After already taking sizable blows from a heavily discouraging news cycle for 2014 and the slew of unfortunate headlines that followed, Mt. Everest experienced its Deadliest Day Ever as a quake ravaged Nepal, leaving Basecamp and the surrounding Kathmandu Valley in shambles. This is the second Deadliest Day Ever in a handful of days over a year. Not the kind of story you want on repeat, especially in that close of proximity.
Before we get into the nitty gritty details — and believe you us, they are gritty — let’s take a moment to try to begin to understand this overwhelming/traumatizing POV video of German climber Jost Kobusch caught by both earthquake and avalanche at Basecamp.
Faaahuuck. This video doesn’t seem real. There is just no way. It looks more like an outrageous scene in an apocalyptic Michael Bay movie than an actual natural disaster involving actual people in actual (read: real) life. The beginning is ho-hum with its subtle yet ominous tremors warning of something bigger; then that something bigger hits — rather, something bigger hits HARD.
There is no way that this is real. I mean, it is real, but it definitely doesn’t seem like something that occurs in our collective reality. I suppose for the most part those sorts of extreme situations don’t, but this doesn’t seem like something that even occurs on the edges or peripheral of our collective reality. And for Kobusch, this was his immediate reality.
But that sort of unreal devastation is the sort that one would assume accompanies a magnitude 7.8 earthquake with magnitude 6.7 aftershocks to boot. And we’d need to assume because those types of earthquakes don’t exactly happen all the time. In fact, Kanak Masni of Kathmandu told CNN that this was “‘the most massive earthquake to hit central Nepal since 1934.’ In that quake, which was 8.1 magnitude and centered near Mount Everest, more than 10,000 people were killed.”
What came of this earthquake? Or better worded, what came of Nepal? According to the New York Times, just as horrifyingly cinematic, and thereby just as unbelievable:
Each time this city shuddered with aftershocks from the earthquake that convulsed Nepal, Samaj Gautam felt an urge to join the millions of residents who fled to safety outdoors. But working in a hospital emergency ward inundated with the wounded, and their broken limbs, fractured skulls and other physical traumas, Dr. Gautam said Sunday night, he and his colleagues had to suppress their fears and stick to treating patients.
“I’m feeling exhausted but also scared because the tremors have been by the dozens,” Dr. Gautam said as he worked through his own exhaustion in the emergency ward of Bir Hospital in Katmandu, where he had been since soon after the earthquake hit Saturday. “But the most worrying thing to me is the aftereffect. Sanitation, disease, these are also serious worries.”
And an earthquake wasn’t the only natural disaster of magnitude that day; an unconscionably enormous avalanche (as seen in the video above) the Washington Post two telltale accounts by Dutch climber Eric Arnold, the first one translated as such:
11:45 lying in my tent, it seems like someone is shaking my tent … I think it’s a joke. Not much time later, the shaking of the tent turns into shaking of the ground and it gets harder and harder. I realize — earthquake !! When I open my tent zipper, I see three sides of the gigantic avalanche come down (from different peaks). Behind me, from Lingtren and from Pumori. The avalanche from the Nuptse is gigantic. Not much later I realize that the base camp is getting hit. Arnold [fellow climber] beckons me to come to the mess tent. I run the 20 meters to the tent, midway through the avalanche skims me. I totally lost my sense of direction… Then I storm into the tent. My ears are filled to the brim with snow. In five seconds, I look like the abominable snowman. It is now an hour after the avalanche. Details about the victims, I do not know. Our plan to walk to the Pumori base camp, the site of a huge avalanche,will not turn out.
His second offered a little more analysis of the scene:
What we see is horrible. Everywhere there are tents, personal belongings and climbing gear. … A makeshift infirmary has been set up. Many victims have head injuries and are in bad shape. Around me I hear reports of 10 to 30 dead. A Japanese climber shows me horrible pictures on his phone. They make me shiver. Base camp now seems like a refugee camp. … I’m terrified that I’ll find a body.
