Climbers describe deadly avalanche
“All of us here on the Shishapangma Expedition are deeply at a loss; two great people, people that we’ve become friends with, people that we’ve known over many years, people that we’ve shared adventures with, are gone.”
That’s what climber Conrad Anker had to say Wednesday in the wake of an avalanche that claimed the lives of Aspenite Dave Bridges, 29, and world-famous climber Alex Lowe, 40 – and nearly Anker himself.
“We’ve had a rough couple of days,” wrote Andrew McLean, leader of the Shishapangma 1999 American Ski Expedition. Their narratives were posted on MountainZone.com, a partial sponsor of the expedition, that has been posting dispatches from the expedition on the Internet.
Bridges and Lowe were part of a nine-man expedition that set out to summit and then ski down Shisha pangma, a 26,291-foot peak located in Chinese Tibet. Bridges, co-owner of Aspen Paragliding and Expeditions, was part of a three-man film crew documenting the expedition for locally owned Adventure Television.
Bridges, Lowe and Anker, a member of this spring’s Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition to Mount Everest, had set out from Advance Base Camp (ABC) Tuesday morning in search of a summit ascent route on Shishapangma’s challenging south face.
Another group of climbers from the expedition set out in search of a route, though a sizable glacier separated the two groups as they ascended well above the 18,000-foot high camp.
Anker recalled the scary moments on MountainZone.com.
“Alex, David and I were traversing across the slope and Alex was the first person to notice the avalanche. Instantly, instinct took over … We all ran in separate directions. I traversed to the right and looked back three times … I saw David and Alex close together. At this point I lay down onto the ice, secured myself with my ice axe … and was instantly hit by a mass of ice and snow, unlike any I’ve ever felt.
“This lasted 30 seconds in which I thought my number was up. I was able to pull myself out from a foot of avalanche debris and … began searching for David and Alex … but the enormity and size of this avalanche precluded that.”
Anker was thrown 100 feet by the slide. He sustained a broken rib, torn shoulder muscle and several lacerations to his head.
Andrew McLean, who was climbing with the other party about a quarter-mile away, recalled: “By the time [the avalanche] hit the three climbers it was probably 500 feet wide and traveling well over 100 miles an hour. As I looked across the valley, I could see Conrad, Alex and David running and realized I was about to get hit as well.”
Hans Saari, who was climbing near McLean, recalled after the slide: “We saw Conrad was covered in blood. `Is everyone all right?’ `No,’ moaned Conrad. `Dave and Alex are dead.’ … As I left the camp, two goraks, Tibetan ravens, landed in the middle of our tents. They just sat there looking at me and it reminded me of my two friends who had just left me to live another life.”
Because of Tuesday’s accident, expedition members have opted to return home.
Tentative plans are being made to offer a memorial service in Aspen for Bridges on Oct. 30, according to Dick Jackson, Bridges’ business partner.
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PMDs will be hatching now until late October. What other insect (besides tiny midges and baetis) offers trout and anglers more pleasure than a bug that hatches four or five months of the year?