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How a gorgeous mountain pass in Nepal turned into a graveyard

Thousands of foreigners go to Nepal in October with one goal – cross a mountain pass in a grueling three-week adventure in the Himalayas.

This week, one of most gorgeous passes in Nepal turned into a graveyard, claiming the lives of 32 trekkers from several countries.

For decades, October has been the best month to trek along the Annapurna Circuit, one of the most popular mountain trails in Nepal and one that requires crossing the Thorung La Pass at an altitude of 5,416 metres. 

On Tuesday, a snowstorm hit several points along the circuit, killing trekkers and porters who were crossing the pass, according to the Nepali Times.

Dozens are still missing in what’s become one of the deadliest Himalayan incidents in a country that is still recovering from the tragedy of an avalanche that killed 16 Sherpas last spring on Mount Everest.

Some people posted on Twitter to get news about their loved ones. Rob Mulvihill asked about his friend Matthew Adams, who has since been found safe. 

 

Although trekking the Annapurna Circuit to cross the Thorung La Pass may not be as gruelling an adventure as climbing Everest, it is certainly not easy and without risks. Most people who attempt to cross the pass do not require any training, but the potential for acute altitude sickness remains, and it has killed both foreigners and locals.

However, the deaths of so many trekkers on this route was unprecedented, as thousands of foreigners usually attempt to trek the circuit in October, which is considered a favourable month for climbing and is not generally known for severe weather that would create dangerous conditions.

Nepalese police move the bodies of trekkers killed following a snowstorm and an avalanche to a plane to be transported to Kathmandu in Jomsom on October 17, 2014.

Nepalese police move the bodies of trekkers killed following a snowstorm and an avalanche to a plane to be transported to Kathmandu in Jomsom on Oct 17, 2014.  Photo: AFP.

Weather and the trail along the Annapurna Circuit were clear, with very little snow until Saturday.

Washington Post digital foreign editor​ Anup Kaphle​ crossed the Thorung La Pass that morning with two friends, and maybe 100 more crossed through that day.

A view of the mountains from the Thorung La Pass in the Annapurna Circuit. Photo: Anup Kaphle/The Washington Post.

Cylone changed everything 

But a cyclone that made landfall in India on Sunday changed things overnight. By that time, hundreds of trekkers were already high up in the mountains, with very limited or almost no access to telephones or news to monitor weather reports.

Officials on S​aturday said ​that ​trekkers left stranded by the snowstorm are safe.

Emergency workers have so far rescued 385 people from the affected area, according to police.

“Since Wednesday, we have rescued 385 people, including 180 foreigners.” - Police official Harikrishna KC, in an interview with AFP

Rescuers on Friday recovered the body of a Nepalese porter, taking the death toll to 32, including 24 hikers, guides and porters on the trekking circuit, three yak herders as well as five climbers on a mountain in the area.

Countries whose citizens were killed during the trek include Japan, Canada, Nepal, India, Israel, Poland and Slovakia.

Sources: AFP, Washington Post

 

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