Disconnect in the Himalayas: What Makes it Difficult to Rescue Mountaineers


The answers to these questions are obvious. In the first, you would call the fire service. With regards to the second, you would dial an emergency medical assistance number or phone your family doctor. You won’t call the ambulance to fight a fire or the fire brigade to deal with a heart attack for although they may know what to do, it isn’t the best option. This is easily understood in our times of growing urbanization. Each environment therein has its own unique operating ecosystems.

The mountains are what they are because they are distinct from the plains. Some immediate distinctions would be remoteness, verticality, less space to comfortably maneuver, the impact of altitude on human physiology and wind, warmth and wetness altered by the elevation and landscape around. Who do we dial when we have an accident or medical emergency in the high mountains; in particular, one involving extreme sports or exploration?

Currently, in India, the rescue ecosystem for trekking, mountaineering and such is a co-opted zone, featuring officials, institutions and personnel holding other responsibilities as well. It works but it is not as specialized as fire-fighting or emergency medical response in the city although there is every reason for this too, to be specialized. Officials can’t be blamed if they find sport-related high altitude accidents a distraction from their regular responsibilities.

Further, in the mountains, there is plenty of rescue work linked to other emergencies, natural calamity being one, to attend to; they also affect a number of people than a few who got into trouble climbing and trekking. The trouble with the Indian rescue apparatus for extreme sports – in whatever form it operates now – starts in disconnect; settled society has little empathy for these pursuits. They often get labelled as ‘irresponsible’. If you are going to orchestrate rescue for a person already condemned as irresponsible, the tenor will show through in every link of the chain from policy interpretation to reporting by media. One wonders if this happened in the case of eight climbers reported missing near Nanda Devi East in late-May 2019.
Martin Moran is a British climber and mountain guide, well known in India, including the region around Nanda Devi. His name is spoken of in the Pindar Valley and Johar because his expeditions either passed through these places or men from these villages helped ferry loads on his trips. Indian climbers, now experienced and well-known, have in the past, worked on Moran’s team during their upcoming years.