Pupils and friends of a Hong Kong teacher are waiting with bated breath for news of how a deadly avalanche will affect her bid to conquer Mount Everest.
Interest in Ada Tsang Yin-hung's expedition has been high since she revealed her dream of becoming the first Hong Kong woman to conquer the world's highest peak to pupils at Chan Chun Ha Secondary School in Ma On Shan four years ago.
Some grew concerned over the weekend when she was uncontactable after an avalanche on the mountain killed at least 13 Sherpa guides, though her support team confirmed yesterday that she spoke to her family after the tragedy on Friday. At the time, she was preparing to leave Namche Bazaar at 3,340 metres above sea level for Dingboche at 4,400 metres, her last stop before the base camp at 5,500 metres.
The avalanche took place above the base camp at 5,800 metres; those killed were preparing the route to the summit ahead of the climbing season.
How the tragedy might affect Tsang's expedition is unclear. Several sherpa guides have called for the 8,850-metre mountain to be closed to expeditions this season out of respect for the dead.
"I would feel better if all the expeditions for this year are cancelled because 15 to 20 people have been killed. It would be in respect for them," said guide Jyagba Sherpa, in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. "If all the climbing sherpas were to do this, it would solve the problem. Plus the Nepal government should try to convince the expedition teams and trekking teams as well."
But Bhim Paudel of Himalayan Guides, a company that lost six sherpas in the avalanche, said not all guides agreed. "[Some] feel that Everest should be given rest this year while others want to continue. No decision has been taken yet," Paudel told Reuters.
Before leaving, 39-year-old Tsang, a life education teacher, said her goal was to inspire her students. "I thought about it for a long time," she wrote in a blog post. "I could share my experiences with them only by recollecting events from my past … But what were my own future goals in life? How would I best teach these students how to pursue their goals? I knew the most effective way was to accompany them all the way."
Disruption to the mobile phone network in remote areas and arduous preparations are thought to be behind her failure to respond to messages from well-wishers. "They spend a lot of energy trudging back and forth through snow and do not spend too much time reading e-mail and SMS queries, in order to not affect their physical and mental condition," a spokesman for the support team said.
Veteran mountaineer Chung Kin-man, one of three Hongkongers to conquer Everest, said danger was inevitable.
"Whether Tsang wants to continue her adventure after the avalanche depends on whether she is willing to take the risk. To avoid an avalanche depends solely upon luck, not ability."
Tsang left Kathmandu on Tuesday as part of a four-strong group, the first private expedition by a team of Chinese women to tackle the mountain. Friends said she had trained by climbing mountains in the Tibetan Plateau. She previously cycled the Tibet-Sichuan Highway, a 2,400-kilometre route at more than 4,000 metres above sea level.
Nepalese authorities last night called off the search for three missing guides as weather worsened. The avalanche is said to be the deadliest tragedy ever on the mountain.
Hong Kong's Immigration Department said it had not received any requests for help but would continue to liaise with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong and the Chinese embassy in Nepal.
Additional reporting by Reuters