Tragedy in Annapurna - How to avoid future fatalities in the mountains

November 13, 2014

On Tuesday 15th October, a cyclone that had been making its way north from the Bay of Bengal in India hit the Himalayan region of Nepal with catastrophic consequences. The worse affected area was the high altitude Thorong La pass in the Annapurna region, where hundreds of trekkers cross each day as part of the Annapurna circuit.  It was here, at the highest and most challenging point of the trek, where the deadly storm hit. What is usually a clear, highly visible mountain trail became a hostile environment of thick blizzards and deep snowfall, making it virtually impassable for the best part of 8 hours.  As a result, at least 41 people lost their lives with hundreds more being rescued over the coming days.

 So what really happened and why did so many people lose their lives?

The pass itself spans an area of 8-9km, the 5416m summit marking the halfway point.  People usually set off from Jomsom before dawn to make the 8 hour crossing in one go, in an attempt to avoid risking the onset of altitude sickness and enjoy the more favourable climate at the lower camp of Manang.  Others choose to take their time and rest midway, just below the summit at Thorong Phedi High Camp. Either way, for those who ventured up along the pass that day, no amount of equipment or expertise could have prepared them for what was to come.

Piecing together the events from survivor’s accounts and official reports issued from The Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) it appears that, as the storm approached, people were faced with a difficult decision. Some acted quickly and, at the advice of their guide, were able to descend the trail to the next village or retrace their steps from whence they came, before the worst of the weather hit. Others were not so lucky and were caught in the very worst conditions, possibly losing their way, succumbing to exposure or getting trapped in the thick snow drifts.  Even those who chose to take shelter in the tiny teahouse at the very height of the pass faced severe difficulty as they were unprepared for the extreme cold and, in many cases, appear to have left it too late to evacuate safely.

Could this have been avoided and who is responsible?   


Many arguments have been put forward as to how and why this tragedy occurred. This kind of storm, classified as a grade 4 cyclone, is a rare occurrence in Nepal, especially at this time of year. October is the peak trekking season and the Annapurna region is a popular destination, known for its dry and mild weather and good visibility even in the highest passes.

Although the meteorological forecast indicated that an unusually big storm was headed straight for the Himalayas, exact weather patterns are notoriously hard to predict in the mountains. But that in no way excuses the fact that precautions should have been made and much more could have been done to prevent the loss of life. The Information Ministry of the Nepali government was well informed about the weather forecast and the impending danger, but failed to report it to TAAN. If it had done so, TAAN would have raised the alarm across the trekking community and all reputable guides would have put a stop to any trekking activity in the at risk areas.  In reality, there was no warning given whatsoever.

Guides have a duty of responsibility to ensure their clients’ safety and I can personally vouch for many who sensed the bad weather approaching and chose to use their head, by turning back, seeking refuge or taking an alternative course where possible. The Asia Adventure Company had two groups in the mountains at that time, one in Manaslu and the other also in Annapurna, just one day’s walk behind those making their way across the fated Thorong La Pass. The guides of both groups, recognising the unseasonable weather and with no mobile signal or internet access to verify their concerns, used their years of experience and training to take decisive action. With rising snowfall and strong winds, both guides chose to turn their groups around and retreat to lower ground, whilst, unbeknown to them, the tragedy was unfolding higher up the mountain.

Lessons learnt?

Such an unprecedented tragedy of this scale shook the whole trekking community of Nepal and the world. It has forced the government to address its role in ensuring the safety and security of the thousands of visitors who arrive here every day to traverse its infamous mountain trails. Many proposals have been put forward and it remains to be seen what measures will come into force. One measure, which TAAN has been advocating for years, is the construction of emergency shelters built at strategic intervals along all trails at high altitude. Another is the tightening of regulations for all guides – many guides offer their services without sufficient training or expertise and their credentials fall way below the standards that we expect of our staff. All Asia Adventure Nepal guides and porters undertake extensive training in communications, weather forecasting, how to avoid acute mountain sickness and avoid hypothermia, not to mention having the necessary mountaineering and leadership skills to make the right decisions under pressurized circumstances, often when paying customers may have other ideas.

Another point to consider is that not all trekkers choose to take a guide with them, preferring just to hire a porter to carry their bags or be completely self-sufficient and travel independently. We believe that the safety of our clients is absolutely paramount and whilst we must respect the mighty power of mother nature and acknowledge that there will always be risks in the mountains, we do our utmost to minimize these risks, to keep our clients informed and to ensure that our guides offer the very best in leadership, safety and excellence.

How can you, as a client, minimize the risks?

·         Always check the credentials of your guide. They should be licensed, insured and completed formal, accredited training (6 weeks  minimum).

·         Develop good rapport with your guide before you start the trek – a good relationship, founded on trust and mutual understanding will make for a more enjoyable, informative and comfortable trip.

·         Don’t hesitate to share your concerns, ask questions – that is what your guide is there for!

·         If you start to feel unwell at any time during the trek, tell your guide immediately.

·         Carry a personal first aid kit and additional layers of clothing for when it gets cold.

·         Put your own safety and the safety of others first. If you need to turn back, the mountain will still be there for another day!

Click here to read more about our safety first policy and what to bring.

Condolences and thanks

Despite the inevitable controversy that surrounded the coordination of the rescue effort, we believe that the combined emergency forces – TAAN, the Nepali military and Nepali police – did a sterling job of conducting the search and rescue mission, responding quickly and keeping the public informed through social media platforms. One must bear in mind that mountain rescues of this scale are no small feat and we must acknowledge the tireless efforts of the rescue workers, as well as the guides who remained loyal to their clients throughout, as well as the trekkers and the local people who never gave up, but supported one another through such difficult times and, in doing so, showed the true nature of the human spirit.


Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who lost loved ones on the mountain. May they rest in peace.


From Our Clients

Read Reviews  |  Write a Review