As the days go by, and the incessant news cycle pushes the stories about the Nepal earthquake further off the radar, it is easy to lose sight of the ongoing struggle that is currently taking place in the Himalayan country. After all, it is only natural for us to turn our attention elsewhere, even though the real work to rebuild has only just begun. A few days back, Rainier Mountain Guide Dave Hahn – who has 15 successful summits of Everest on his resume – wrote a blog post that shared his experiences on the mountain this spring, and the aftermath of the tragedy that occurred there. His words are a sharp reminder of the human loss, and the far reaching impact of this natural disaster.
Dave says that his RMI team was one of the first into Everest Base Camp this spring, after spending 10 days hiking up the Khumbu Valley. He reports that their acclimatization efforts were going well, and everything was proceeding as expected, even though snowstorms had disrupted the schedule some. On April 23, the group moved up the mountain to Camp 1 as they started an acclimatization rotation. Two days later – the day of the earthquake – they had ascended to Camp 2. That is where they were when the ground started rumbling, causing the earth to move under their feet, and shaking snow, ice, and rocks off of the mountains that surrounded them.
When things had calmed down, the team discovered that BC has been hit, and that numerous camps had been flattened. Their Sherpa and support staff in Base Camp immediately went to work helping those who were injured and searching for the missing. Ultimately the avalanche that swept through that part of the mountain would claim the lives of 19 climbers, and send a shockwave through the entire mountaineering community.
Dave says that the RMI squad found themselves stranded at Camp 1, and all they could do was wait. Rebuilding the route through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall was "out of the question," as that notorious section of the mountain had been devastated by the disaster. On top of that, the Ice Doctors who maintain the route were focusing their efforts elsewhere.
On April 27 – two days after the earthquake – the RMI team was airlifted by helicopter back to Base Camp. It was there that the magnitude of what happened truly began to set in. The climbers started to realize exactly what had happened, and reports of the widespread devastation were only just starting to creep in. There was no hesitation about canceling the climbing season, as everyone's attention was elsewhere. This was particularly true for the Sherpas who only wanted to get home to check on friends and family.
Over the next three days the team descended down the Khumbu, getting a first hand look at the destruction as they went. Tea houses, restaurants, homes, and at times, whole villages, were destroyed. And yet Dave says that the climbers were still greeted with warmly by the people they met along the way.
The guide says that the trek out was incredibly quiet, with all of the tourists already long gone. It was than that he, and the rest of the team, began to realize that an economic disaster lay ahead. On top of all of the destruction the earthquake had brought, it had also driven away the business that rural Nepal needs to survive.
Dave's account of the disaster is a sobering one, and well worth a read for anyone who is interested in the ongoing struggles that Nepal faces. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. This is going to take years to recover from, and there are certainly places in the country that will never be the same again.