With the death toll growing to more than 4,600 from Nepal's 7.8-magnitude earthquake, it's easy to brush off the ensuing Mount Everest avalanche. Sadly, Saturday's avalanche came just days after the one-year anniversary of Everest's most deadly avalanche, which killed 16 people.
A reported 18 climbers, including four Americans, have been confirmed dead on the mountain. Over 50 were evacuated from Everest's precarious icefalls and high camps, while missing and injured persons reports continue to shift. But for eight surviving Coloradans, including a 17-year-old high school student from Boulder, the tragedy was a massive reality check.
"There's a lot that can go wrong," says Boulder-based polar explorer Eric Larsen, who summited Everest in 2010, and feels for families watching from afar. "I felt helpless during my Poles trip. You are basically abandoning your family."
Surviving Colorado-based climbers include Alan Arnette, Jim Davidson, Kim Hess, Dr. Jon Kedrowski, Charley Mace, Matt Moniz, Ryan Waters and Jim Walkley. Walkley was hit by a powder blast in Gorak Shep, the last village on the approach to Everest Base Camp (EBC) at 17,000 feet. Documentarian Thomas Taplin, of Evergreen, Colorado, was not so lucky. He died at EBC where he was working on a film about the community of climbers attached to the storied mountain.
The avalanche began on adjacent 22,966-foot Mount Kumori and gathered strength as it screamed down Everest, wiping out fixed routes and pummeling tents at the seasonal EBC village. Davidson, Arnette, and Mace were initially trapped above the notorious Khumbu Icefall, where the fixed glacier route was taken out. They were later airlifted from Camp 1 to base camp.
"The guys in Camp I and II were actually pretty removed from the chaos," said Larsen. "They had limited communication, but it was status quo until the aftershocks. They got dropped back into a war zone."
The youngest Coloradan, 17-year-old Matt Moniz, whose father previously climbed Everest, reported that he hid for his life behind a boulder at base camp and watched sleeping bags fly through the air. A recent tweet was one of shock.
Boulder-based Ryan Waters, who owns Mountain Professionals, was guiding when the avalanche took place. Larsen said his long-time climbing partner Waters called Saturday from EBC with a thoughtful but terse verification that his group's tents were in a good spot. "He's a trained professional and he's used to dealing with crisis," said Larsen.
In an audio file recorded upon his return to EBC, Arnette, 58, known as the oldest American to summit K2, who has also previously summited Everest, said his camp at the base looked like it was smashed by a tornado.
When Jim Davidson returned to the bottom, he wrote in a Facebook post, "My day in Everest base camp feels like a month. Dig medical gear out of rubble. Move a body. Confirm death of climber I knew, confirm life of another."
Larsen says his biggest question now that many high-profile climbers are reported safe, is what happened to all those people who were hiking on the pretty pass up to EBC when the avalanche hit? During this busy season, "you could pass hundreds of people in a day."
As climbers begin the trek out to where the real devastation occurred, he says, they're going to see all kinds of other damage and hear other people's stories.
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