He and around a dozen other hikers — mostly young Israelis and Germans — spent the night lying on top of one another, trying to fight off hypothermia by sharing body heat and talking about anything they could think of to keep from falling asleep. But they were a small group. The rest of their group, 40 to 50 young people, decided to go to the nearest town, Muktinath, he said in an interview from a hospital in Katmandu. “And we don’t know what happened to them.”
Around 350 hikers, porters and guides were making their way across the Thorong La pass on Tuesday morning when a ferocious, lashing freak snowstorm — the tail end of a dying cyclone that had ravaged India’s eastern coast — closed in on them, burying their legs in snow and making their progress down the steep path to safety agonizingly slow. Of those, 244 reached their destination, according to Ramesh Dhamala, chairman of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal. The bodies of three yak herders killed in an avalanche were also located on Wednesday.
The bodies of seven trekkers, six of them visitors from other countries and one Nepali, were retrieved on Thursday, according to the association, bringing the number of dead to 27. That number is expected to rise, because many bodies are presumed to be buried under several feet of snow. Trekkers who have been rescued have spoken of passing large numbers of frozen bodies as they hiked out, said Gopal Babu Shrestha, an official with Trekking Agencies.
Harry Dahal, a director of Swissa, a tour agency that caters to Israeli trekkers, said around 100 of his clients were planning to cross the pass on the day of the storm, and 40 were still missing.
Nepal’s army and police force began rescue operations after dawn on Thursday, and by nightfall reported more than 70 rescues. Dozens more hikers are safe but snowbound in remote lodges. Meanwhile, survivors were arriving in Katmandu’s army hospital, wondering at the storm that had engulfed them.
“It was a terrible experience,” Mr. Megreli said. “It seemed that everything was fine. The weather was fine. The trail was not so hard. Until the storm.”
The Annapurna Circuit, as the three-week trekking path is called, is a popular route, nicknamed the Apple Pie Trek for its famously well-stocked lodges. Guesthouses along the way provide hikers with thick blankets, yak-dung fires and simple foods like rice and soup, said David Ways, a travel writer who has made the journey twice. October is peak season for the route because the weather is optimal. Temperatures are usually moderate, and there would have been little worry about snow. Anyway, in the days leading up to Tuesday, Mr. Dahal said, “there was not even a drop of cloud in the sky, it was all blue sky.”
Members of the Israeli group had just crossed the pass and were beginning their descent toward Muktinath when the wind whipped up, lashing their faces with snow and making it difficult to see, Mr. Dahal said. The path is both steep and exposed, offering virtually nothing that could serve as shelter. As the snow accumulated, some hikers found that it was taking them as long as five minutes to make a single meticulous step, he said, and some hikers lost their shoes in the snow.
Linor Kajan, a hiker who survived, said she became separated from her group and got stuck in a snowdrift, unable to see, until a Nepali guide she knew spotted her and “dragged me, really dragged me to the tea shop.”
Mr. Shrestha, the Trekking Agencies official, said the sudden storm was unlike anything he had seen in his 15-year career. “It was not snowing when they started to walk down,” he said. “Less than one to two hours later, they could not move. They cannot go back, they cannot go ahead.” After spending Wednesday at the site of the rescue operation, he said that many of those who died had nearly reached Muktinath. Some stumbled into the town just before dawn on Wednesday.
“Everyone was freezing, everyone was trying to put their feet in the right place, slowly, slowly,” he said. “Everything looks white, and you can’t find the real path.”
The blizzard abated Wednesday, and in the tea stand, the small group of survivors with Mr. Megreli finally decided to venture out into the waist-high snow.They did so without any certainty that they would be strong enough to reach the town. “We couldn’t see the way, we didn’t know the way, and all the night it was snowing,” said Maya Ora, 21, another Israeli hiker.
They wrote one note that they hoped would reach diplomats from their home countries, and handed it to a Nepali guide on horseback. And they left a second handwritten note addressed to whatever stranger would next enter the building, listing all their names and asking that someone look for them, Mr. Megreli said.
Ms. Ora, 21, said they hiked for eight hours before they were able to get cellphone reception. At that point, they saw a Nepali rescue helicopter. Mr. Megreli credited the handwritten note, passed by the man on horseback to an Israeli guide, who then contacted Israel’s ambassador to Nepal. Ms. Ora described it as a miracle.
“All the time I thought, ‘I am going to die,’ ” she said. “This is the moment when I said: ‘It’s over. I am going home. I am going to be O.K.’ ”
Mr. Megreli was sitting near her. “Some of us are suffering from little medical conditions,” he said. “We are happy that we are alive. We are O.K. We are exhausted. We don’t feel some sensations in the fingers. But everything is going to be O.K.”