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Nepal - Everest Base Camp Trek Part 6 The Earth Quake | Gros Morne Outdoor Company
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Nepal – Everest Base Camp Trek Part 6 The Earth Quake

Nepal – Everest Base Camp Trek Part 6 The Earth Quake

April 24th – Day 11- Loboche to Pangboche – The Descent

We awoke in Lobuche feeling sore and tired from the previous day, and despite it being nice outside the weather was forecast to get worst tomorrow, which made the decision (for me) to continue our downward descent all the easier.  Natalie on the other hand wasn’t as convinced, she had initially wanted to go back up towards base camp and give it another shot, and hopefully make it to Kala Patthar which was supposed to offer an amazing view of Everest.  But again with the weather forecast to bring crappy, sleet and rain, with fog, it was an easier decision to continue downwards… and besides, after Pangboche we would diverge from the path we followed up, and head north of Tengboche cutting across the opposing side of the valley, before continuing onto Gokyo Ri, where again there was apparently amazing views of Everest.

1 day until the earthquake!

It was amazing being able to walk for so long, 6 hours in total for the day, not having the altitude and acclimatization to deal with, where we traveled from Lobuche thru Dughla which initially had taken us a day to climb.  We meet up with Peter Hillary and his group atop Dughla Pass surrounded by the memorials… Peter is an accomplished climber in his own right, having summit-ed a number of 8000 meter peaks including K2.

From Lobuche to Dughla – On the way down

Peter Hillary – Dughla Pass. He congratulated us on our honeymoon…

From Dughla we continued past Pheriche (it also had taken us a day to climb up from Dingboche to Dughla, with Dingboche being in close proximity to Pheriche), but stopped for lunch.  We were again on the fence, if we wanted to stay the night there or continue on, and we decided to continue, where walking downhill was much, much easier.

Natalie – heading towards Pheriche

On the way to Pheriche

Upon arriving in Pangboche Porba had picked up a sub-par accommodation.  Side bar – There was always an underlying feud when it came to accommodations with Porba, where he would have specific people, or families, in villages where he would like to stay with, and it didn’t always line up with what we wanted.  In this case the teahouse he wanted had no wifi, and was on the lower end in terms of cleanliness… to his protest (he maintained no other place had wifi) we said we would have a look around, and immediately adjacent to his hand picked tea house was a teahouse with wifi (and a large sign out front advertising it), and that looked much, much nicer.  So we stayed there! Our room in Pangboche had a bathroom attached to the room, and it had a north american toilet!!! What a place we rented in Panboche.

Pangboche

April 25th, 2015 – Day 12 – Pangboche to Phorste

The earth started to shake violently. It was 11:56, just before lunch, as we were just arriving into Phortse, which was nestled atop a plateau (~3800 meters) above where the Khumbu Valley meets the Gokyo Valley, when the 7.8 magnitude quake hit. It’s hard to describe the experience….

Waking in the morning in Pangboche, Natalie was feeling a little sick, and tired. The weather, as foretasted was miserable outside, with low hanging fog, mixed snow and rain precipitation, and it was cold! Nat wanted to stay put and take a rest day… especially taking into account the distance we have covered the previous day, the weather outside, and the way she was feeling.  I was adamant that we should continue onto Phortse, where it would only be a short hike, ~ 2 hours, and it would set us up nicely to continue up the valley the following day towards Gokyo.  And, on top of that, if she was really that sick, she should get airlifted out…. it was only a two hour hike!

We left Panboche, heading to Phortse, much to Natalies dismay. The trail was quite narrow dropping quickly 400-500 meters steeply to the valley below, and the weather was crap!

Nat & Proba – Nat was having a hard day!

We arrived on the outskirts of Phortse after descending from the trail, and were standing the edge of a few farmers fields when the quake hit.  First, we heard the immense noise, like a large avalanche, or thunder, as it traveled up the valley, which was quickly followed by the the shaking ground.  The quake lasted for about a minute and 30 seconds, with Natalie praying, and Porba chanting, all the while me thinking the whole plateau was going into the valley below – we could see the edge of the plateau, a mere 50 meters from where we stood.  The three of us could barley stand through the whole event.

Google Earth Image of approximately where we were located during the earthquake. At the time I didn’t have the where withal to snap a photo…. it was much more foggy during the earthquake where we could just see the edge of the plateau.

