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The High, Cold Mountain Doesn't Mourn a Sherpa's Death

November 30, 1986|DAVID BREASHEARS

When Dawa Nuru died in a slab avalanche at 22,000 feet on Oct. 17, the effort to get word to his family began almost immediately. A radio call alerted our Base Camp to the tragedy. A note was composed and dispatched from Base Camp on a jeep carrying members of a British expedition who were leaving after an unsuccessful summit attempt along the Northeast Ridge.

They took the note to Xegar, China, then persuaded a group of tourists to carry it with them across the Tibetan border to Katmandu, where it was delivered to our expedition logistics coordinator, Bobby Chettri. Chettri arranged for the note to be flown aboard a Twin Otter to Lukla, a hillside village in the Khumbu region. From Lukla, a Sherpa embarked on a two-day hike to the remote village of Thame (elevation 11,000 feet), where he delivered the note to Doka, the wife of Dawa Nuru, eight days after the accident. The note had traveled some 400 miles around the imposing chain of Himalayan mountains that separate Tibet from Nepal. Yet as the bird flies, the distance between our Base Camp and Dawa Nuru's home was less than 35 miles.

Dawa Nuru's older brother, Nawang Sumden, organized a Buddhist prayer ceremony in Thame.

Dawa Possession

I entrusted Pemba Tsering, one of our high-altitude Sherpas and Dawa's brother-in-law, with Dawa's possessions. He traveled back to the Khumbu at the conclusion of our expedition in late October.

In early November, I arranged to meet Nawang Sumden and Lhakpa Nuru, Dawa's younger brothers, in Katmandu. I was disappointed that neither resembled Dawa--I was hoping to see my friend and climbing companion in them. But it reinforced my memory of him as an exceptional Sherpa. The brothers were philosophical about the death.

"He lived his life in the high mountains. He understood the risks," Sumden said. "Many Sherpas have died on Everest." Their Buddhist training had also taught them not to dwell on the loss. "We must be concerned about the living," Lhakpa said, referring to Dawa's wife and three young sons.

As we talked, I recalled what the other Sherpas on the mountain had said about Dawa Nuru. "He had climbed Everest, but he didn't get a big head," Ang Chu remarked after the avalanche.

"He was always so concerned for others,"

Motilal said. "Dawa Nuru always asking: 'Are you cold, are you hungry?' No thought for himself."

In my meetings with Nawang Sumden and Lhakpa Nuru, I kept looking into their eyes for expressions of grief or anger. But I could find none. I realized then that I had expected to share my sadness and frustration with them, and to incur their anger for the loss of Dawa. But his death is something I will have to reconcile by myself.

The expedition has established a fund for the education of the children of Dawa Nuru. Checks should be made to Dawa Nuru Memorial Fund and sent to Arcturus Motion Pictures Co . Inc., 562 West End Ave., Suite 12D, New York, NY 10024.

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