The Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) is a voluntary non-profit organization formed in 1973 with an objective to reduce casualties in the Nepal Himalayas, especially keeping in view the increasing number of Nepalese and foreigners who trek up into the remote wilderness.
One of the most important tasks of the HRA is to try to prevent deaths from Acute Mountain Sickness that confronts foreign trekkers and Nepali people. Since its inception, it has manned a small aid post in the Khumbu village of Pheriche at an altitude of 14,343 feet. The Pheriche aid-post is manned twice yearly during the trekking season by volunteer doctors. Similarly since November 1981 another permanent aid post in Manang, manned by volunteer doctors of HRA has been in operation. The Association has also opened various temporary post during tourist seasons at various points like the Na Village in Rolwaling, at the mouth of the Annapurna Sanctuary, the Gokyo Trail, and at the Gosaikunda Lake area.
HRA has published various pamphlets concerning mountain safety, especially dealing with the prevention of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and provided updated information on AMS as compiled by the HRA's voluntary doctors, who have gained additional insight from research they have conducted. The HRA pamphlets are available in English, French, German, Hebrew and Japanese.
Major credit for the formation of the Association goes to Dr. John Skow, an American national, who in 1973 went up to Khumbu on completion of his assignment as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal and was distressed that many people were dying from Acute Mountain Sickness. He felt that something ought to be done about it. He called together a meeting of officials from the Ministry of Health, some doctors and few other individuals from trekking companies. Another meeting followed with more clear ideas about what to do. The persons from the trekking companies also realised that since it was their clients who were affected most they should take the initiative. Finally in the third meeting it was decided to form Himalayan Rescue Association Nepal with most trekking agencies contributing generously in its early days.
It was registered as a Nepali Volunteer Organization. Its initial approach to helping reduce the death and disability in the Khumbu region was to station a medical person at Pheriche. The chief function of a person at Pheriche was to screen trekkers as they came through to help identify problems early, to render aid to those in trouble, to help evacuate people by whatever means were available, and also to do preventive education. The first volunteer to work in this capacity was Danielle Laigret, a French nurse who went to Pheriche in the fall of 1973.
The main players in the HRA, representing the trekking companies were Late Tek Chandra Pokharel, who at that time was with Trans Himalayan Trekking, and later with Himalayan Journeys, Late Mike Cheney and Dawa Norbu Sherpa, of Mountain Travel and Robert Rieffel, who was the Manager of Air France in Kathmandu, and author of the first good guide book to Nepal, called “Namaste Nepal”. And it wasn't too much later that Late P.P Prasai and Late Elizabeth Hawley were also involved.
Late Tek Chandra Pokharel led the association as its founding Chairman from 1973 to 1978. The Association is indebted for all the hardships he went through in providing special care to HRA during its formative as well as difficult times. It was his initiative that made individuals and institutions patronise Himalayan Rescue Association Nepal. Without the collective support of its Patrons HRA would not have been able to make it to the position it is today. It is worth mentioning the name of its patrons.
1. Late Tek C. Pokharel - Nepal
The generous contribution of the patrons kept the HRA afloat. It was in 1974 that Pokharel met Prof. Hayata and was able to impress on him to cooperate with HRA for the scientific study of Acute Mountain Sickness and to build some facility at Pheriche. Pheriche was chosen because it was here that most of the acute symptoms of AMS manifested themselves, where most of the death occurred and from where most of the evacuations had been made.
Prof. Hayata contributed more than US$ 50,000 at that time for the construction of the trekkers Aid Post at Pheriche and for the purchase of equipments and medicines. He further supported the Japanese volunteer doctors with round trip airfares from Japan as well as funds for their upkeep for a period of 5 years. Moreover Namka Sherpa, who suceeded Tashi was supported by Prof. Hayata for over six years. Prof. Hayata will forever be remembered as one who visualised the importance of HRA for Nepal as well as for study of AMS in the Himalaya.
The first doctor involved at the time HRA was officially formed was Dr. John Dickinson, who was an internist at the Shanta Bhawan Hospital (now known as Patan Hospital). He was the first doctor to have handled most of the cases concerning Acute Mountain Sickness not only in Nepal but perhaps in the whole world. Any doctor who wanted to know anything on AMS consulted Dr. Dickinson. He wrote the first brochure on AMS for the Himalayan Rescue Association and no other brochure that has followed will ever match it.
A wonderful Sherpa was hired to man the “Clinic”. This was Tashi, an older Sherpa with an incredible wealth of Himalayan mountaineering experience. He belonged to the old breed of Sherpa; incredibly loyal, strong, self-assured, at peace with himself and the world and of impeccable character. He had traveled the whole of Nepal with Tony Hagen.
