On April 10th, after an unsuccessful attempt at climbing Mt. Everest last year, I was back at base camp to try again. I was excited, determined, and hopeful that I would finally fulfill my dream of standing on the top of the world.
However, this year had been an unusually snowy one for Everest. Within just a couple days of reaching base camp, we had over two feet of snow dumped upon us. Everyone thought it was a good sign, as more snow meant the rock higher up the mountain would stay glued together.
I was the expedition leader of a very strong team of climbers from across the world, and I was ready to take on anything with this group. Our days acclimating to the altitude were passed refining our climbing skills, taking short walks near the base camp to stay fit, engaging in lively discussion around world economics, politics, mountaineering and, of course, catching up on movies.
When the day finally came to start climbing Everest, we were ready to go. Our years of training and patience were all going to be put to the test, although we could never have known that it would be the most difficult of our lives.
We began our first acclimatization rotation, during which we climbed through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall and stayed one night at the first camp. The following day required a much more difficult and higher climb to camp two, located at the base of a formidable 3,000 foot wall of snow and ice -- the Lhotse face. Our team successfully completed both the objectives, and I, once again, proved to be the strongest climber on the team, which felt earned. I had worked really hard to train this past year, determined to make up for my last attempt.
On April 25th, we descended the Khumbu Icefall in the early morning through white out and heavy snowfall. We returned to base camp by 10:30 a.m., grateful for the extra oxygen, despite it still being thin air. All of us changed clothes and sat in the dinner tent discussing what we had learned over the last two days.
And then suddenly it happened. The ground started shaking. I could feel it. I tried to tell everyone what I had just felt. Everyone dismissed me. And then, the ground started shaking harder. This time everyone took notice. I shouted, "Earthquake!" as we all exited the tent. The entire ground was shaking like I'd never felt before.
Because we were stationed on a glacier, everyone was concerned that the very ground beneath us would open up and swallow us whole. However, I was far more concerned about an earthquake-induced avalanche, and how it would impact the Khumbu Icefall and camps above. I knew there were many people still up there.
But, no one thought about the potential, and very real, avalanche danger at base camp. Huge hanging glaciers surrounded us: Pumori, Lho LA, Nuptse; they could all destroy us in a moment.
And then the earth stopped shaking. For a moment we were relieved, until our worst nightmare came true with the loudest noise of our lives. We instantly knew that an avalanche had occurred somewhere, but not sure where. Our first thought was Lho La near Everest, so we turned our attention to that direction.
However, it only took a few seconds to realize something was amiss. People had started running towards Lho la. How could this be possible? Why would people run towards danger?
And, that's when I realized the avalanche was actually right behind us.
We turned around to find ourselves face to face with a huge white cloud, possibly the largest thing I had ever seen in my life, approaching us at an unreal speed. We had no time to react or think through next steps. The only thought that was able to cross my mind in that moment -- this is the end of life.
Death is a constant for any climber, and something I think very seriously about before every expedition. But thinking about it is one thing; I had never actually been this close. I thought the moment had finally come.
I was with two other teammates as the avalanche cloud descended upon us. We took shelter behind a tent when the cloud hit. Within seconds we were all covered from top to bottom in inches of snow, cutting off the already thin oxygen. Buried under the snow cloud's wake, I felt as if someone had put a plastic bag around my face. It felt like it took super human effort to suck any air into my lungs. I surely would have suffocated had it not been for my good friend, Jost, who saw my struggle and opened his hard-shelled jacket for me to come inside and breathe.
Those first molecules of air entered my lungs, making me feel like a newborn baby taking his first breaths. Fitting, seeing as I had received a second life. I knew it then, and I will know it for rest of my life, that I will forever be indebted to Jost for his generosity in dire circumstances.
Once the cloud passed over, we did a head count of our entire team. Everyone was doing fine. However, a significant part of the base camp was devastated with camps torn apart, debris laying everywhere, injured people, and a few unfortunate souls who had lost their lives.
We knew what had happened to us was tragic, but once we heard from Kathmandu, notifying us about the devastation that had occurred across Nepal, we were distraught to learn about the thousands dead and the millions displaced from their homes. It began to sink in that this wasn't a mountain-climbing causality; this was a disaster of unprecedented levels.
I was heartbroken. I still am. My heart goes out to everyone who lost their lives or loved ones in the earthquake.
The following video has gone viral across the world and prominently features myself along with two other team members, Jost from Germany, and Taro from Japan.
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