By Ryan Woo
BEIJING (Reuters) -A second woman hoping to be the first American female climber to scale all of the world’s 8,000-metre (26,246 feet) mountains has been declared dead on a remote peak in Tibet, according to her family.
China has suspended all activities on Shishapangma since avalanches struck the mountain on Saturday, killing American climber Anna Gutu and her Nepalese guide Mingmar Sherpa.
Fellow American climber Gina Marie Rzucidlo and her Nepalese guide Tenjen Sherpa Lama went missing on the same day when avalanches hit at elevations of 7,600 metres and 8,000 metres. More than 50 mountaineers and their guides were making their way up the peak at the time.
“The Rzucidlo family wants to share that Chinese authorities have declared my sister Gina and her Sherpa Tenjen Lama as deceased,” said Christy Rzucidlo in a post on Facebook.
“Requests for search by helicopter from Nepal have been declined by the Chinese government. We have been told the search for their bodies may resume in the spring once weather conditions are favourable.”
But on Tuesday China’s state-run Xinhua news agency maintained that one American and one Nepalese climber remained missing, without disclosing their identities.
The Tibetan sports bureau and U.S. embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.
Uta Ibrahimi, a Kosovo climber who turned back after the first avalanche at 7,600 metres out of safety concerns, said she saw Rzucidlo and her guide continuing their ascent despite the avalanche.
“After some time, I saw the other avalanche, the BIG HUGE one, that came from the summit, took down Lama and Gina!” Uta said in a post on Facebook.
A total of 19 alpine rescue professionals were sent by the Tibetan sports bureau to the site, Xinhua reported.
It was unclear if Rzucidlo and Tenjen Sherpa were wearing avalanche transceivers, beacons that could help rescuers locate people buried under snow.
Rzucidlo and Gutu were climbing separately with their sherpas in their bids to become the first American female to scale all of the world’s 14 peaks that exceed 8,000 metres in elevation. Shishapangma was their final summit.
Rzucidlo’s climbing companion, Tenjen Sherpa, was recently the guide for Norway’s Kristin Harila when they ascended K2 Pakistan in July, completing their final 8,000-metre peak in 92 days and becoming the world’s fastest climbers to scale all of the world’s 14 tallest peaks.
Tenjen Sherpa and Kristin Harila summitted Shishapangma in April.
“His mountaineering legacy will forever shine brightly, and his memory will be etched in our hearts,” Harila wrote in a post on Facebook.
Shishapangma is widely regarded among climbers as one of the easier “eight-thousanders”, though avalanches are common in mountains including the Tibetan peak.
To date, over 300 successful summits of Shishapangma have been logged, with under 10% of climbers who tried to reach the top dying in their attempts, according to private estimates.
That compares with the nearly 30% fatality rate for Nepal’s Annapurna I, one of the world’s most dangerous peaks.
On Saturday, a total of 52 climbers were pushing for the summit of Shishpangma, including from the United States, Britain, Romania, Albania, Italy, Japan and Pakistan.
Authorities started to allow foreign climbing expeditions to enter Tibet in 2023 after dismantling three years of zero-COVID restrictions that denied foreign mountaineers their chance to summit Shishapangma, which lies entirely in China.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Michael Perry and Ed Osmond)