Trekking in Nepal

Emergency Helicopter

In 1995 Pema Sherpa was guide for a client trekking to Rara Lake in west Nepal. They set out from the trailhead at the Jumla airfield at about 9,000 feet. That first day the group aimed to get beyond an 11,000 foot pass and continue to a campsite at a lower elevation on the other side. Near the pass the client began to show signs of altitude sickness, so Pema had to decide whether to retreat to the trailhead for the night or continue beyond the pass. He decided to continue to the camp on the other side. As they went though, the client was getting worse. At the lower camp the client seemed to be feeling so miserable he acted as though he expected to die. He asked Pema not to leave him because he felt he would die right there. In desperation the client begged Pema to send out a Sherpa to return to Jumla to radio to the Kathmandu airport for an emergency helicopter.

Naturally it would take even a fast Sherpa over five hours to make that trip, so I rushed to send one away. Pema watched over the client to help him, and after several hours passed the client seemed to be managing well. The client gathered his composure and talked to Pema about his condition. He inquired as to the fee that the helicopter service would require for the emergency extraction, and Pema calculated that since their location was so remote relative to Kathmandu the price would exceed US $4,000. Immediately the client’s whole frame was agitated and distraught. He practically leapt up, pacing around the campsite. He was shocked, but showing sign of drastic improvement over his high elevation conditions. He proclaimed that he could get back on the trail and continue trekking.

Pema explained that no matter what his condition now the helicopter service was going to bill him. The client asked about any way to get out of paying for it, and then proposed that he could dash off and hide in the bushes. He suggested Pema should go along with the story, or simply make something up about the client getting lost to get out of the bill. It was too late though. Just as he was eyeing available concealment among the bushes the helicopter arrived at the scene. The client relented in humiliation and boarded the helicopter, cutting his trek drastically short.

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