Survival stories from Mount Everest

Climbers are still digging out after a massive earthquake in Nepal triggered several avalanches on Mount Everest, which swept into Base Camp, on what has become the deadliest day in the mountain’s history.

Photo: Roberto Schmidt / AFP / Getty Images
Photo: Roberto Schmidt / AFP / Getty Images

At least 19 people died on the mountain, according to Nepal’s tourism ministry, and dozens more were injured. For a time as many as 200 other climbers were stranded on the mountain, after the earthquake and avalanches destroyed the route through the Khumbu Icefall.

VIDEO: Exclusive Footage from Base Camp, the Day After

Over the past two days, the wounded were flown down through the valley and off to Kathmandu, and the climbers stranded on the mountain itself were shuttled down to Base Camp by helicopters, with over 100 flights required to bring everyone down safely. Collected here are some of the first person accounts of those on the mountain when the earthquake—and then avalanche—hit Nepal. Check back for updates as we hear from more climbers and guides who tell us their stories of survival.

Michael Churton: At Base Camp

michael-churton-at-base-camp.1
Photo: Roberto Schmidt / AFP / Getty Images

Documentary filmmaker Michael Churton was relaxing in his team’s dining tent at Base Camp when the earthquake struck.

“A couple of us were hanging out listening to classical music before lunch when we felt the floor start to move,” Churton says. They ran outside and Churton grabbed his camera. He remembers that the shaking got really violent and then stopped. “We looked around and suddenly this 4,000-foot tall wall of snow was coming straight at us,” he says.

Amidst yells of “Down!” Churton dropped to the ground. The avalanche hit in full force, slamming him into a rock wall next to the dining tent, breaking his nose and blackening his eye.

“My friend Ron had taken cover in the dining tent and got blown, along with it, 30 feet away,” Churton says. “I didn’t know how bad of shape I was in until I started walking around looking for my tent. I was covered in blood and could barely stand.”

Two Sherpa from his team helped him reunite with Ron, another team member Davide, and their base camp manager. “We thought the entire camp had been obliterated,” says Churton. “We started walking down to Gorak Shep [the closest village].”

The hike, which usually takes an hour, took them three.

“I was vomiting and spitting blood,” says Churton. “I was really slow, but your body checks into survival mode and you keep going, one foot in front of the other.”

Churton is currently in Kathmandu, waiting to be reconnect with the rest of his team who were in the higher camps on Everest at the time of the disaster.

—Jayme Moye

RELATED: New Unnerving Avalanche Video Emerges From Everest Base Camp

Jim Davidson: In Camp 1

Photo: Roberto Schmidt / AFP / Getty Images
Photo: Roberto Schmidt / AFP / Getty Images

After spending the morning climbing through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall (the site of sixteen deaths last year) climber Jim Davidson was relaxing in his tent when the earthquake hit.

“At around noon time we heard a huge avalanche come off Nuptse; the roar continued forever. I told my tent mate to put on his avalanche beacon and jacket because I was afraid we were about to be overrun. Then a second massive avalanche released from the West Ridge of Everest. Right after that our tent began to buck vertically six inches off the ground, because the entire Khumbu glacier was bouncing up and down. That’s when I knew something else was going on,” he told Men’s Journal by satellite phone.

Over the next two days high on the mountain he weathered aftershocks, and assessed his options, which were slim.

“The Khumbu Icefall had completely collapsed, there was no way to safely climb down, so we waited for Heli-rescue. They pulled off an amazing seventy high altitude flights to ferry over 140 climbers down.”

Currently Davidson is hiking down the Khumbu Valley headed towards Lukla in hopes of catching a flight to Kathmandu, but might have to hike all the way to Jiri (a ten-day trek) if Lukla is bogged down (approximately 1,200 people are in line trying to fly out).

—Hudson Lindenberger

RELATED: Why We Should Leave Everest Alone This Year

Jon Kedrowski: At Base Camp

Photo: Roberto Schmidt / AFP / Getty Images
Photo: Roberto Schmidt / AFP / Getty Images

Ski mountaineer, environmental scientist and author Jon Kedrowski was at Everest Basecamp when the earthquake struck.

“I was in the dining tent writing a blog before lunch,” he told Men’s Journal by cell phone. “Ironically, it was about how smoothly the trip had gone so far.” When everything started shaking, Kedrowski, who last summited Everest in 2012, assumed it was a “typical avalanche” from the amphitheater around Base Camp.

“I went outside and there was this huge roar coming from the amphitheater,” Kedrowski said. “It was foggy and hard to tell exactly what was going on.” He heard a boom and then Arnold, the trip leader, yelling, “Hide behind a rock!” But nothing happened.

“We were at the far end of the camp, where it’s elevated, and the blast had dispersed enough by the time it hit us that it was nothing more than a 10-mph gust of wind and a sprinkling of snow,” says Kedrowski.

Kedrowski and team, none of whom were injured, spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Base Camp looking for survivors. “It felt like walking through a town that had been obliterated by a tornado,” says Kedrowski. He found people impaled by tent poles, bashed in the head with rocks, and one man who’d broken both legs when the avalanche hurled him into the air. “It was crazy, we got hit by a minor blast and they got bombed like a war zone,” he says.

Kedrowski has since left Base Camp for the lower elevation village of Namche Bazaar, where he and his team are waiting for the commercial flights to resume out of Luklu before descending further.

