Avalanches have struck the slopes of the Tibetan mountain Shishapangma as more than 50 climbers were making a push for the summit, killing an American and Nepali mountaineer, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Shishapangma, at just over 8,000 metres (26,247ft), is the world’s 14th-tallest peak. It is widely regarded as one of the least difficult mountains of that height, known among climbers as the “eight-thousanders”.
Two avalanches hit its slopes at elevations of 7,600 metres and 8,000 metres on Saturday, killing the American climber Anna Gutu and her Nepali guide Mingmar Sherpa, Xinhua reported on Sunday.
Another US climber, Gina Marie Rzucidlo, and her Nepali guide, Tenjen Sherpa, were missing, Xinhua said.
Tenjen Sherpa was the guide for the Norwegian Kristin Harila when they climbed K2 in Pakistan in July to become the world’s fastest climbers to scale all of the 14 peaks over 8,000 metres. He wanted to become the youngest climber to scale all 14 peaks twice.
Climbers posing on top of the Shishapangma summit in Tibet in April. Photograph: Lama Tenjing/AFP/Getty Images
A total of 52 climbers, including from the US, Britain, Romania, Albania, Italy, Japan and Pakistan, were pushing for the summit when the avalanches hit, Xinhua said.
All climbing activity on Shishapangma was suspended because of the unstable snow conditions.
Two Pakistani climbers narrowly escaped the avalanches on Saturday after calling off their summit attempt because of poor weather despite coming within a few hundred metres of the peak, Pakistani media reported. Had one of the Pakistani climbers, Sirbaz Khan, reached the top of Shishapangma he would have become the first Pakistani to reach the summit of all 14 mountains over 8,000 metres.
More than 300 successful summits of Shishapangma have been logged to date, with less than 10% of climbers who tried to reach the top dying in their attempts, according to private estimates. That compares with a near-30% fatality rate for Nepal’s Annapurna I, one of the world’s most dangerous peaks.
Among those who had previously died on Shishapangma was the famed American climber Alex Lowe in 1999, who was killed in an avalanche. His body, as well as the remains of his climbing companion David Bridges, were found in 2016 in a partially melted glacier.
October is a popular month for climbers in the Himalayas because of its traditionally more stable conditions as monsoon rain eases. But scientists warn that global warming is raising avalanche risks in high-altitude regions including the Himalayas.
Last week, a Chinese expedition set up a series of weather stations on the 8,201-metre Cho Oyu on Tibet’s border with Nepal to measure the impact of climate change in the Himalayas.