A Taiwanese trekker is recovering in hospital after rescuers found him and his dead girlfriend on a mountainside in Nepal where they were stranded for 47 days, surviving on only water and salt after their food ran out.
Liu Chen-chun, 18, died just three days before the rescue team located the couple in northwest Nepal, but her boyfriend managed to survive despite losing 30kg during the ordeal.
A severely malnourished Liang Sheng-yueh, 20, was being treated in hospital in Kathmandu, where he was airlifted after being rescued from the remote region.
Rescuers said the pair followed a river downstream in the hope of finding a village after getting lost.
But they became stuck when they reached the edge of a waterfall and were unable climb back up.
“They had a drop of about 100m on one side and a steep uphill on the other.
They were trapped,” said Madhav Basnet who found them.
Speaking haltingly and in broken English as he sipped hot soup, Liang told AFP on Wednesday it had been “very cold” on the mountain, and difficult to sleep.
Basnet said that it was snowing heavily in the region when the couple reached the cliff and they had to shelter under a rock because they couldn’t put up their tent on the uneven ground.
They survived on potatoes and noodles until their food ran out, leaving them with nothing more than salt and water.
Rescuers headed to the isolated area after they saw crows hovering above and found them lying down.
“The area was so deep and narrow that it was impossible for a helicopter to land,” Basnet said.
The team used a long line to airlift them out and bring them to Kathmandu.
Doctors treating Liang said that as well as his extreme weight loss, maggots had infested his right leg, but that he was recovering and regaining strength.
The families of the trekkers alerted authorities when they didn’t get in touch as scheduled on March 10.
Liang’s father travelled to Nepal after the couple went missing and chartered a helicopter to search for them.
Chou Chiang-chieh, a friend of the pair, said they were biking from India to Nepal on a “dream adventure”.
“She (Lui) fought to survive in the Himalayas for so long and I am really sad she didn’t make it, it’s such a pity, she’s like a family to me,” said Chou.
Another high school friend posted a tribute to Liu, remembering her as a “happy child” always seeking new places to go.
“I believe you will also live well on the other side,” Corn Huang, who said she lived with Liu for a year during high school, posted on Facebook.
The couple had been hiking at about 3,000m without a guide.
Tour operators have been pushing for guides to be mandatory if trekkers go above a certain altitude to ensure their safety, said Ang Tsering Sherpa, the head of Nepal’s mountaineering association.
“Even popular routes can be tricky to navigate for new trekkers if there is snow or any other disturbances,” he told AFP.
In 2014, a snowstorm killed about 40 people in the popular Annapurna circuit, with many blaming the high toll on the lack of information for solo trekkers.
About 30% of some 100,000 trekkers who visit Nepal every year do so without a registered guide, according to the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal.
Association president Chandra Prasad Risal said accidents could be avoided if guides were used.
“We hope this serves as a wake-up call to authorities,” he said.
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