—Jayme Moye

Charley Mace: At Camp 1

Photo: 6SUMMITSCHALLENGE.com
Photo: 6SUMMITSCHALLENGE.com

Charley Mace, Mountain Guide with Adventure Consultants was at Camp 1 when he felt his tent shaking like a rocking chair for over a minute. Then the avalanches came—down from the West Ridge and Nuptse, spraying snow.

“Upon arriving back at Everest Base Camp the scene was devastating,” Becky Hall, Mace’s wife told us after talking with him on Monday. Adventure Consultants, the mountaineer guides he was on the mountain with, were camped right in the middle of the avalanche and lost five members—all local Nepalese Sherpa—with several others seriously injured.

“The staff in the dining tent said it was flattened,” says Hall, “but they were able to see light afterwards and escape.”

Charley’s tent was found 1 kilometer from where it had been staked. Currently he is in base camp working on how to get to Kathmandu and home.

—Hudson Lindenberger

Related: The Lost Hikers of Nepal

Alan Arnette: Hiking Between Camp 1 and 2

Photo: 6SUMMITSCHALLENGE.com
Photo: 6SUMMITSCHALLENGE.com

Mountaineer and Alzheimer’s advocate Alan Arnette was acclimatizing for an attempt of Lhotse—Everest’s smaller cousin—when the earthquake hit.

He was hiking between Camp 1 and Camp 2 high on the mountain, areas that were spared from avalanches, and was heli-rescued two days later back to Base Camp.

“This looks like something you would see out of a tornado in the Deep South or Oklahoma,” he says on an audio dispatch on Monday now available at AlanArnette.com. “As I was walking up to our camp it was unrecognizable for a long time. I found shoes, socks, and pieces of paper that was an indication that tents and individuals had lost their lives and property had been destroyed.”

Eighteen died at Base Camp including the Base Camp manager and doctor.

“So many Sherpas have lost all of their climbing gear; this is their livelihood. Without their climbing gear they can not make a living.”

Arnette is currently hiking out of base camp and is at Periche working his way to Kathmandu.

—Hudson Lindenberger

Matt Moniz: Entering Everest Base Camp

Photo: 6SUMMITSCHALLENGE.com
Photo: 6SUMMITSCHALLENGE.com

“We were actually just walking into Base Camp, I was with one of my climbing partners Willie Benegas and our Sherpa Phura, and we started to feel the ground shake,” says 17-year-old mountaineering phenom Matt Moniz, who was at Base Camp during the quake. “Then we saw three avalanches. We saw a huge wall of snow and we all dove behind a rock and covered our faces. The powder blast was moving at 300 kilometers per hour, there were tents and bags flying past us. We first thought of the teams in the icefall and we radioed everyone to get their status. Then we got search and rescue groups together to go look for people and bring them to the clinic.”

Moniz is currently at base camp helping with recovery camp while waiting for a helicopter ride to Luklua.

—Hudson Lindenberger

RELATED: What Went Wrong on Everest in 2014

Jim Walkley: In Gorak Shep

Photo: 6SUMMITSCHALLENGE.com
Photo: 6SUMMITSCHALLENGE.com

Mountaineer Jim Walkley—on his third summit attempt in four years to complete the seven summits—was in Gorak Shep the last village before base camp when the earthquake hit.

“Our teahouse shook violently and we were soon thereafter hit by a powerful powder blast from an avalanche (likely from the flanks of Nuptse),” he said on his blog Path to Everest.

Once everything had subsided he spent the next two days shepherding medical supplies to Base Camp and helping dig out. Walkley is currently in Base Camp waiting on the next move.

“Avalanches continue to shower down from Lo La Pass, Pumori, and Nuptse, keeping anxiety high. The Kathmandu airport has shut down to commercial flights, only allowing humanitarian and military flights, which is understandable given the extensive devastation. That likely means we’ll remain here for the foreseeable future; the villages below camp are damaged to varying degrees, so we intend to stay put in base camp for now as it is our best option amongst a set of increasingly poor ones.”

—Hudson Lindenberger

Nick Cienski: At Base Camp

Photo: 6SUMMITSCHALLENGE.com
Photo: 6SUMMITSCHALLENGE.com

Nick Cienski was at Everest Base Camp in his tent watching TV on his iPad with his wife when the ground began to shake.

“Everyone stuck their heads out the tent doors to see what was happening. We heard this huge boom and then this cloud of snow appeared over the ridgeline and just exploded,” Cienski told Men’s Journal over satellite phone. The snow cloud, as seen in the YouTube video filmed by German climber Jost Kobusch, swept through the valley with what Cienski estimates were 125 to 185 mph winds, burying the center most section of Base Camp.

Cienski and his 6 Summits Challenge team stayed hidden inside their tents, terrified. When the wind died down, they emerged from their tent and began walking around the camp to search for others.

“The destruction was exponential from where we were, just 200 meters to our left,” he says.

He believes they survived because their section of camp was somewhat sheltered by moraines, not subject to the same force of wind and snow as much of the camp. The rescue was slow and methodical, with a large area to cover and widely dispersed victims.

“We quickly started to realize that this wasn’t going to be people with sprained ankles,” he says. “Instead, you’d find a boot underneath a tarp. Attached might be a leg, or a corpse, or best case, a person.”

Survivors emptied out a mess hall in the epicenter of the damage, and anyone with medical training gathered there to provide what treatment they could.

“Once they were stabilized, we carried them back to our camp, since we weren’t hit that hard, and were closer to the helipad,” says Cienski. “They spent the night in our mess tent.”

—Jayme Moye

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