For many of us, there are few things more thrilling than embarking on an adventure. Whether it’s white-water rafting or climbing some dangerous terrain, these outings can be incredibly rewarding. With that in mind, a group of climbers looked to scale Nanda Devi in May 2019, the second-highest peak in India.
The team was headed by a man named Martin Moran, who operated his own climbing business back in Scotland. Prior to the Nanda Devi trek he was already very familiar with the area, as his company had led various other excursions up the Himalayas. On this occasion though, Moran was joined by seven other people.
Joining Moran were British trio Richard Payne, John McLaren and Rupert Whewell, with Ronald Beimel and Anthony Sudekum coming from the U.S. To round things off, Indian guide Chetan Pandey joined the expedition as well, alongside Australian Ruth McCance. So with everything in place, the climb started on May 13, 2019.
Over the course of the next few days, Moran led his group up the eastern peak of the mountain, referred to as Nanda Devi East. Close to two weeks later, though, they lost contact with base camp. After that, seven bodies were eventually found in June 2019 before another discovery was made the following month.
Around the world, there are several famous mountains that capture the attention of the public. From Mount Fuji to Mount Kilimanjaro, these areas remain very popular with tourists visiting the respective countries. However, in terms of size, those two peaks pale in comparison to some other locations.
For example, mountains such as Kanchenjunga and K2 both reach heights of over 28,000 feet, making them two of the largest peaks on the planet. The former was scaled for the first time back in 1955, while climbers trekked up the latter the year before. And since then, many others have tried to follow suit.
Prior to 2004 just under 40 groups managed to climb Kanchenjunga successfully. As for K2, 45 teams completed their journey, but there were a number of other attempts that didn’t go so well. Up until that year, close to 70 trips had ended abruptly while trying to scale the two massive mountains.
But there’s one other mountain that trumps the numbers boasted by K2 and Kanchenjunga. Mount Everest is just ahead of them in the pecking order, reaching a height of more than 29,000 feet. As a result of that figure, it’s known as the largest peak in the world.
Much like the other two locations, Everest was first scaled back in the 1950s, leading to even more expeditions. Close to 150 climbs were completed before 2004, while another 121 groups couldn’t finish the journey. Among them was a particularly famous attempt, which took place in 1965.
That year, a man named Manmohan Singh Kohli headed a team of Indian adventurers who climbed Everest. By reaching the summit, they became the first group from India to complete the arduous journey, and Kohli became a household name in his home country.
However, Kohli’s son made a very interesting point during an interview with the Associated Press. According to Maninder Kohli, another mountain posed a far greater challenge than that of Mount Everest. Maninder told the news agency in June 2019, “In comparison with Nanda Devi East, Everest is a picnic.”
Nanda Devi is the 23rd largest mountain on the planet, reaching heights of more than 25,000 feet. The location itself is comprised of two different peaks, with one in the west and the other in the east. Furthermore, the summit of the latter area is around 24,000 feet high.
Ahead of conquering Everest in 1965, Kohli had attempted to climb Nanda Devi East the previous year. The resulting trek proved to be incredibly dangerous, as he suffered a couple of major scares on the journey. The adventurer also had to brave two avalanches as well, before cutting things short.
Several other expeditions have had to give up too over the last few decades, but despite the numerous failures, a British climber still offered to take a group up that mountain in May 2019. The man in question was Martin Moran, who we mentioned earlier.
Born in the Tyneside area of England, Moran developed a real interest for the outdoors as a youngster. A few years later, the aspiring adventurer then put his skills to the test as he attempted to climb the Alps. Following that effort, his personal life changed forever after scoring a job at a local store.
During Moran’s time at the shop, he was introduced to a girl named Joy, who also worked there. Before long the teenagers formed an unbreakable bond, as they both had the same interests. Soon after, Moran eventually left his position at the store to attend the University of Cambridge.
Moran went on to study geography at the famous college, earning a diploma in the subject. After finishing his course at Cambridge, he then decided to pack his bags for Sheffield, England. And with Joy by his side, he took on a job as a chartered accountant in the city.
Moran still found time to indulge in his passion away from work though, as he and Joy often visited the nearby Peak District. Then, given their enthusiasm for climbing, the pair made another bold move in the mid-1980s and decided to move to Scotland.
Operating out of an RV, Moran and Joy then looked to make a bit of history in Scotland. They planned to scale all of the country’s Munros – mountains over 3,000-feet high – in one winter, a feat that no one else had accomplished. The couple eventually achieved their goal, which led the graduate to write a book called The Munros in Winter.
Moran’s hard work didn’t end there, though, as he made the next step in his career in 1985. Alongside Joy, he started his own business called Moran Mountain Limited, based in Lochcarron, Scotland. The couple then arranged countless “adventure trips” for clients in places such as Norway, Switzerland and the Himalayas.
