The 25th of April is a pretty significant day for many Australians and New Zealanders. It’s that one day in the year that we don’t complain when our alarm clocks go off at 4.30am. We get out of bed and head to our local dawn service. When Anzac Day comes around I know the seasons have officially changed. The air is crisp and you are up before the sun is…
Last year I was going to celebrate Anzac Day a little differently. I was going to be doing a very important acclimatisation walk up Gokyo Ri (5483m) to hopefully see the most spectacular view of Mount Everest and the surrounding region.
Oddly enough the day was going to be similar to any other year- a very early wake-up call! As I got out of bed, and put on every thermal layer I had, I headed downstairs for a cup of hot tea and breakfast before our big day. Unfortunately our walk wasn’t going to happen. There was a blizzard and visibility was very low. The group sat and waited for two hours before the final decision was made that we would not be doing our acclimatisation walk that day. As we had nothing planned for the day, those who wanted decided to climb a small hill near our teahouse and have a look at the glaciers from the top. It was windy and freezing. I have never felt so cold and numb in my life.
I could barely stand being at the top. I managed to take a few photos before Kev* and I decided we would make our way back down. It was slippery and hard to navigate your way without having a little slide here and there.
The teahouse wasn’t exactly warm but much more comfortable then being outside. I wasn’t suffering from altitude sickness, but I remember being very tired and felt as though I had little energy. After a sleep downstairs near the fire, some members from the group started playing cards.
** My dad is affectionately known as Kev
Taken in the morning on the 25th April 2015
We were playing with a deck of my cards I bought in Lukla (2800m) -a game that one of the Sherpa guides taught us. Our hot lemon drinks were being served just before lunch. At 11.56am the table started to shake. Cups started to move across the table and spill. It was like it was in slow motion. I sat there watching and waiting before I heard a member in the group scream “run”. We all bolted through the tiny door way. An earthquake measuring 7.8 had devastated Nepal.
Everyone made it outside and stood together. Some people didn’t have shoes or their jackets on. I was below the teahouse screaming for my dad to come down the stairs. “Dad, dad!” He finally appeared after what seemed like minutes later running outside. The ground was shaking so much it was difficult to try and move your body forward whilst staying up right. Everything swayed side to side before we heard a giant crack. The frozen lake split and made a deafening noise.
After shocks that followed were scary and frequent. I think I had lost count by 3.00pm. That is when our group leader decided to make an emergency evacuation back down to the Machhermo Camp site (4410m). I had written a text message to my mum saying there was an earthquake, (not knowing if she would even hear about it), letting her know dad and I were safe. Signals went down straight after the first earthquake; she wouldn’t get this message until three days later…
Gokyo- 25th April 2015
After the group was told we were leaving, people were packed and ready to go within fifteen minuets. As we left Gokyo (4759m) we received information that Kathmandu had been flattened and the death toll was in the thousands. Everything happened so fast. We left in small groups with porters leading the way out. Kev and I left with Pemba, one of our Sherpa guides. I made it just outside Gokyo before realising my shoes weren’t even tied up properly. I started to panic and became upset, but luckily I had Kev there telling me to take a moment and just breathe. I am so grateful that I had my dad with me on the trek. Had I decided to do this on my own, I don’t think I would have had the same experience.
In freezing conditions we made it back to Machhermo Camp, seeing absolute devastation along the way. The reality of what happened began to set in with everyone.
Machhermo in ruins- 25th April 2015
No one could get in touch with their families, including our porters. That night was horrific. Our campsite was destroyed, so a local teahouse hosted us for dinner. Most of their property was destroyed as well. We sat inside preparing ourselves for the next aftershock. We ran out twice during dinner, shakes continued through the night. Without a real plan or idea of what was going on, we continued our decent the next day to Dole campsite (4000m).
Lunchtime 12.54pm- the next aftershock struck. It measured 6.7
I struggled to move forward this day. I had a feeling of falling backwards that I couldn’t control. Dad literally pulled myself and another member from the group over a fence on to a grass hill that we ran up. When I think back to this moment, I can’t believe I actually sat inside a building. Everything seemed to be rubble around us, but we entered into this dining hall anyway. The group was beginning to get really good at running through doorways.
This day took a toll on me the most. There was a particular part of the trek that was along a narrow path on the side of a mountain. A long drop down, and massive boulders sat on the side of the mountain. I can’t remember who recommended it, but we decided to spread out and keep large distances between everyone. The next thing I know our leader, Subal, screams, “Run!” and a few young Nepalese kids run past the group on the side of this mountain. So we all start running.. It was chaos.
Everyone’s dream holiday and bucket list moment had turned into a living nightmare.
We made it back to Portse Tenga campsite (3600m) and spent the next few days there, finally making contact with our families. It was a relief when I got service on my phone. More and more details reached the group about what had happened around the country and we soon realised just how bad the situation was. We were in a safe place and out of any immediate danger. The days began to blend together but after a few days we were given the go ahead to make our way to Namche Bazaar (3440m), followed by Lukla ready to fly out.
We have reception! 28th April 2015
Many people ask would you ever return to Nepal? My answer is yes. I was so close to something amazing, but I didn’t get to finish it. Being two days away from Base camp is a pretty impressive achievement in itself, but I want to complete what I set out to do. Nepal is a magical country and the Everest Region is truly spectacular. Photo’s can never do it justice.
In Machhermo- before the Earthquake
I know that many family members and friends have probably heard my story before, but there is something therapeutic about writing this. Reflecting a year on makes me realise that what I experienced will stay with me for a long time. When I am in my 90’s and thinking back to my ‘younger days’ I will know that I accomplished something that not many people will ever get to experience.
I often wonder if I am doing the right thing by moving countries away from family. But if I learnt anything from my experiences in the mountains that month, it’s that life is short and I can’t spend my days worrying about the ‘what if’s’. I just have to take it day by day and know that what I am doing is living my life. Members in my group will remember these events different to me, and I think that’s what makes it so significant. That no one person will remember it as you have remembered it, or tell the story the way you tell it.
A year on I think about the thousands of people that lost their lives that day, and the days that followed in the worst natural disaster to happen to Nepal. I know how lucky I am to be alive and healthy with a family that supports me no matter what. Sending light and love to the Nepalese people and anyone affected by the 2015 Earthquakes. xx
Kev and I in front of Mt Everest