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Dhaulagiri (8167m), Nepalese Himalaya, from the west. Ricardo Valencia and Santiago Sagaste of Spain were buried in an avalanche while they slept in Camp 2 (6500m) on Saturday, May 12. They were attempting Dhaulagiri’s Normal Route, visible on the left (northeast) skyline. [Photo] Courtesy of Meroi-Benet collection

2007 is becoming increasingly tragic on Dhaulagiri (8167m), Nepalese Himalaya. After Italian mountaineer Sergio Dalla Longa slipped to his death just a few meters from the summit, last weekend two Spanish mountaineers Ricardo Valencia and Santiago Sagaste died beneath an avalanche, which buried Camp 2 (ca. 6500m) on Saturday, May 12.

Along with ropemate Javi Serrano, and Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner from Austria, the two mountaineers left Base Camp on Friday, May 11, for their final summit attempt along the Normal Route, which ascends the northeast ridge. Difficult pre-monsoon weather halted their progress once again, and pinned them down in Camp 2. On Saturday an avalanche swept through the Camp burying and asphyxiating Valencia and Sagaste in their tent. Miraculously Kaltenbrunner and Serrano escaped tragedy, despite being in another tent nearby. Kaltenbrunner and Serrano were subsequently rescued by fellow expedition members, Jose Angel Sanchez and Luis Rollo, who were in Camp 1 at the time.

Both Spaniards were expert Himalayan mountaineers. Expedition leader Santiago Sagaste had successfully climbed Shishapangma and Gasherbrum II; Ricardo Valencia had summited Cho Oyu, Gasherbrum II, Makalu and Nanga Parbat.

The Spanish Ejea de los Caballeros group was the only remaining expedition on the mountain. Kaltenbrunner joined them after her gear cache was robbed from Camp 1 and her partner fell ill in Camp 3 last week. She had hoped to summit Dhaulagiri as her tenth 8000-meter peak.

A few weeks ago, on April 29, Dalla Longa also died on Dhaulagiri, after falling onto his head near the summit. Those experienced with the mountain have noted that the critical snow conditions along the final section of the climb have changed dramatically during the last few seasons.