Another volunteer nurse by the name of Dolly Lefever from the United States was sent up to the clinic later in the fall of 1973, and she stayed until late January 1974. Tashi and she lived in a rented Yak herder's hut with a dirt floor, rough hewed beams and the usual stone masonry without any caulking or mortar. In other words, it was a rather limited accommodation. Dolly found life there in Pheriche a bit difficult, when the cold weather and winter storms set in, she and Tashi moved to Thyangboche, where wood was more plentiful.
The first physician who worked for the HRA was Dr. John Winter, who manned the Yak hut at Pheriche in the fall of 1974. There were quite number of cases of altitude illness and other medical problems, but no one died that had actually made it to the clinic. Dr. Winter didn't do research, but he did make some interesting observation. He felt that the onset of altitude illness was not related to the rate of ascent, and that it must be primarily an individual predisposition. Subsequent studies have shown this not to be the case, but his observations on individual predisposition were interesting.
In 1974, Dr. Peter Hackett trekked through with Mountain Travel USA group. Peter had been hoping to train paramedics in Yosemite, but had no mountaineering background at that time. He got interested in the problems of AMS, and he decided to stay in Nepal and work at the yak herder's hut in Pheriche, which he did for three consecutive seasons.
Peter's first season was in the spring of 1975 and he lived with Tashi in the yak herder's hut. It was somewhat primitive, and they were rather under-funded. Peter actually lived in a tent in the front yard, since this was preferable to the hut. Trekkers were not keen to come to the hut for advice so instead Tashi and Peter would go to the various lodges to meet the trekkers and talk to them.
Peter treated a lot of people and went out on several rescues. Fortunately nobody died. Peter returned to Nepal in the fall of 1975 and continued to work in the Pheriche, completely as a volunteer. He had been consulting with Dr. John Dickinson in Kathmandu and reading whatever he could find at the Shanta Bhawan Library on the subject.
Later Peter was appointed to the position of Medical Director and he began to recruit other doctors to continue to operate the aid post at Pheriche.
As mentioned earlier it was about this time Professor Y. Hayata, of Tokyo Medical College, became quite interested in operating a research facility and clinic in the Khumbu region. Professor Hayata raised money for a high-altitude institute, and negotiated with the Himalayan Rescue Association Nepal. They built a clinic at Pheriche in the summer of 1975, and it is still the same clinic HRA is using today.
HRA was run under the able leadership of Late P.P. Prasai from 1978 to 1991. Prasai served as its Chairman for 14 years. The association was very well managed during his tenure and he played an important role in turning HRA into a well-established organization. During his 14 years of service as Chairman, Prasai contributed a lot in furthering the cause of the association as well as building its firm foundation.
There were four most significant contributions that Prasai made. First was upgrading of the Pheriche Trekkers Aid Post at the cost of million rupees from HRA's own resources. His second contribution was the setting up of radio communication between Kathmandu, Pheriche and Manang at the cost of about US$ 5,000. The uncertainty over a call for emergency evacuation actually reaching HRA or concerned agencies in time or not was finally over. Then came the establishment of Manang Trekkers Aid-post at the cost of pound sterling 30,000 donated by the British Embassy. Finally an administrative and information centre in Kathmandu was set up with the help of French Embassy which contributed US$ 25,000. Prasai's contribution to the HRA shall always be remembered very fondly.
Since the year 1991, Mr. R. P. Pant, yet another energetic trekking organiser took over the charge of HRA and continued with this responsibility for eight years as Chairman of HRA. A few of the important contributions he has made during this term was taking the lead in the rescue arrangements for 549 person and 62 dead bodies from Everest region (Gokyo area), Kanchanjunga, Manang in the Nov. 1995 avalanche. Thus HRA could boost up its image in the international sector as a successful rescue organiser. He also made available Rs. 100,000 annually as donation from The Government of Nepal. Pant also managed to buy a piece of land for a permanent office building in Kathmandu and laid the foundation stone for the construction of building.
Bikaram Neupane became Chairman of HRA in 1999. Several projects were completed in his tenure such as; Pheriche Aid-post extension and renovation, construction of Lecture hall in Manang, Permanent office building in Kathmandu.
Late Ang Kaji Sherpa became the Chairman of HRA in 2002. In his tenure Everest Base Camp Clinic was initiated and Manang Aid-post was renovated and upgraded with the financial aid from the British and Australian Embassy in Kathmandu. HRA also started to organize a Mountain Safety Porter Training Workshop in his time. HRA Information Centre was re-opened in his tenure.
