BIG avalanche off of Everest’s West Shoulder just now. Fortunately, it kept a somewhat respectable distance from base camp as we pack everything up, and serves as a prompt that it may be finally time to head out of here. Planning to start our way to Kathmandu tomorrow and head for home over the next several days… Stay tuned.
Recap – 4.28.2015
I was in Gorak Shep, the last village before Everest base camp at 17,000′ with my fiancee, Carla, when the earthquake and subsequent avalanches hit. Our teahouse shook violently and we were soon thereafter hit by a powerful powder blast from an avalanche (likely from the flanks of Nuptse).
The rest of my climbing team were ahead and arrived base camp as the earthquake and devastating avalanche struck. They were hit by the edge of the enormous powder blast (said to be moving at nearly 200mph) and survived its impact by ducking behind rocks and breathing through Buffs (a neck gaiter) to prevent the snow from entering their lungs. Our team leader, Willie Benegas, used his EMT training to help with triage at an improvised medical tent since the Himalayan Rescue Association’s ER tent was destroyed in the avalanche. My climbing partner, Matt Moniz, along with many others helped move the injured to the triage area throughout that afternoon and evening.
Amazingly, the medical team treated 85 people that afternoon and evening. Sadly, there are 15 confirmed fatalities, many due to severe head injuries, with the potential for that number to climb a bit still, but many more lives would have been lost without the extraordinary and collaborative efforts of many at base camp. It was truly a heroic effort. I am thankful to report that of the many people I know at Everest base camp this season none were among the casualties.
Feeling helpless in Gorak Shep, my fiancee and I finally heard from Willie and Matt at 5pm that they were alive and well and they told us of the devastation. We shepherded medical supplies there and departed at first light to bring additional supplies to base camp. That same morning all injured were evacuated via helicopter down valley for further treatment, starting with the most severely injured. All injured were evacuated by midday.
The following day, resources shifted to bring down the ~170 climbers stranded at Camps I and II, above the dangerous Khumbu Icefall, since the route through the icefall was badly damaged due to the earthquake. Efforts to repair the route ceased due to the aftershocks and 2nd earthquake that made repairing the route untenable. All climbers in Camps I and II have been evacuated via helicopter as of today.
Since the tragic events, many expedition teams have departed base camp to try to find their ways home. We have opted to remain here for the time being since we have lots of supplies and resources here. The tremendous and widespread destruction down valley and in Kathmandu lead us to believe that we are safer here for now. We hope to secure flights out of the country in the next 7-10 days and we will likely head down to Kathmandu to get to those flights only when necessary.
As for a potential return to Everest, all I can say is that I can’t imagine returning anytime soon… but never say never. This was to be my 3rd attempt in the past 4 years. In 2012, my tentmate came down with a bad GI infection on the summit push and, not surprisingly, I fell ill 24 hours later and my summit attempt ended. Last year, the tragic serac collapse off the West Shoulder of Everest into the Khumbu Icefall that killed 16, ended the season on April 18th. My team climbed Cho Oyu, the 6th highest peak at 26,906′, as this occurred but our plans to climb Everest afterwards were thwarted by those tragic events. And then we have this year… so, perhaps summiting Everest is not in the cards, although I take away lessons from each of these attempts and have no regrets… only feelings of loss and sadness for the fallen and my Sherpa friends who have been so adversely impacted by these tragedies as well as feeling blessed that I have survived these events and have the opportunity to return home safely to my friends and loved ones. To ask for anything more, after all of these tragedies, would feel ungrateful, ungracious and petty.
Base Camp – 4.28.2015
Our comms are pretty intermittent currently, so please know that “no news is good news” for now.
We’re hearing of lines of people at the Kathmandu airport of 2-3 kilometers long awaiting limited seats on limited flights out of the country as well as ~1,500 people awaiting flights to Kathmandu in the small village of Lukla. The villages below base camp are damaged to varying degrees as other expeditions head down valley, but supplies will be limited and could dwindle quickly, so we intend to stay put in base camp for now as it is our best option amongst a set of increasingly poor ones.
We are healthy and focused on helping/supporting one another as well as our Sherpa brothers, while also trying to find a safe way home to friends and loved ones. Hope to see you soon.
