Tragedy strikes Sri Kailash Expedition, Fall 2018. As the epidemic continues, climbers lose fingers and toes to frostbite

Dream Wanderlust | Dec 6 , 2018

In the recent past, Himalayan Expeditions from West Bengal, India, have suffered from tragic deaths and cold injuries. Everest 2014, Everest 2016, Dhaulagiri 2017, Everest 2017, Saser Kangri 2018 and now Sri Kailash 2018, have been disastrous for the climbers.

This expedition (Sri Kailash 2018) was organised and mentored by West Bengal Mountaineering and Adventure Sports Foundation (WBMASF), which functions as an independent body under the Youth Service Department of the Govt. of West Bengal, India.

Being a State Government organised expedition, one could be theoretically reasonably assured that monetary considerations would not have been a limiting factor. Also given the fact that WBMASF has senior and experienced mountaineers on its advisory panel the pre-expedition logistics and planning would have been 'fool-proof'. The quality and quantity of food, tent, personal and climbing equipment, and Sherpa-support must have been assured to meet the safety standards.

Despite all these ‘theoretical’ considerations, four out of five members and one out of three sherpas (4 climbers + 1 sherpa) suffered cold injuries, ranging from very severe to moderate, on a clear and sunny summit day. Their current status is devastating. Three of them will definitely lose partly or fully many fingers and toes.

In the absence of an 'Official Report' from either the leader or the organisers, questions have been raised about not only the "how" and "why" this tragedy happened, but also about "what" was done after it happened.

We too, at Dream Wanderlust await the official version, since the unofficial one given by the leader is lacking in details and sharply contradicts the views of the other summitters on certain points, making us suspect that an attempt at cover-up is being made and like on previous occasions the victims will be finally portrayed as the culprits.

(We've provided some photographs but viewers may find them disturbing. Hence, viewer’s discretion is advisable.)

TeamSri Kailash

Expedition overview:
(As reported by the leader of the expedition)   

The team, led by Partha Dutta, had nine other members, there Sherpas and two cooks. Having left Kolkata on 29.09.2018 they established Base Camp on 05.10.2018.

Camp I at ~ 5000m and two more intermediate camps at 5500m and 5900m were established.

Summit Camps were at 6100m. On 21.10.2018, the summit team left camp at midnight and reached the summit at 1030 hours.

The summit team includes Partha Dutta, Subhankar Dutta, Sumit Das, Sankar Biswas, Niraj Jaiswal and Sherpas, Urgan, Fur Temba and Nima.

The team returned to the base camp on 23.10.2018. Partha, Sumit, and Niraj reached Kolkata on 26.10.2018 and Subhankar and other team members returned back on 27.10.2018.

In the absence of any "official" expedition report, we have to rely on "oral" interviews with some of the climbers, and what we have collected is as follows:

Among the five members who reached the summit, four of them suffered from various degrees of frost bite to fingers and toes, ranging from very severe to moderate.

Partha and Sumit had signs of cold injury when they reached the summit. Neeraj had realized that he was also injured when he had reached back to the summit camp. Subhankar had signs of cold injury when he reached back to the base camp.

On their way back, Partha, Sumit and Niraj were examined by Dr. Hemant at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi and by Doctors of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences at Rishikesh. At either places, no definite treatment was given.

In Kolkata, they were seen by Dr. Debasish Dhar at the Sagar Dutta Hospital and prescribed medicines and asked to follow up.

The leader Partha Dutta said (on explaining the reason of the accident):

  1. Our team was not very experienced as Sumit and Neeraj were on their first 6000m peak.
  2. We needed to fix ropes from lower altitudes than planned for.
  3. Our plan was based on an expedition report of 1998 (20 years old) and the terrain had changed a lot since then.
  4. So we fell short of ropes on summit day.
  5. Sherpas had to go down and bring up ropes.
  6. So members were standing still till the new ropes were fixed.
  7. This led to a cumulative delay of about one and a half hours.
  8. This may be a reason why four out of five and one out of three summiters (4 climbers + 1 sherpa) suffered cold injuries.
  9. There was no shortage of food or quality equipment.
  10. Sumit, Neeraj, and I, took one tablet of Trental every day from 21.10.2018 to 23.10.2018.

Subhankar, Sumit, Neeraj contradicted Partha and said that there was a shortage of food at the summit camp, as they had given some food to an expedition from NIM, Uttarkashi and they did not return any of it later.

Subhankar, Sumit and Niraj also claimed that they were not given any medicines till they came back to Kolkata, and that the medicines were started from 27.10.2018. Seven days after the injury.

According to their current status, Partha, Sumit, and Neeraj will definitely lose, partly or fully, many fingers and toes, though the dates for surgical amputations are yet to be finalized.

Tragically these young men will lose body parts, leaving them mentally scarred and physically handicapped with a permanent disability.

In what has been a tragic recurring theme of expeditions from West Bengal, a disastrous epidemic of deaths and amputations, raises many questions. But we are at a loss about who or what is responsible and who is answerable for these catastrophes.

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