Mountain rescue teams in Nepal searched for scores of missing trekkers today after unseasonal blizzards and avalanches killed at least 20 people along the high altitude Annapurna mountain route popular with backpackers.
Army and civilian rescue workers say between 73 and 85 trekkers registered on the trail were unaccounted for. Not all of those people were necessarily trapped by the weather and some may have left the area, rescue workers said.
But the death toll, which included 11 foreigners and three yak herders, was expected to rise with so many unaccounted for after snowstorms brought by the tail end of a cyclone that struck eastern India last weekend.
It was the second major mountain disaster to strike in Nepal this year, after an ice-avalanche killed 16 sherpa guides on Mount Everest in April.
"This is one of the worst mountaineering accidents that I can remember," said Gopal Babu Shrestha, the treasurer of the Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal, who has been helping with the rescue.
Shrestha took part in helicopter rescue operations yesterday and said he had seen what looked like bright jackets and backpacks scattered near the Thorang-La pass, at an altitude of 17,769 feet.
The pass is the highest point of the trail that loops around the Annapurna peak, the world's 10th highest mountain.