Update from base camp – 4.27.2015
As of this morning, the ~170 climbers stranded in Camps I and II are being heli evac’ed to the relative safety of base camp via completely private efforts of the expeditions funding these flights flown by Fishtail Air and Simrek.
Avalanches continue to shower down from Lo La Pass, Pumori, and Nuptse, keeping anxiety high. The Kathmandu airport has shut down to commercial flights, only allowing humanitarian and military flights for the time-being, which is understandable given the extensive devastation. That likely means that we’ll remain here for the foreseeable future. The villages down valley have been heavily impacted, so staying put with all of our supplies makes the most sense currently.
Given the widespread destruction, the Sherpas need to return to their villages and families as soon as possible, of course with our blessing, so all expeditions are considering their limited extraction options.
As for how folks back home can help, which I have been asked a lot, please visit http://www.himalayan-foundation.org and donate to the American Himalayan Foundation, where 100% of donations go straight to recovery efforts.
Incredible pictures of the avalanche
Safe at base camp – 4.26.2015
We are safe in Everest base camp. Tragic scene after yesterday’s events. The earthquake and many aftershocks caused many severe avalanches that left 19 dead with another 65+ seriously injured at base camp alone. My team is OK and helped with triage for many of the injured. It was clear enough this AM that all injured were flown down valley, but there is really nowhere to send them. Kathmandu hospitals are so overwhelmed that they are treating people in the street and trying to fly many injured to Delhi.
Our plan, for now, is to hang tight here in base camp where we are relatively safe. We hope to fly via heli as a team directly to Kathmandu and connect to a flight out of the country without having to leave the airport. That could take days or weeks. Highly uncertain at this point.
We have plenty of supplies, are in good health and are in a safe camp. Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured and fallen, and their families, from base camp, the Khumbu, Nepal and the rest of the affected region. More to follow as we know more.
Blessings in Pangboche – 4.21.2015
Today, we arrived in Pheriche (14,000′), after moving the previous day from Namche to the Rivendell Lodge in Deboche (just down the hill from the very well known Tengboche Monastery). We stopped in Pangboche this morning for the traditional blessing for safe passage/climbing from Lama Geshe, where he kindly blessed our forthcoming marriage as well. Above is a picture of Carla and me on a bridge crossing the Dudh Kosi on the way to Pangboche with Ama Dablam in the background.
The team is doing great. Everyone is healthy (knock wood), except for young Matt, who is fighting a low-grade stomach virus, but he is doing great regardless (as always – he truly has an indomitable spirit – although your efforts to convert me into a “new country” music fan are absolutely futile, young man). Tomorrow will be a rest day in Pheriche to allow our bodies to acclimatize before heading to Lobuche (~15,500′), which will be our last stop before arriving Everest base camp and getting down to business!
Futbol in Khumjung – 4.19.2015
Everest View Hotel (13,000′) – 4.19.2015
I am pleased to report that we’re still engaged. So far, so good! Today, we did a nice acclimatization hike up to the Everest View Hotel at 13,000′ above the villages of Khumjung and Khunde. It was an absolutely beautiful day after days of rain and snow in the Khumbu Valley and entire Everest region. Above my head and a bit to the left is the summit of Everest getting pummeled, as usual, by the jet stream, with Lhotse completely enshrouded by the spindrift and cloud those 200mph winds create. Ama Dablam is the beautiful and iconic peak above Carla and to the right. The large hanging serac (ice block) near the summit looks like a necklace – hence the name Ama Dablam (or Mother’s Jewel).
Tomorrow, we will drop back down to the Dudh Kosi river and climb up to the famous Tengboche Monastery before dropping back into the rhododendron forest and the village of Deboche for the night. The following day we will continue on to Pheriche at 14,000′, after a stop in Pangboche for a blessing for a safe journey from Lama Geshe (the most prominent Lama in the Khumbu Valley) just as we did in 2012. More updates to follow as conditions, connectivity and my fiancee allow. 😉
Luckiest Man Alive
She said “yes.” I am indescribably happy to report that Carla and I are engaged. After a brief hike up to the monastery in Namche and with a cloud-enshrouded Thamserku peak as our backdrop, I asked her to continue our incredible journey together as husband and wife. Perhaps, she was hypoxic when answering since we were at nearly 12,000′, but I’ve since been assured that she meant it. Couldn’t be happier.
Very exciting, new chapter to begin when I return in June… celebrations to follow soon thereafter!