An Unfolding Tragedy

Most of you reading this will know that just before noon on Saturday April 25 an earthquake (magnitude 7.8) struck Nepal. The epicenter was about 80Kms NW of the capital Kathmandu and the seismic centre of the quake was calculated to be 6.2miles below the earth’s surface – a shallow depth for an earthquake, which is why so much damage has been caused. As I write the death toll is over 3,000 and rising by the hour.

Nepal is a mountainous country, information is still filtering through, hampered by damaged communications systems. Rescue attempts are being disrupted by severe aftershocks. This is the first quake to affect Nepal for eighty years and much of the infrastructure was not built to withstand an earthquake, let alone one as severe as this one.

I have visited Kathmandu twice to trek into the Everest region – first in 1969 and again in 2003 when my son Richard accompanied me. I have a great affection for the country, its people and its mountains. The news has been grim viewing this past weekend as I’ve seen the devastation inflicted on Kathmandu – to its squares, historic buildings and shrines – and read of the terrible loss of life and livelihood. Ten years ago I ran my last London marathon to raise money for the re-building of an orphanage (Nava Kiran) in Kathmandu – my son and I had visited the orphanage on our 2003 trip. One piece of good news is that despite suffering minor damage, the Orphanage has survived and all the children are unharmed.

I am a mountain lover (this weekend I’ve been re-organising a bookcase and counted over two hundred books about mountaineering) and for many years I have walked, trekked, climbed and skied. One of the highlights of my life was trekking up to Everest Base Camp as a member of what was regarded as the first commercial trek, led by the famous Himalayan explorer Sir Eric Shipton in 1969. It was an experience of a lifetime, and I was delighted to make a brief re-visit to the area with Richard twelve years ago. The villages have changed but the mountains remain the same and hold the same fascination for me.

Everest is in the news for all the wrong reasons as a result of this quake, for the second time in just over a year. On 18 April 2014 a huge ice serac calved off the West ridge of Everest and crashed down onto the Icefall killing sixteen Sherpas. It was the single most deadly incident in the mountain’s history. No-one climbed the mountain from the Nepal side last year – that event saw all climbing teams depart for home.

Saturday’s quake shook the Himalayas and unleashed an unimaginably huge avalanche of ice and rock that ripped through Everest Base Camp killing seventeen and injuring many more. The grim statistics will now have to be revised to record this event as being the single most deadly incident in the mountain’s history. And all climbing teams will be on their way home as soon as practically possible.

Whenever we climb there will be subjective dangers and hazards. If we run into trouble it is usually due to human error, poor judgement, or lack of preparedness. What we have no control over are the objective dangers created by the Mountain, Nature or the weather – all of which are beyond our influence.

The image to accompany this Post was obvious. This is Everest pictured on a fine autumn day in 1969 from Kala Pattar, 18,500ft, a hugely popular viewing point on a rocky promontory on Pumori on the opposite side of the Khumbu glacier from Everest.Everest from Kala Patar_1

The site of base camp is just out of sight, bottom left, and the lower slopes of the ice fall can be seen sloping up into the hidden Western Cwm where Camps 1 and 2 are sited and where climbers are still trapped, unable to safely descend through the icefall as the route has been destroyed by avalanche and the whole area is inherently unsafe. Helicopter rescue is the only safe way out and that is, I read, already taking place.

On the day this image was taken Everest looked benign – a majestic beautiful mountain. But its history is one of triumph and tragedy, and the mountain can be very cruel as the last two years have shown.

It will take years for Nepal to recover from this appalling event, the extent of which will only become clear in the coming days and weeks. But it will recover – it’s people are resilient and are used to adversity – but they need any help that we can give.

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About LensScaper

Hi - I'm a UK-based photographer who started out 45+ years ago as a lover of landscapes, inspired by my love of outdoor pursuits: skiing, walking and climbing. Now retired, I seldom leave home without a camera and I find images in unexpected places and from different genres. I work on the premise that Photography is Art and that creativity is dependent on the cultivation of 'A Seeing Eye'. I'm not averse to manipulating images to produce derivatives that may sometimes be far removed from the original.
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12 Responses to An Unfolding Tragedy

  1. ShimonZ says:

    My granddaughter has been volunteering in a small village not far from Katmandu for the last month, and experienced the earthquake first hand. Not having any contact with her for the first day after the tragedy, not knowing of her well being, underlined the vast difference between hearing of such a natural tragedy and having a personal connection. All the same, I sense that with the technological advances in communication, we are all more aware and concerned with what happens to others… even on the other side of the planet.

    • LensScaper says:

      It must have been a huge relief to finally hear that your granddaughter was safe, Shimon. I think modern communications are sometimes a two-edged sword. They bring us instant news but also they can bring very warped and conflicting news of exactly what has happened. I have followed the newsfeeds about what has been happening on Everest in particular because of my interest in the mountain and the news has been very confused at times.

  2. seekraz says:

    Thank you for the information, Andy….and for the photograph, as well.

  3. Chillbrook says:

    Such a tragedy as you say Andy. These things always hit home hardest when there is a personal connection. What an amazing experience your 1969 expedition must have been.

    • LensScaper says:

      The 1969 trek was an extraordinary experience – I don’t think I realized quite how significant it was at the time. Sitting round a fire in the evening talking to Eric about his pre-war experiences and his reconnaissance expedition to identify the Nepalese route onto Everest in 1951 were highlights of the trip. Particularly I recall discussing the possibilities of the mountain being climbed without O2. He was firmly of the opinion that it might be possible and pointed out how important the prevailing barometric pressure could be in determining the partial pressure of Oxygen in the atmosphere that might make the difference between success and failure. I’ve never heard that scientific point discussed since.

  4. A great personal insight into this tragedy. Thank you. I hope the people who worked hard to build what they have get all the help they need.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks for your comments and thoughts. With each passing day the extent of the tragedy becomes more apparent. Having walked for twenty days through Nepal into Solu Khumbu I find it very hard, and painful, to imagine the extent of the destruction and the loss of human life.

  5. Len says:

    I was in Maine on a lighthouse scouting trip for a tour I will be co-hosting. I didn’t turn on the news at all and was shocked to hear about this tragedy. I have never been there but I hope that the world community come together to make a serious effort to help Nepal to recover.

    • LensScaper says:

      The extent of the tragedy is becoming more obvious and deeper with each passing day. Nepal will take years to recover from this and so much of its heritage – inherent in a lot of the old buildings of Kathmandu – will be lost for ever. I wish there was something tangible I could do to help, but a donation has been sent and the UK has already raised 19 million pounds for the disaster relief fund.

  6. shoreacres says:

    It was a sign of our internet times that the first people I thought of when I heard of this tragedy were you, in England, and another blogging friend in Florida, who has spent years living in and writing about Nepal. Now, I see that Shimon has a personal connection to the country as well. All of these interconnections are like doors into what might otherwise be just one more news event from a far away place.

    I’ve fallen quite far behind in my reading, but in this case, the time that’s passed since your post makes clear the truth of your title. It is an unfolding tragedy, with even the latest assessments of death and destruction sure to increase. The terrible irony is that, as the death toll climbs over time, the passage of time itself tends to lead to forgetfulness around the world. Headlines will fade, but help still is needed.

    • LensScaper says:

      It’s a small world isn’t it, Linda, with unexpected connections. It will take years for Nepal to recover and the country is dependent on tourists, trekkers and climbers for 10% of its GDP. But with so much destruction it will take time for the tourist infrastructure to be re-established.

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