Bikram Neupane became the Chairman of HRA again in 2005. In his second tenure HRA initiated work on disaster and rescue management. For the first time porter training workshops were held in Lukla, Dhunche and Pokhara in cooperation with TRPAP and NTNC/ACAP. Major highlights of his tenure were rescue missions on Kang Guru Himal and Ghunsa of Kanchanjunga. During his tenure second floor of the HRA head ofiice building was constructed. In 2008 Mr. Bikram Neupane has been re-elected as a Chairman unanimously for three years term. Mr. Santa Subba become the Chairman of HRA for three years terms since June 2011 till June 2014. Mr. Subba emphasized in establishing Tourism Emmergency Responce Center & Global Positioning System (GPS). During his tenure solar power battery at pheriche Aid-post for power supply was replaced. Renovation of lecture hall at Manang Aid- pot with the financial Aid of Australian Embassy were also completed.
D.B. Koirala became the Chairman of HRA in 2014. During his tenure, renovation of Pheriche Aid-post was completed. The Aid-posts were well equipped by the medical equipments which were donated by Australian Embassy. Likewise, rebuilding of Manang Aid-post and construction of rescue centre was started with the help of Human Outreach Project and Department of Tourism respectively. A MoU was also signed to build Fire Station connected with Mountain Rescue Training Center by three party- Kathmandu Metropolitan, HRA and Bozen Bolzano of Italy.
Mr. Narendra Deo Bhatta became the Chairman of HRA in 2017. In his tenure till 2020, Mr. Bhatta could establish the system of getting necessary approval from Ministry of Health, Labour department and registration in Nepal Medical Council (NMC) for foreign volunteer doctors to work at HRA Aid-posts for the first time in the history of HRA. Mr. Bhatta also introduced new system aimed at making one and all trekkers and mountaineers aware of mountain sickness by placing safety information boards at the arrival lounge of Tribhuwan International Airport and at departure hall of domestic airport. Besides this, he managed to distribute flyers with information on mountain sickness for safe journey at the time of issuing necessary permits and Tourist Information Management System (TIMS) card in association with Nepal Tourism Board. Same flyers were also provided by the domestic airlines along with boarding pass from the check-in counters to the trekkers and mountaineers flying to high altitude. Furthermore, Mr. Bhatta also managed to publish Altitude Illness Information in the inflight magazine provided to the passengers on international flights of Nepal Airlines.
In view of young Nepalese trekkers suffering from altitude sickness due to the lack of knowledge about altitude sickness and its prevention, Mr. Bhatta conducted information classes in schools in association with Rescue Global based in England with whom MOU has been signed by HRA for mutual cooperation. More over, Mr. Bhatta also established understanding with Nepal Academy of Tourism & Hotel Management (NATHM) and conducted classes on mountain sickness and preventive measures for the trainees of Trekking and Tour Guides. With all the endeavours put in his tenure, drop in the number of people suffering from altitude sickness and casualties was remarkable. Rebuilding of HRA Aid post in Manang was also completed in his tenure.
Mr. Hari Prasad Dharel has been elected as a Chairman of HRA in December 2020. Mr. Dharel has been emphasizing to extend the areas and activities of HRA. Mr. Dharel is committed to improve the facilities and infrastructure of HRA Aid-posts as well as the main office in Kathmandu.
Dr. David Shlim was appointed by HRA to work in Pheriche in spring 1979. In 1980 David did another season at Pheriche, and was appointed the Associate Medical Director. David came back again in 1982, and still is the only person, other than Peter, to have done three seasons, although several volunteers have done two seasons. Dr. Buddha Basnyat became the Medical Director of the Association in 1992, and Dr. Ken Zafren is the Associate Medical Director. Dr. Shlim was appointed as a Medical Advisor by the HRA.
The HRA aid post in Manang was opened in November 1981, in the Nepal Mountaineering Association building at Ongre. In 1985 the HRA moved into a rented building in Manang. The beautiful new clinic in Manang, funded by the British, was finished in 1991 and provides more comfortable inpatient care and better living quarters. Mr. Ivan Goyzo Somlai had very important role in setting up Manang Aid-post.
In 1983 the HRA began double staffing both aid posts, which meant that it could keep a doctor at the post every day of the main trekking seasons. So, these days four doctors a year, often with their spouses and/or travelling companion, gain experience and offer service at the two aid posts.