After running around to a few of the nearby buildings, we found that mostly people were ok, despite the crying and yelling, however, there was substantial damage. We ended up in a tea house, where Proba wanted to contact his family and see if they were ok.  I wouldn’t go inside… I was in a state of shock, standing out in the cold and rain shivering. I had thought we were going to die…. when the earth was shaken I literally had thought the ground we were standing on was going to collapse and we were going to fall to our deaths in the valley below.  When that didn’t immediately happen, I had looked behind us, fearing a rock slide rolling through the fog from the mountain behind us was going to kill us.  It didn’t. It was hard to get beyond that realization, the feeling of imminent death.  I had never experienced an earthquake before, I didn’t know the extent, or how large it was… I knew it was big. Natalie exits the tea house and lets me know Porba’s family is ok, and wonder’s how I’m doing? They want to stay at this tea house, where the owner says the building is safe…. I point to a giant crack in the wall running from the ground to the roof, to me it looked as if the building could collapse at any moment. And in any event, I felt the inexorable need to get out of this town, wrong or right.

Prior to the earthquake we had picked a tea house just after Phortse located in the valley below.  It probably wasn’t the greatest decision, where we would have prob been safer to stay on the open plateau, however we descend into the valley… luckily the teahouse was in fairly good condition with no noticeable cracks in the walls and it had a wooden roof!  Bonus, it wouldn’t fall on us and kill us. If you didn’t notice from the past photos, most buildings in Nepal, especially the Everest region, are constructed of rocks, wood and mortar.

In the evening all the tourists had gathered in the dinning room in the teahouse, where people shared random stories, and we would get bits of pieces of information as new people came in. So and so had a sat phone and had heard that Kathmandu was devistated, thousands dead.  Base camp was wiped out. We were there just two days prior!  As mentioned, it was hard to gauge the situation in our microcosm, but as we got more information from the outside world we knew it was bad! We barley slept, and to make matters worst, at midnight, all the Sherpa’s woke all the clients up, running up and down the hallways yelling….it was startling to say the least, they ushered out of the building – Nepalese are very superstitious – with little detail as to why…. only after waiting for sometime in the cold did they tell us they thought, 12 hours after the big earthquake, there would be another. And there wasn’t.  Not to say there weren’t after shocks… which there was throughout the night.

April 26th, 2015 – Day 13 – Phorste to Namche, and then onto Monjo

The next morning we awoke early, and decided we would pull the plug on our “honeymoon”… it was time to get out of Nepal.  We would continue to make our way down to Namche Bzaar with Ben and Simone, get some more information, contact our families to let them know we were ok, and make a decision from there.

The trip to Namche was gladly uneventful, however, the damage to the trail, landslides, rock falls, and the general overwhelming feeling of what we were involved in – a major disaster – was starting to sink in.

Road to Namche – Land Slide

Road to Namche – Another Bolder

Road to Namche

We arrived in Namche just before noon and quickly noticed there were numerous Nepali people lying, playing, and hanging out in fields around the outskirts… we walked by what looked like a priest or an elder, and asked him what was going on? Apparently there was supposed to be another earthquake around noon, 24 hours after the first quake had happened.  We waited around in disbelief, up to this point we hadn’t been able to contact our families to let them know were o.k, and now we couldn’t access any of the services, internet, or food in Namche because of another apparent earthquake? Was this earthquake forecast, or a warning based upon scientific evidence?  Or was it another case of Nepali superstition?

In any event, we waited until 12:30 p.m. and then made our way into town despite the warnings. I was able to get into the tea-house (more like a 4 story hotel) we stayed previously, and the wifi password still worked – I was able to make a Facebook post letting everyone know we were safe from the second story of the building!! Then another earthquake hit – gazing out the window the surrounding buildings were moving in the window… or was the building we were in moving? I was quickly out the door and running down the street… I didn’t know where I was going, but I was running, and Natalie was close behind.  In retrospect, aimlessly running prob wasn’t the best idea, especially since the street we were on was narrow and surrounded by 4 story buildings constructed of stone.  This aftershock was 6.7, and perhaps more dangerous for us than the previous… as I was running down the narrow street, one wall of building half- collapsed and luckily myself or Natalie weren’t injured.

Namche was a crap shoot… people poured into the community, but there was no where to eat, sleep, or stay… so we made a team decision to keep making our way down towards Lukla Airport for better or worst.

Arriving in Namche – Nat wanted to take the last opportunity to try Porba’s hiking setup before we parted ways

6.7 Aftershock and run from the Khumbu Hotel down the narrow street. The building on the right hand side, brown in color, a portion of the second story wall let go as we were running down the street. In retrospect we should have stayed in the doorway of the Khumbu Hotel… next time I guess! (Photo from google street view).

