Uttarkashi avalanche: Record-setting climber Kanswal among victims

Updated on Oct 06, 2022 12:47 AM IST

Savita Kanswal, 26, this year became the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest and Mount Makalu over the course of just 16 days to set a national record.

Uttarkashi avalanche: Record-setting climber Kanswal among victims
Uttarkashi avalanche: Record-setting climber Kanswal among victims
ByAmit Bathla

Dehradun: Savita Kanswal, 26, who this year became the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest and Mount Makalu over the course of just 16 days to set a national record, was among those killed when an avalanche struck a group of trainee mountaineers and instructors from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) in Uttarkashi on Tuesday, officials said on Wednesday.

An instructor at the institute, Kanswal climbed Mount Everest (8,848 m) on May 12 and Mount Makalu (8,485 m), the world’s fifth highest peak on May 28. In an interview with Quint after climbing Mount Everest, she said that her ambition was climbing all peaks above 8,000m in the world. There are 14 such peaks, and less than 50 people have achieved the feat. Kanswal had also summited Mt Lhotse (8,516 m).

Kanswal, who was from Uttarkashi’s Lonthru village, was part of the group of 41 trainee mountaineers and instructors when the avalanche hit them near the Dokrani Bamak glacier. The group was returning from high-altitude navigation from Mount Draupadi ka Danda-2 peak (5,670 m).

Uttarkashi’s additional district magistrate Tirath Pal Singh, who confirmed Kanswal’s death, said four bodies have been recovered so far. “ (The bodies of) Kanswal and Naumi, who were working as instructors with NIM, are among them,” he said.

Also read: Uttarakhand avalanche: 10 bodies spotted, 4 recovered; rescue work halted | Top updates

Singh added the rescue operations resumed on Wednesday morning, and they have been able to safely bring 14 people from the NIM base camp. “Army and Indian Air Force helicopters are engaged in the rescue and relief operations.”

The group was caught in the avalanche at around 8.45am on October 4. In a statement, NIM said an advanced mountaineering course, which included 34 trainees and seven instructors, began on September 14, and the October 4 exercise on Mount Draupadi ka Danda-2 was part of the group’s advanced training.

The youngest of the four siblings in a family with limited financial resources, Kanswal juggled household responsibilities with her passion for climbing.

She got hooked to mountaineering while studying at a local government school, and would negotiate an uphill 4km walk to get to NIM from her home in Maneri. “Once I knew that a career in mountaineering was possible, I just knew that I had to do it. There was no particular reason but I knew that I wanted to be a mountaineer,” she said in the interview to Quint earlier this year.

Kanswal took a basic course at the institute in 2013, and eventually went on to become a coach. In order to fund her education at NIM, she took up part-time jobs, including stints at a coffee shop and at a Reliance store. In 2016, she bagged a job as a trainer at NIM.

In the interview in May, Kanswal stressed that one needs to be mentally very strong to climb mountains. “You are without network for days and months at stretch and cannot talk to your family or your friends,” she said, adding that the hardships can demotivate climbers.

In the mountains, she said in the interview, one has to be ready for any surprise. “While we were climbing Mount Lhotse summit, we had to go from Camp 3 to Camp 4. We had to come cross a few dead bodies. The Nepal government was making effort to bring these bodies down and we were climbing up. For a moment, I doubted my own decision and wondered if I have come to the wrong place or taken the wrong decision.”

In 2018, Kanswal got an opportunity to embark on an excursion to Mount Draupadi Ka Danda-2 (5,670 m) – the same peak she was returning from when she died on Tuesday.

The following year, she scaled several summits, including Mount Tuliyan (4,800m), Mount Hanuman Tibba (5,930m), Mount Trishul (7,120m), and Mount Lhotse (8,516 metres). This year, Kanswal climbed the Everest summit in four rotations, as most mountaineers do. Her expedition was backed by crowd-funding with hundreds of people contributing to support her aspirations.

Kanswal’s friends and colleagues expressed shock at the tragedy, and described her as “one of the best climbers in the country”.

Also read: Lucky that we could breathe, says trainee mountaineer rescued after avalanche

Arvind Raturi, who was the youngest from Uttarakhand to scale Mt Everest at 20 years of age in 2013, and worked as an instructor at NIM from 2012 to 2016, when Kanswal joined the institute as a trainee, said, “Kanswal came from a humble background in Uttarkashi district and was motivated to succeed in climbing as and was adjudged as one of the best during her training period. It is an irreparable loss not only for her family but for the state and the nation as she was epitome of courage, and confidence.”

Dhanendra Singh Negi, another mountaineer who worked as an NIM instructor and has scaled Draupadi Ka Danda-2, Bhagirathi and Rudra 11 peaks in the Gangotri basin, said, “Kanswal did not deter from accepting any challenge despite the dangers involved”.

Chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami expressed his condolences over Kanswal’s death. “The news of the death of Himalaya’s daughter Savita Kanswal in an avalanche that occurred at Draupadi ka Danda 2 mountain peak is extremely sad. She had scaled Mount Everest in May. May Baba Kedar gives place to the departed soul at his feet and strength to the bereaved family to bear the immense pain,” he tweeted.

Naumi, like Kanswal, had completed all courses offered by NIM. She was engaged with the institute for the last four years. The 24-year-old woman hailed from Bhukki village in Uttarkashi.

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