Since the beginning of HRA, Tashi Sherpa worked at Pheriche Aid-post as a assistant with the volunteer doctor and nurse. Not much later Late Namkha Sherpa and Late Angrita Sherpa joined HRA. Late Namkha served 30 years and Angrita served 33 years at HRA Pheriche Aid-post. HRA office in Kathmandu was run by some local staff and sometime some western volunteer as well. In 1991 when Jeevan Dhungel joined HRA as Office Manager, HRA started to run better official system. In 1995, Late Prakash Adhikari joined HRA as a Manager. With his accumulated trekking and mountaineering experience, HRA started to grow even better, more official system including better trekkers information, lecture on altitude illness and rescue assistance. Late Adhikari completed his 25 yrs working at HRA. The same year in 1995, Nimesh Singh Dhar as an accountant and Mr. Gobinda Bashyal as an aid-post assistant joined HRA. It was such a good combination that Namkha and Angrita at Pheriche, initially Ashok Ojha and Indira Ojha and later Gobinda and Indira at Manang aid-post, and Prakash, Nimesh and Karuna Neupane at the head office in Kathmandu were working. Anil Shrestha, Thaneshwar Bhandari, Prakash Khatri and Jeet Bahadur Magar are some very sincere and hard working staff of HRA. Bhuwan Acharya was also working for HRA for some years and left HRA in 2016. The association has been doing so good job with their hard work, sincerity and honesty. Recently Mr. Gobinda Basyal has been promoted as Acting Chief Executive of HRA.
In the year 2000, Dr. Sandy Scott of Everest Memorial Trust lent his hand to upgrade facility at Pheriche Aid-post. With his help, the Aid-post has been refurbished, rebuild and extended. Now the aid post has a modern look and comfortable facilities. At present this clinic has become as good as a hospital. The HRA hospital is located at the highest elevation in the world, which is located half way from the summit of the Mt. Everest to Lukla. Chairman Bikram Neupane played a key role to bring this project into a reality.
The Himalayan Rescue Association Nepal has started the first-ever clinic at Mt. Everest Base Camp since spring season 2003. This clinic was started to mark the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of Mt. Everest by Tenzing Norgey Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953. The aim was to provide medical support to the climbers, support staff and visitors and promote safety in the Himalayas. Dr. Luanne Freer played a major role in establishing and running this clinic. In March 2012, a ceremony was conducted to honor Dr. Luanne for her tireless effort in running EBC clinic regularly for 10 years. Expedition operator companies and NTB has been supperting HRA-Everest ER.
HRA has regularly conducted a temporary medical camp at Gosainkunda during Janaipurnima festival to provide medical facilities to Nepalese pilgrims since 1997. It is worth mentioning here that young Nepali volunteer doctors have been volunteering for this medical camp and Nepal Mountaineering Association has been providing some financial support to HRA.
There must be about 350 doctors/volunteers who are alumni of the organisation, any one can meet a former HRA doctor at almost any meeting or seminar on mountain medicine. Some have even gone on to make careers in the field of mountain medicine.
In 1976 there came 14,000 trekkers to Nepal; by 1986 there were 49,000, during that time, AMS deaths among trekkers remained at 1 per year though there was four-fold decrease during those years. These days trekking is continuing to expand, drawing less experienced people to trek, and having less experienced leaders to handle emergencies. As a result, the rate of serious AMS and death is increasing again.
The HRA has always provided free or nearly free health care to the local people living in both regions (Pheriche and Manang areas). In both areas, this is the only source of western medical care for the people, and they are very grateful. Service has also been extended to animals when possible! Thus, the HRA has been able to increase the safety of the trekkers and encourage tourism, which boosts the Nepalese economy, and also use the donations and charges to the foreigners to provide much-needed care to the local people. Because rescue is difficult in Nepal, prevention becomes the key activity of the HRA doctors. This eventually evolved into a formal lecture each afternoon of the trekking season. These popular lectures have prevented more serious mountain sickness and deaths.
As mentioned earlier the HRA is a permanent body, which is essentially voluntary and entirely non-profit making. Most of its members are either in the trekking trade or interested in travel within Nepal.
The HRA runs on donations from organizations in Kathmandu, personal donations, by selling HRA T-shirts and Patches to tourists, and a yearly grant of Nepali Rupees 30,00,000/- recent years from the Government of Nepal, Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation.
It is said that no one who has attended an HRA lecture has ever died of mountain sickness! Mountaineering expeditions have been generous in donating their left-over medications and supplies to the HRA. Giving them the satisfaction that almost everything they flew over to Nepal will eventually be of use in easing the suffering of either a trekker or a local. The HRA operates entirely on donations, mainly from the people they serve in the mountains. It is one of the few examples of a volunteer service organization in Nepal, and it is by far the most successful. Trekking safety, prevention, research, and statistics all glow from this very efficient, low budget operation. The volunteers are drawn from many countries around the world, and go back to help teach AMS safety when they go back home.
HRA has an Executive Board, which is elected every three years from its General Body.