Enjoy unlimited access to Climbing’s award-winning features, in-depth interviews, and expert training advice. Subscribe here.
Yesterday, just before noon, a 7.9 magnitude quake struck northeast Nepal, causing widespread damage and triggering an avalanche which swept through Everest basecamp. It’s the region’s worst earthquake since 1932, when an 8.2 magnitude quake killed upwards of 12,000 people.
The death toll has reached 2,500 and will only climb as news trickles in from remote villages and rescuers dig through dust and rubble in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city of more than 1.5 million. In an interview with the Boulder Daily Camera, Ratna Shrestha, one of many Nepalese living in the Boulder area said, “When I talked to my sister this morning, she said she counted 28 aftershocks. No one can get an ambulance. It’s a very bad situation.”
Reports from Everest Basecamp are still sketchy but as many as 18 have died with 60 more injured. The route through the notorious Khumbu Icefall has been destroyed, stranding an unknown number of climbers (estimates on the high end exceed 100 climbers) in camps one and two above. American climber and Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. guide Dave Hahn who communicated via sat phone from Camp One said, “Good mountaineering sense dictates that we stay put and ride this storm out. It may take a little time, but we are OK. We are self-sufficient up here, and our concern is with our friends at Base Camp.” Expeditions staging from the north side of the mountain have reported ice and rockfall but no casualties.
Eight Colorado climbers on Mount Everest have been accounted for, and the only American climbing casualty reported thus far is Google executive Dan Fredinburg who co-founded Google Adventure.
International Mountain Guide (IMG) partner and Everest veteran Eric Simonson described the avalanche in a blog post:
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.
As for the climbers stranded above the icefall, they likely have enough food and fuel to last about a week, but they will eventually need to descend.
The Sherpas known as the “Icefall Doctors” who establish and maintain the route through the Khumbu Icefall are currently helping in basecamp, and it’s unclear if or when they will be able to find a new path through the dangerous labyrinth.
As of this morning, weather was reportedly improving in Everest Basecamp, and the plan, according to IMG, was to focus on rescue efforts there, then possibly tomorrow inspect the icefall by helicopter and relay information to those climbers above to devise a descent plan.
American climber and mountain guide Jake Norton has posted a timeline of events and a list of organizations working in Nepal. In addition to thoughts and prayers, he says the best way for us to help is to give.
Aftershocks as high as 6.6 magnitude continue to ravage the region, making it hard to imagine Everest’s climbing season doing anything but ending this year. //