp on Oct. 6 and started right away. They hurried to Camp 1, planning Oct. 7 as their summit day.

Uta Ibrahimi, also on the mountain, said both Gina Rzucidlo and Anna Gutu were on oxygen when they arrived at Camp 1. It’s very unusual to use oxygen this low, especially on lesser 8,000’ers like 8,027m Shishapangma. But it is credible that both wanted every advantage in their race to the summit.

Gutu was supported by Migmar and Karma Guyalzen, and Rzucidlo was guided by Kami Rita Sherpa and especially, by Tenjen Lama, one of the strongest of all sherpa climbers working today.

Meanwhile, beyond Camp 2, “everybody seemed to be waiting for us to break the trail and fix the ropes,” said Kiani. “It was really hard going for us.”

The team broke the trail but decided not to fix ropes. “It was only us breaking trail, and it was exhausting,” Kedev confirmed. “More people came only after five or six hours.”

As dawn broke, they were approaching the upper slopes of Shishapangma. Like most teams in recent years, they didn’t go for the classic route that followed the long, sharp, summit ridge and across the central summit. Above Camp 3, they deviated toward the main summit wall in order to go up one of the snow couloirs. They aimed to reach the summit ridge as close as possible to the highest point. Or at least, that is what most did.

Deviating routes

Anna Gutu’s group, well ahead of everyone else on her team, deviated from Camp 2 toward a point on the ridge.

“I kept pace with Anna for some time, but eventually I had to stop to take my sunglasses out and fell behind,” Naila Kiani said. “That probably saved my life.”

the climbers in red jackets at some Base camp.

Pakistani climbers Sirbaz Khan and Naila Kiani. Photo: Naila Kiani/Facebook


Kiani says she wasn’t sure if Gutu was heading for the wrong summit or hoping to take the classic route to the beginning of the ridge.

“After some thought, I decided to keep walking toward Camp 3, which looked like a longer but safer (and correct) route,” she said.

Gutu’s team leader Nirmal Purja was far behind because he was without O2, climbers confirmed.

Climbers declined to say whether things might have been different if the guides had been at the front. “It is not uncommon for the leaders to be behind the leading sherpas,” Metcalfe noted.

Kiani says that she has the deepest respect for Mingma G, but that her team leader felt under pressure to keep up with Elite, and Elite’s team felt pressure because of Anna Gutu’s goal.

Meanwhile, Gina Rzucidlo was still a little below, and on a different line, but hurrying up.

“Gina [Rzucidlo]’s group overtook us at an almost terrifying speed,” Naoki Ishikawa said. “There was no fixed rope, so [Tenjen] Lama took the lead with two axes and pulled Gina with a rope.”

Most clients were short-roped by their personal sherpa guides, Kiani notes. Kedev estimates that Rzucidlo’s group passed them right before Camp 3.

This video by Naila Kiani shows the remarkable speed at which Kami Rita (in blue) passed them. Rzucidlo and Tenjen are the two small figures above him.


By then, the two women and their sherpas were climbing along different lines.

“Right after the women, it was me and Kilu Sherpa, one of the Winter K2 summiters,” Naoki Ishikawa reported. “Anna climbed in a diagonal, directly toward the summit, while Gina chose a line going from left to right, across a gentle slope that had to be traversed.”

Ishikawa and Kilu followed Gina’s line, which they believed led to the correct summit, while Anna was heading toward a false point. “We saw it clearly after Camp 3: Anna’s summit was not the top.”

Naila Kiani added: “In addition, Gina was led by Tenjen Lama, who knew the way after having led Kristin Harila [last spring]. Anna eventually found out [she was going in the wrong direction] because at about 7,700m, they stopped for an hour. But then they moved up again.

“I also kept climbing, until Nims came and told me to stop, to take a break. Sirbaz [Khan, like Nims, climbing without oxygen] came too, and we stopped, although I had not reached a flat spot yet.”

At the traverse, slightly ahead, Ishikawa and Kilu took advantage of the easy terrain to take a rest and eat a little under a serac. The rest of the group was in the same area.

The first avalanche

“We were at the traverse when the first avalanche happened,” Sasko said.

“Nims suddenly shouted, “Avalanche, avalanche!” said Kiani.

“We heard a powder avalanche coming from above,” Ishikawa wrote. “We were protected by the serac and nothing happened to us.”

The radios soon reported that Gutu, Karma Gyalzen, and Migmar had been caught in the slide. It soon gave word that Gutu and Migmar were dead.

“I don’t know if [Tenjen] Lama and Gina [Rzucidlo], who were ahead of us, knew about the avalanche that hit Anna and the others,” Ishikawa said, noting that the teams used different radio frequencies.

Usually, all teams on a mountain share the same frequency, especially if there are not so many climbers.

In the above video, shot some 20 minutes after the accident, two rescuers on the far left are trying to get Migmar out of the snow. When the video slows down, the three distant little dots are Rzucidlo’s group; on the far right, standing and sitting again is Karma Gyalzen and one other unidentified climber.

“I am sure they saw the avalanche, and they had to hear it,” Kiani says. “Sirbaz said he saw three people disappearing. I looked down and saw someone moving — standing and then sitting down again. Nims called his team below to check what happened. Mingma G got there and called BC so they could tell Gina and the others to stop.”

Several sources on the mountain claim that Base Camp did tell Rzucidlo to stop and turn around, but we can’t yet confirm this.

Added Kiani: “I looked up to the summit, some 350m above. It was blue ice, with no ropes, so difficult. I didn’t know if there was someone injured in the avalanche, but my legs were shaking violently. I turned around.”

Kiani said someone told her to keep climbing but she refused. Tracee Metcalfe went down with her. They didn’t see the second avalanche. According to Kiani, that didn’t happen two hours later, but just 30 minutes after the first one.

The second avalanche

Gina Rzucidlo’s group had continued climbing. Ishikawa contacted Mingma G, behind, who decided it was too dangerous to proceed. Ishikawa took a photo of where, at 7,800m, they turned around. “But that was not the end,” she said. “As we started down, the snow rose again around us.”

Above, the highest point, around 7,800m, reached by Kiani and Ishikawa.

Sasko Kedev said they turned around at the usual location of Camp 3.

“Sirbaz [Khan] stayed there a bit longer and he saw the second avalanche,” Kedev said.

Lessons to learn

“The lesson, while not new, is that the death zone is no place for competition,” says Tracee Metcalfe.

“As much as I am sad for the loss of their lives, and so sorry for the families too, I feel it’s important to share this story for us to learn from this experience,” Kiani said. “Records don’t mean anything if we aren’t there anymore.”

And two Sherpa climbers with a bright future also perished doing their jobs.

Lama on top of Ama dablam, Everest and lhotse behind him, in a sunny day.

Tenjen Lama, who guided Gina Rzucidlo. Photo: Tenjen Lama

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.