Saipal, Nepal

WHAT HAPPENED TO PUNA? Death and Chaos in Far West Nepal

Stars blazed overhead. The roar of the Seti River, tumbling from the Himalaya of northwestern Nepal, hummed faintly in the still night. It was October 31—Halloween 2018. Forrest “Cooter” Coots, mountain guide Tyler Jones and photographer Jason “JT” Thompson half-ran, half-tripped over jagged rocks as they followed a trail contouring a perfect arc above the torrent. Chatter was minimal, just the sound of labored breathing and the tense silence of concern. A few miles distant, more than a dozen headlamps bobbed like fireflies in the darkness, among them the lights of Chad Sayers and New Zealand filmmaker Will Lascelles. 

Barely an hour before, Chad and Will had been roused from their tents by a crowd of Nepalese porters. It was payday—typically a time of celebration. But the porters had been into the hash and chhaang, a strong Nepalese barley wine, and were seething with hair-trigger anger. With only moments to alert the others, Chad and Will were force-marched back along the path, reversing a route they had walked that evening when the rugged front ranges guarding 23,668-foot Saipal Himal were bathed in golden light. Hours before, their hearts had been filled with the mix of melancholy and relief that are part of an expedition coming to its end. Now they felt dread. The porters were demanding answers: What happened to Puna?…

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