More and more people contiued to stream into the town center, especially after the large aftershock. We were concerned about the lack of water, food, shelter, and the amount of people. Sometimes there’s safety in numbers, however we felt the opposite, and left to continue towards Lukla Airport.

We made our way down the valley from Namche witnessing a large landslide hit a village on the opposing valley wall (killing several), a stark reminder of the instability of the situation.  With every footstep we didn’t know if it would be our last, every noise we thought was a landslide, with every slight shake we thought another large aftershock… it was trying times. I still have a vid memory of Natalie walking and crying, passing by a group of tourist who were still climbing to Namche Bazaar all staring at her as we passed… and they continued to walk UP!!   And then we got to the large steel cable bridge river crossing… we had no idea if the bridge was safe, or how it was affected by the earthquakes.  The four of us made a decision, we wouldn’t cross one at a time, but as a group… we had made it this far together.

A reminder of the steel cable bridges… post earthquake we had no idea how safe they were!

Road to Lukla

We continued down the valley until it was getting dark, barley making it to the village of Monjo… on the way we had passed a number of abandoned tea-houses, abandoned villages, lucky we found a room and a bed to stay in Monjo where they had hot cooked food, water, and most importantly rum! We drank rum, and we were happy to be alive

April 27th, 2015 – Day 14 – Monjo to Lukla

After a few aftershocks through the night (most of the aftershocks, in general, were small), we woke early the next and continued on to Lukla, reaching the the airport) just after lunch. Luckly the town hadn’t yet filled, our plan sorta worked out and we managed to get a room and get settled.  and battled to get a plane out –   thanks to our insurance – world nomads, under written by AIG.

Lukla – our room

Lukla – view from our room

Lukla Airport – Crowded and trying to leave!

Lukla Airport

Lukla Airport – Finally Leaving!!

April 30th, 2015 – Day 17 – Lukla to Kathmandu

How things can change quickly!!!!!! We had spent 3 days in Lukla trying to leave, and with each day more people arrived coming down the valley, teahouses filled, and people began sleeping everywhere… outside, benches, tents, and even inside the dinning room of the tea-houses.  Another funny thing started to happen, only small, but telling… portion sizes of food shrank as the days progressed, where when we first arrived we would get large portions, by the last day they were quite small. People were arriving, and eating, while rations, and food were not arriving to keep up – the makings of a bad situation. It was frustrating waiting… we would get updates on the destruction in Kathmandu, the number of dead… spend time talking with family and friends when the internet and phones were working… and the aftershocks.  Sitting in our small room, we would feel a small rumble, and thereafter hear scratching and piter-patter on the ceiling above us… it wasn’t cats… but large rats. 

A combination of bad weather, and corruption had limited our ability to leave, where each day we would wake and head down to the Airport to try and secure a seat on a flight among the masses of people, where usually by lunch the flights were canceled, which is quite common due to weather and fog, however the people that were leaving… seemed to be a select few, well connected, and wealthy.

We got a call on the morning of April 30th, 5:30 a.m. from an on-ground response team from AIG (under written by World Nomads, my Travel Insurance – who knew it works?!), where they had chartered a plane for us out of Lukla!!  AIG and the team had been in touch with us since our arrival in Lukla, and now they were flying us to Kathmandu, and then home to Newfoundland.  They even took care of Natalie, despite not having insurance with them…. amazing.

Nepal is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, ranked 131, as judged by Corruption Perceptions Index via Transparency International. 

Kathmandu was hit hard, and was the focus of most of the media attention.  However, I believe the smaller outer lying regions, such as the Everest region were hit much harder because of there remoteness, and the poorly constructed buildings.  But, as you can see from the photos below, there was also quite a bit of damage, and loss of life in the city.

Kathmandu

Kathmandu – The buildings looked sketchy before, however, the number of blue and orange tarp tents were noticeable.

Kathmandu – Touch Down!

Its hard to describe the contrast, going from the teahouses in the Everest region, to the Hyatt Regency in Kathmandu.

Kathmandu Hyatt Regency – Swimming pools, courtyards, gym, and amazing food. We were still in shock

May 3rd, 2015 – Day 20 – Return to Newfoundland

We spent two nights at the Hyatt Regency in Kathmandu before the airport finally opened up to commercial traffic.  AIG had chartered a large plane for about 40-50 of us.

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