The expedition in 2015 was going well. We had a great trek into Base Camp and got settled in. Enjoyed our acclimatisation climb of the nearby peak Lobuche, the team were fantastic (the best I’ve had in fact) and IMG were excelling at providing a top notch guiding service as usual. After a month of being in Nepal we were just starting to climb Everest proper. We had been through the Khumbu Icefall a couple of times, moved over countless ladder spanned crevasses, got up to Camp 2 and could start visualising the idea of getting to the summit. When we were in Camp 2, I looked up at Everest herself and thought for the first time – I think I can do this!
30 minutes after arriving into Camp 2, we were laying in our tents exhausted trying to get to grips with the new altitude and just as we started to drift off to sleep, the Earth shook. After rolling side to side in our tents for what felt like a minute or more, the familiar rumbling sounds of avalanche began as the world of ice which surrounded us started to come down. Visibility was only 20 odd metres due to low cloud so we could only just make out the massive blocks of ice falling nearby. As we didn’t exactly know what was going on and we were used to hearing and seeing avalanches daily there was no immediate panic (was it an avalanche which has displaced the glacier and caused the ground movement? I had never been in an earthquake so that was the last thing in my mind). The booming and cracking of avalanche and rockfall only increased, we jumped out of our tents and grouped together with our lead guide near our mess tent. It was a surreal feeling, all of us not knowing what would happen next, the only thing we did know is that whatever occurred, it would happen to all of us. We tried to asses the situation and figure out what danger we were in and how or if we could survive it. As the sound continued all around us we were hit with powerful blast of wind and ice crystals which commonly precedes an avalanche but that was it, nothing more came. The rumbling slowly subdued into silence.
Luckily Camp 2 and Camp 1 were not hit by avalanches. Sadly as documented in the news, a chain of events occurred at Base Camp 1000m below us which ended in tragedy. The quake released a massive chunk of ice the size of a shopping centre from a nearby mountain. The ice itself posed no direct threat to Base Camp but when it hit the moraine (a long hill of loose rock created on the sides of moving glaciers) it transformed into a massive bomb of ice, rock and debris which exploded into the valley heading directly for Base Camp. It hit with such ferocity, anything in its path was annihilated including tents, campsites and people. From the videos I have seen and the descriptions I have heard the sky was blacked out by this plume of snow and rock before all hell broke loose. 22 people died that day in Base Camp and a further 8000 in the region of Kathmandu and Nepal. It was truly a catastrophic disaster which echoed around the world in no time. Camp 2 and Camp 1 were so much more exposed than Base Camp, it still amazes that neither were hit directly. Due to the carnage in Base Camp and the region we stayed put at Camp 2 for another day. I phoned my parents from a Satellite phone to tell them I was fine. Two days later we very carefully worked our way down from Camp 2 to Camp 1 as the crevasse riddled Western CWM we came up a few days earlier was now completely different. Most of the crevasses had been covered by snow or changed shape so we took extra care navigating our way down, each team roped to each other in case anybody dropped through a snow-bridge into one of the yawning crevasses (standard glacier travel procedure).
We arrived into Camp 1 and joined a queue of 20-30 climbers and Sherpa waiting to be evacuated out by helicopter. Descending the Khumbu icefall back to Base Camp was out of the question as it was even less stable than it already was due to constant aftershocks. The Evacuation helicopters and their pilots were amazing. They stripped everything out of the chopper apart from the pilot and his seat so they could take two passengers with bags in the thin air. Once aboard, the chopper did struggle to lift off but the incredible abilities of the pilot and his machine skimmed over the top of the Khumbu Icefall and back down to Base Camp safely. I started watching Everest Rescue the other day and sure enough, the pilot who rescued me was Jason the kiwi pilot in his Toread B3 9N-AJZ from the show. I really want to reach out to him when I am back in Nepal to express my gratitude. What a legend!
Meanwhile without my knowing, there was a global media frenzy. In Australia every newspaper and TV channel was covering the situation in Nepal paying special attention to the ‘Missing Australians in Nepal’. As my mum and dad had not heard from me since the first quake and there were a few aftershocks, one of them as big as the quake itself, the worst was assumed. I was registered with the Red Cross as a missing person and the media were parked outside my parents house and knocking on the door interviewing my parents about their missing son. The front cover of the local paper had mugshots of the missing Australians including myself with a black background and accompanying morbid title about ‘son’s last words to parents’. All the while I was waiting in relative safety in Camp 2, riding a helicopter back down to Base Camp and then waiting at Base Camp to call home again. When I phoned my dad that second time, I was calling to get his help in finding a still-standing hotel in Kathmandu. I was oblivious to the news in Australia so I was a little surprised to hear the relief in his voice. When he heard me he must have thought I had come back from the dead! I assured Dad along with my wife and mum that I was fine and we would be heading out within a week.
We spent the next week slowly trekking out stopping by some of our Sherpa’s villages to help out with any repair/construction work where possible. I am not sure how much help we provided but having a 30 strong team of 6500m acclimatised climbers in the village hopefully provided some good for them. Having said that the local Sherpa in these towns are probably stronger than all of us anyway, even the grandmothers!
We got back to Kathmandu and IMG had managed to get a us some rooms in one of the few still-standing hotels. We were there for two nights and we gorged ourselves on food and enjoyed hot showers. It was a nice way to say goodbye to a very close-knit team.
I made it home about 7 days after the quake to meet my beautiful pregnant wife at Barcelona airport where my next adventure immediately continued!