This is my latest and final blog from my Everest 2015 expedition. This season is now officially over, but the carnage for the people of Nepal is far from it.
I have barely any communication so can’t comment on the destruction being faced in Kathmandu as I head towards it. All I know is that it sounds horrific and far worse than the chaos faced here in the Khumbu, which is bad enough, so I’ll let the journalists on the scene talk about it and just hope that those in need are getting the relief they need. When I get home and safe I will write a full account with reflection on the future but right now I felt I should write an account for anyone who cares about what’s happening on Everest. I wanted to post this sooner, but I’ve been too busy and exhausted helping clean up base camp. There are very few photos because my camera has died and the chargers were swept away in the avalanche.
I will state to begin with, this is just a very short version of the events, until I write at a later date. The emotions are still very raw and right now the focus should be on the major disaster elsewhere in Nepal.
On Saturday the 25th April, we left base camp for our first rotation. My team alongside many others would head up independently through the icefall for our first acclimatisation rotation. It was about 5am- a windy, cold morning, lightly snowing. The icefall covered in a thick low cloud. The day earlier a huge avalanche had fallen down the Lho La and we’d ran out of the mess tent to watch. I’d messaged a photo to my dad, and ironically whilst in the Icefall he’d responded saying not to mention avalanches, he was worried enough as it was.
We moved through the icefall as normal. It’s always a jumbled mess. It was my second time in, the altitude was steadily exhausting and sapping my strength. I couldn’t work out why my legs were so empty, fatigued and my head throbbed, I dragged behind the others. About 12 noon, I had climbed the last of the two vertical 30ft stepladders and was at about 5,900m altitude. I was walking on huge blocks nearing camp 1. The mountain was quiet. I was pretty certain I was near where 16 Sherpa tragically lost their lives in an avalanche last year; I thought to myself how frightening and terrifying it could be in this unforgiving place.
Suddenly, I heard a stupendous crack and roar from the West Shoulder of Everest on my left that filled the valley and sickened my stomach. There was nowhere to run as a huge deafening rumble accelerated from above. The fog was so thick I could barely see thirty metres ahead. But with my head down the roar closed in with a huge WHACK. Tonnes of snow went through me in what was a separate Avalanche to the one that hit Base Camp. It felt like someone had unleashed a snow cannon and wind tunnel from both directions. For a split second I thought I was dead. I thought I would be buried for maybe 20 seconds but what felt like minutes, I thought about my family and disbelief that the end was here already. But relief set in as I could see again. I couldn’t believe how lucky I’d been, but I wanted out of there and couldn’t have moved quicker. Two of my teammates, Aeneas and David, were ahead of me. My team leader Tim and friend Ellis were about 20 minutes behind, also shaken but unhurt.
The ropes were buried in snow but fortunately softly deposited unlike ice, and they pulled straight free. I knew crevasses and snow bridges could now be covered in snow and I could fall through. Aeneas and David appeared ahead twenty minutes later. Lenses had been blown out of their glasses by the blast. Here I was embracing with my team, grown men far stronger than I, broken into tears. We were so relieved to see each other. We all thought we were gone. All but one of the first tents, the Summit Climb team, were flattened in snow and reportedly people were shouting for help inside. Fortunately I believe nobody was hurt. When we eventually got to the tents we were met by the rest of our team, visibly upset and also hit by the snow blast. The tents were unscathed. As we settled and recovered it wasn’t until we got on the radio we knew what had happened.
This was not an isolated avalanche. If it had, we probably could have returned to base camp, regrouped and found strength to continue our expedition. Henry our base camp manager came onto the line: “it’s chaos, a total mess, scene of destruction” were three sentences I managed to fathom. Then our stomachs hit the floor further. We knew people at base camp would be dead. We knew teams were behind us in the icefall and could be dead. I knew I had friends due up that day. Were they ahead or behind? I was fortunate I had my sat phone to call my mum straight away. I couldn’t believe what I was saying.
I collapsed, exhausted and shocked. I could barely move. The next day a huge tremor shook camp again. We weren’t safe. It was in our minds that an avalanche wiped out Camp 1 a few years earlier, but we were stuck. Later in the afternoon it was established the icefall route had been damaged in the quake and we could not move down through. We learnt two of our staff had died at BC, others were on oxygen. Then we knew the next morning we were likely to be evacuated by helicopter. I was glad to get out.
Walking the 500 metres from the helipad to base camp was exhausting. Badly dehydrated and broken by shock, I had to sit down 3 times. Base camp was even worse. I couldn’t believe the devastation. I spent an hour or so slumped against our makeshift cook tent, managing a few steps at a time. I asked Gyan Sherpa how the staff were. 2 cooks and one climbing Sherpa had died, which was heartbreaking.
We realised how lucky we’d been, but especially being on the mountain rather than at base camp. People here had described a skyscraper of snow and rock flying towards them from Pumori and the other peaks on the far side of base camp. Our mess tent, a rigid framed structure, had been thrown into the next camp, a wrangled mess of steel. Our own tents had moved many metres. The contents of some had even managed to merge together. We could have died. Heavy barrels were thrown between 30 metres and 500 metres away onto the glacier. As for our belongings, it was clear that was insignificant considering how close we were to losing our lives had we been at base camp. After a day or two of clearing up, digging out tents and finding things scattered everywhere, it was time to leave. We have all lost some or most belongings and equipment and sadly it seems some looting has been taking place where other people have got to wallets and expensive gadgets on the glacier first. However Nepal has far bigger concerns to deal with at the moment; we are incredibly lucky and grateful to have our lives.
I am now on my way to Monjo, soon to fly home. Many teahouses are damaged, some entirely crumbled to the ground.
Every night since I have had flashbacks of the mountain. I think of Pasang Temba, Tenzing and Kumar from Himalayan Guides. I ask: Why not me?. I remember Pasang Temba from Everest last year too, a seasoned expedition cook. He could never say much but had a firm handshake for me when I arrived this year. Tenzing I had never met before but his usual lost expression had us smiling, he was always getting stuck in to help around camp and this would be his first Everest expedition. Kumar was a cook assistant, and exuberantly enthusiastic. Young and forever smiling. He relied on me when it came to finishing off the rice at dinner, but couldn’t get my name right which often turned into a verse of “For 24 years I’ve been living next door to Alice. Alice… Who the **** is Alice?”. He had 4 kids. And to make things worse, Pasang’s house has fallen down too.
I will never forget them.
Please please dig deep to help do your bit for the people of Nepal at this cataclysmic time. It could not have happened to more humble, grateful and welcoming people, I wish more people could meet them as I know they’d be compelled to help. I will do all I can but that alone is not nearly enough. It doesn’t matter about Everest. Dreams can be replaced; lives cannot.
Let’s do what we can.