A Safe Return from Everest
Thanks to all who sent messages of concern. I apologize for not sending an update earlier, but communication has been difficult. Many have asked how I am feeling about the earthquakes and the end of the Everest attempt, and the closest I can come to describing how I feel is "empty". Thousands are dead, tens of thousands are displaced, and a lot of hardship is yet to come for the people of Nepal and those along the Tibetan border. I cannot express a single word of disappointment for myself or other climbers. We had hopes and dreams, we spent a lot of money, but we (on the North side) still have our lives.
The earthquake - our experience
Ralf and I had just started hiking to advance base camp (ABC) at 6,400m when the first earthquake hit. We didn't understand that it was an earthquake, despite having to run from huge boulders coming down from the slope above us. We were having lunch when the second one hit a few hours later, and there was no doubt what was going on when the boulders we were sitting on started to move underneath us. The yaks carrying our equipment and various communication devices were supposed to be coming up one day after us. Because of the earthquakes, the Chinese liaison officers wisely stopped the yak drivers from taking more loads to ABC. With very little outside communication, it took a while for us to understand the seriousness of the situation.
When the reality of what was happening started to become apparent, we discussed whether to return to base camp immediately or not. The road back to Nepal was destroyed, so neither we nor the Nepalese staff working for our group could get back. Ralf and I decided to hang tight in safety at ABC, along with about 25 people from other groups. After three days, we were told that Everest was closed on the Chinese side. We made the 22 km hike back to base camp to find everyone packing up and trying to figure out how to get themselves and their hundreds of pounds of gear home - most, including ourselves, had come through Kathmandu. Few climbers had even made it to ABC, even though approximately 1000 yaks had carried gear and dozens of Sherpas had prepared the 6,400m camp and the intermediate camp at 5,800m. It all had to be packed up and carried back down again, including thousands of pounds of untouched food and fuel. We are hoping that some of these supplies will make it into homes that need it.
I am writing this from a hotel in Lhasa, Tibet — a 14-hour drive from Everest base camp. The Chinese government kindly organized and paid for our transportation, meals and hotel nights. We are on our own for flights out of Lhasa, but the Chinese-Tibet Mountaineering Association has been working hard to help all climbers from the various Tibetan peaks organize their flights and visas.
Ralf and I plan to fly to Kathmandu on May 7. We are aware that we might be more of a burden than we are able to provide help, but we are going to try. We will bring a tent, sleeping bags, stove and freeze dried food so that we don't add to their numbers of empty stomachs. In 2001 and 2009, Ralf sponsored the building of two schools a few hours outside of Kathmandu, and we heard they were damaged by the earthquakes. We'd like to try and get to the schools to see what will be required to repair them, but we have no idea if this is feasible or not.
In the meantime, we will enjoy the sights and sounds of Lhasa. It so far seems to be a really interesting city with a broad mixture of Tibetan and Chinese cultures. Some of the monasteries and ancient palaces are supposedly fantastic.
I'll try and post again next week from Kathmandu.