ANNA MEHLER PAPERNY
September 24, 2012 – Globe and Mail
Isabelle Ouimet’s younger brother is lost in snow and ice 6,800 metres above sea level and she doesn’t know who will decide whether to keep looking for him.
Quebec cardiologist Dominique Ouimet was among a team of climbers scaling Nepal’s Mount Manaslu when a cliff of ice broke loose from the mountain and slammed through their clutch of tents before dawn Sunday morning.
At least nine people are dead; six are missing. Rescue teams suspended their search Monday as the chances of surviving that long in the cold became increasingly slim.
“Dominique’s body – ” Ms. Ouimet stops herself. “Dominique has not been found. We’re waiting to see … what comes next.”
And despite a sleepless day and a half grasping for news, Ms. Ouimet of Saint-Gabriel-de-Brandon, Que., says she doesn’t know what happens now.
“What they’ll do, whether they’ll continue or not, and who gets to decide – I don’t, unfortunately, have an answer.”
Helicopters scanned for missing mountaineers on Manaslu’s slopes Monday as climbers and guides searched the terrain on foot. Rescuers brought down eight bodies – four French, one each from Germany, Italy and Spain, and a Nepali guide – and were trying to retrieve a ninth, said police Chief Basanta Bahadur Kunwar.
“The searches have been abandoned for today, and may be definitively,” Christian Trommsdorff, vice-president of France’s National Union of Mountain Guides, told reporters in Chamonix on Monday. “We think there is no hope of finding any of the missing alive.”
A total of 231 climbers and guides were on the mountain, but not all were at the higher camps hit by the avalanche.
Greg Hill was on the slopes with two others attempting to climb up, then ski down in record time. The extreme skier from Revelstoke, B.C., found his plans abruptly changed when he awoke Sunday to a thundering wave of snow and ice. He is being hailed as a hero after U.S. skier Glen Plake, speaking on EpicTV, credited Mr. Hill’s team with extracting him from a crevasse and helping him to safety.
Dr. Ouimet is no stranger to risky climbs. Before tackling Manaslu, the 48-year-old already had mounts McKinley, Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua under his belt. But this trek up the eighth-highest mountain in the world was more than a personal quest: He hoped to raise money for new medical equipment at the Saint-Jérôme hospital where he works. In interviews in the months leading up to the climb, he called this trip a meeting of his two passions.
Chantale Fortin, communication director at the health centre, was in touch with Dr. Ouimet via e-mail until last week. He was back at base camp, she said, healthy but tired after a “good technical hike.”
“He was looking forward to a few days of rest before attempting the summit.”