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.
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.