It made me very sad to hear about the last fatality on Manaslu this year before the weather closed in and the Himalayan climbing season ended for the winter. Eleven people had already died in a huge avalanche on the 8163m peak in Nepal, the 8th highest mountain in the world, when the Colombian climber Victor Correa set out on 2 October from Camp 1 to Camp 2 at 6400m. He never returned, and it is likely he died from altitude sickness.
Victor called his girlfriend from Camp 2 on 3 October, and a group of Brazilian climbers said they saw him there on 4 October, but this was the last time he was seen alive. Two more South American climbers, Hernán Wilke from Argentina and Santiago Quintero from Ecuador, set out from Camp 1 on 6 October to try and look for him, but were forced to turn back due to avalanche hazard. Two Sherpas then tried to climb to Camp 2, but could get no higher than a large crack which had opened up among the seracs above Camp 1. Victor’s friend and mentor Juan Carlos Gonzales arranged for a helicopter to fly over on behalf of his family on 8 October. Rescuers flew all the way up to Camp 3 and tried to land at Camp 2, but were unable to do so due to the conditions. They could see no sign of activity on the mountain, and no teams were able to get to Camp 2 after this. It is unlikely his body will be found until the climbing season begins again in the spring of next year.
Victor had been one of my guides when I trekked Colombia’s Cocuy Circuit last year. He came from the town of Guican on the fringes of El Cocuy National Park, at the northern end of Colombia’s Cordillera Oriental mountain range, a beautiful remote mountainous area of glaciers, lakes and high altitude grassland characterised by dramatic rock walls. He had climbed from an early age, when Juan Carlos used to take him into the mountains with trekking and climbing groups as a boy, and he became the first person from Guican to become a professional guide. I remember him as a very outgoing and cheerful person, who was popular among the people of Guican, as you might expect. Although his English wasn’t grammatically correct, he spoke it well enough to communicate easily with his English clients; he always made an effort to improve it, and I remember a few amusing misunderstandings over language. He had a great sense of humour, and I think he was a bit a talker, who was forever trying to fill gaps in the conversation. On our return to Guican after the trek we stayed in the family hostel he had opened for his guiding business. He will be a huge loss to the local community. He was the second climber from the Boyacá area of Colombia to die on Manaslu, after Lenin Granados in 1998.
Sadly, unlike the 11 deaths in the freak avalanche on 23 September (see my posts The Manaslu avalanche and In defence of Manaslu for more information) it seems Victor’s death was preventable. At Camp 2 on 27 September he showed unmistakeable signs of high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and descended to the village of Samagaon to recover. He was told by his doctor he should not ascend again, but for some reason he went back up alone from base camp on 1 October.
It’s possible a lack of team coordination may also have contributed to the tragedy. Victor, Hernán and Santiago were travelling together on the same climbing permit and using the same base camp services provided by the trekking agent, Thamserku Trekking, but it’s unclear whether they were team mates. It’s common practice for many trekking agents in Nepal to allow independent climbers to share the same group permit. Although each expedition permit is supposed to have a named expedition leader, in reality there is little or no coordination between different members of the team in these circumstances, and this can become a problem if one of them has an accident and needs help. I don’t speak Spanish and have used Google Translate to read the expedition dispatches of Hernán and Santiago. They appear to provide conflicting information about whether the three were a team, but it’s possible I may have misunderstood. In fairness to both climbers it seems they did all in their power to try and rescue Victor, but stronger team cohesion may have prevented him climbing alone against doctor’s orders.
But I don’t mean to point the finger of blame at anyone else, and nor should I. Victor’s decision to continue climbing was his own. Santiago made a very pertinent statement in one of his dispatches, when he said he reached his “summit” by returning safely. Victor was very attentive about the safety of his clients when I climbed with him in Colombia. Unfortunately, yet understandably, like many guides it seems he was prepared to take more risks when it came to his own life. Whatever the reasons, he will be sadly missed.
I wrote about him often in my Cocuy Circuit trek diary, and he made a brief appearance on our Ritacuba Blanco summit video (below), which left behind many happy memories.