Given Moran’s considerable experience, he looked to scale Nanda Devi East back in 2015 with another climber named Mark Thomas. Together, they intended to map out an additional route up one of the ridges in the north east. And as the duo began their journey, all appeared to be going well at first.
Moran and Thomas covered a considerable distance in their climb, but their progress came to a halt near the summit. With over 1,600 feet left to traverse until the end, they encountered a hazardous section of the ridge. Due to the dangers it posed, the British adventurers opted to abandon the trek and head back down the mountain.
Some four years after that failed attempt, Moran then returned to the location in May 2019. On this occasion, though, he’d take a group of seven climbers up the standard path. As advertised on the Moran Mountain website, the journey would last for 35 days at a cost of over $8,000 per person.
Moran’s friend Mark Thomas also returned for this particular expedition, staying behind at the base camp. During his time there, he would remain in radio contact with Moran and his group. So with everything in place, the climber departed with Richard Payne, John McLaren, Rupert Whewell, Chetan Pandey, Ruth McCance, Ronald Beimel and Anthony Sudekum on May 13.
Sadly, no one could’ve predicted what happened next. Just under two weeks into the lengthy trek, Thomas lost contact with Moran’s team on Nanda Devi East. As a result of that, he decided to look for them over the next few days, picking up the expedition’s path on the mountain.
Unfortunately, Thomas’ search came to an abrupt end when he stumbled upon signs of an avalanche. The adventurer then got in contact with the local authorities, who subsequently told him to leave the base camp. From there, the Moran Mountain Facebook page offered a bit more information in June 2019.
The social media post read, “The climbing group had set out to attempt an unclimbed, unnamed summit, Peak 6477m (21,250 feet). And the last contact intimated that all was well and a summit bid would be made from a camp at around 17,716 feet. It is not entirely clear what happened from this point onwards or indeed the timeline of events.”
After recounting Thomas’ efforts on the mountain, the post then touched upon the avalanche itself. It continued, “Today we have been informed by the Indian Mountaineering Federation that an air search by helicopter has revealed the scale of the avalanche. But [there was] no sign of the climbers, their equipment nor their tents.”
The Facebook post added, “We are pressing for the search area to be widened and continued until such time as firm evidence is found to ascertain the well-being or otherwise of all those in the climbing group. We are grateful for all the support that has been offered to us, and we will be sure to release any information as and when we receive it.”
A few weeks on from that statement, the Indian authorities then released an update. They confirmed that seven bodies had been found on Nanda Devi East, with the final member of the team still missing. The discovery was made by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, who had dispatched 25 people for the search.
One of the local officers then explained to BBC News what would happen next. VK Jogdande said, “They have set up a camp [on the mountain] and they have kept the bodies there. They hope to recover the eighth body by tomorrow.” According to him, it would take a few days for Moran’s group to be removed from the peak.
Due to the conditions, Jogdande then made a very bold claim, adding, “This is the most difficult and challenging mission taken by Indian rescue teams to bring down bodies from the upper reaches of the Himalayas.” But while the bodies were later brought back down, the eighth climber still hadn’t been found.
The British Mountain Guides organization soon revealed that Moran was the person in question. Meanwhile, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police released a fascinating update on the doomed expedition in July 2019. During the initial search, a video of the climbers had been uncovered, capturing some of their movements on the mountain.
At the start of the video, we see Moran’s group in a line on Nanda Devi East, overlooking a dark sky. As the camera continues to take in the picturesque view, the clip then cuts to a shot of the snow in the daylight. From here, seven climbers can be seen making their way up the ridge very slowly, before the brief video comes to an end.
The Indo-Tibetan Border Police went on to share the footage via its official Twitter account, earning over 80,000 views. The accompanying tweet read, “[An] ITBP search team of mountaineers found the memory video device at 19,000 feet while they were searching the area where bodies were spotted.”
After the video was released, an Indo-Tibetan Border Police official shared their thoughts on the situation to the media. APS Nambadia said, “The GoPro was proved to be like the black box of an aircraft giving an insight into the last few moments of the climbers. It was mesmerizing for us to see the footage.”
A few days later, the Moran Mountain Facebook page then offered one last update on the expedition. As the post summed up what happened on Nanda Devi East, it switched its focus back to Moran. With the adventurer still missing, a heartbreaking decision had to be made regarding the search.
The social media post read, “Martin and seven fellow climbers lost their lives in a mountaineering accident that we believe took place early on May 26, 2019. We understand that in the coming days, the bodies of seven mountaineers will be repatriated to their respective countries and loved ones.”
Following that latter point, the post touched upon Moran’s situation. It continued, “With [the] monsoon season in full force in the Himalaya, the conditions in the mountains have worsened. And with the safety of the recovery teams in mind, the search for Martin has been called off. We have received an overwhelming outpouring of love and support for us.”
Moran Mountain, for its part, paid one final tribute to its founder at the end of the statement. It added, “Martin was a beloved husband, father, friend and colleague. We will honor his memory by continuing to journey into the mountains and to all the places he held dear.”