When the snow started falling November 9, Brian Weirum was in the remote Hinku Valley, leading a Mountain Travel group on a climb of Mera Peak. Their base camp, Khare, was part way up the mountain, on a steep slope surrounded by higher land. When Brian is not leading Mountain Travel trips or working at Scotts Seafood Restaurant in San Francisco, he is saving tigers. He is a prominent force in Save the Tigers, and is leading a trek into Nepal's tiger territory in April. (Those interested should contact him at P.O. Box 2, Woodacre, CA 94973, phone 415/488-0410, e-mail email@example.com). Here is his account of his group's avalanche experience:
Thursday , 9 November. Snow began 10 am. Heavy and wet like monsoon rain. Next morning most tents nearly hidden and dining tent was collapsed. Spent two hours digging out despite having dug out in shifts throughout the night.
Friday, 10 November. Ang Tsering [sirdar] and I ask all to pack essentials in their day packs for possible bailout if this continues. We meet in the dining tent (resurrected). I hear Ang Tsering yell "avalanche!' and the next thing I know I'm doubled over -- pinned against the table. We all get out OK, and we're clearly blessed. The table either saved us or the avalanche had run its course. Three of our tents were eight feet deep and five people would have been buried had they still been packing. Three tents and the dining tent were totally trashed. Most people were now without duffels, sleeping bags or day packs. We decided to get the hell out and return to dig out our tents when this stopped. About ten minutes down the trail, the route looked suicidal. Below us i n a narrow valley, a group was trying to dig a trail. In 30 minutes, we moved about 50 feet. Visibility was 200 feet, snowing in sheets, and we could hear but not see avalanches booming on all sides. This was a doomsday scenario; there we were, standing in this mess without food, clothing or sleeping bags. We went back and built a snow platform behind a safe rock. We had to find the four ruined tents with dining tent poles, then dig deep, slit the tops and pull out the loads. Five hours later had all the duffels and day packs retrieved. It continued to snow heavily until 10 pm -- 36 hours.
Saturday, 11 November. Next morning revealed a crystal clear sky and the whole valley below was snow white. Hills and rocks were covered completely. The back side of the Mera summit glistened mockingly above us. We decided to dry out, as all our clothes were wet from work and wet snow. At noon, a jet stream revealed more bad weather coming at us fast. We packed up everything hastily and fled like a mad dog across the tundra. At Khare that morning there were four groups, and a French and Swiss group came down from Mera La. We had known that they were above us and all thought that they were finished. Our porters and zopchuks were waiting for us below, at Tagnag, so we schlepped everything ourselves, dragging duffels along the snow at one point. The trail went along a riverbed and the snow was 5-7 feet deep on both sides. We were a procession of maybe 150 people -- six groups with support staff -- and reached Tagnag after five hours.
Sunday, 12 November. We moved our camp closer to the landing spot and did a practice run at being packed up and ready to go. To my amazement, Appa [a representative of the trekking company] showed up in a helicopter at noon to get us. We had sent porters and hungry zopchuks down to greener pastures, so without the helicopter we were stuck. I ran across the river and saw him gesturing to us to come on. We went on the first flight, and they said they would keep coming until Tagnag was clear of everyone who wanted to get out. Tsering Tendu, our cook, and a porter had gone three hours back down to Kote to retrieve a big jug of kerosene which they had stashed for the return trip. When they saw the first chopper, they started running through the snow up to Tagnag. On the third and final flight, Appa had the Russian pilots scanning the snow fields. They finally found a spot and hovered three feet above the ground as Appa pulled Tsering Tendu and the flabbergasted porter into the machine.