The first picture is an avalanche heading towards Mount Everest base camp. The next 3 show the devastation & death:( pic.twitter.com/b1zFYJzHj6
— Kiran Kumar S (@KiranKS) April 25, 2015
International Mountain Guide (IMG) partner Eric Simonson, a veteran of Everest himself took to a blog post added his own experience:
This saddle is at 20,177 feet and Everest Base Camp is at 17,585 feet, so the difference is 2,592 feet. The tons and tons of falling ice going this vertical distance created a huge aerosol avalanche and accompanying air blast that hit the upper part of Base Camp and blew many tents across the Khumbu glacier towards the lower Icefall. Apparently the air blast and earthquake also caused many big rocks to shift, which were the cause of some of the crushing injuries suffered by climbers in the upper section of Base Camp. The camps farther down the glacier (like the IMG camp) were untouched. It is worth noting that, over many expeditions, we have never seen an avalanche in this area that was even remotely of this scale. It was truly a freak event caused by a tremendous earthquake.
Though rescue efforts have already proved rather discouraging with the continuous rise in the death count — thus far, upwards of 3,400 including 17 climbers and Sherpas are feared dead — one of the most logistically difficult rescue efforts still lies ahead. The LA Times spoke to the situation that left a group of climbers stranded, effectively cut off from their road home:
#Everest all teams in camp 1 and camp 2 are reporting they are safe but stuck because route is destroyed.
— Northmen PK (@NorthmenPK) April 25, 2015
The avalanche also damaged the Khumbu Icefall, a key route up the lower part of the Everest ascent. Groups of climbers at the two camps above the glacier and the ice blocks surrounding it have not tried to return to base camp, climbers said, fearing unstable ground and sudden shifts in the ice, which could cause crevasses to open.
“Horrible here in camp 1,” one British climber tweeted, saying he saw “avalanches on three sides” of the camp. “We worry about ice fall team below … alive?”
The winds that came with the avalanches “completely pulverized and blew the camp away,” American climber Jon Kedrowski wrote in a blog post. He saw duffel bags, boots, tent frames and ice axes flung into the air, and “some people were picked up and tossed across the glacier for a hundred yards.” Many injuries, he wrote, “were similar to ones you might see in the Midwest when a tornado hits, with contusions and lacerations from flying debris.”
The Times article presented an interactive map in their report that charted and mapped the extent of the damage. You’ll see through a juxtaposition to the recently launched Google Street View of Nepal that the damage done is, indeed, tremendous.
Additionally, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, this seismic earthquake and avalanche comes during a rough stretch, particularly when considering the general mood of the community that makes up Basecamp and support the visiting travelers over the course of their attempt. 2014 was terrible year for the climbing community at Everest, and it took the biggest toll on the very foundation of that community: the Sherpas.
In “The Disposable Man: A Western History of Sherpas on Everest,” a piece published last July in Outside magazine, senior editor Grayson Schaffer claimed that “according to the Himalayan Database, which keeps track of such things, 174 climbing Sherpas have died while working in the mountains in Nepal — 15 in the past decade on Everest alone. There’s no other service industry in the world that so frequently kills and maims its workers for the benefit of paying clients.”
The disastrous Deadliest Day Ever before this most recent Deadliest Day Ever was the final straw so to speak. In fact, a mere week after the tragic day, the Nepali side of the mountain called it quits for the season. The Sherpas and guides were distraught with the loss of family and friends, while clients resigned themselves to going home empty handed. Though perhaps their lives intact was reward enough?
Kaji Sherpa, among those caught in the middle of falling blocks of ice near the size of building, explains his decision to quit his duties on the mountains and to stick to farming.
His desire to ever stand on Everest has died, likely passing with each and every one of his friends that fell beneath him: “I think it’s better not to climb again because so many people are dying.”
And with this most recent tragedy, people continue to die. With that in mind, the earthquake and avalanche have undoubtedly put the future of commercial interests surrounding the mountain in question.
Our thoughts and well-wishes are with everyone affected by this tragedy. We’ll make sure to update this post with any significant and important news breaks as they come.
Want to lend a hand with rescue and relief efforts? Climber/photographer Jake Norton and MountainWorld Productions put together a great list of organizations that will help extend your reach.
Also, keep up to date with the latest happenings with regard to Mount Everest and Nepal by following the Tweets in these widgets targeted to conversations surrounding “Everest,” “Nepal Earthquake,” and “Kathmandu Earthquake.”