By Sam Elias
Click play below to listen to an audio message from Sam Elias who is at Basecamp on Mount Everest.
Click play below to listen to an audio message from Sam Elias who is at Basecamp on Mount Everest.
On Saturday, April 28, 2012, The North Face athlete and National Geographic photographer Cory Richards was evacuated from base camp at Mount Everest following the onset of symptoms of altitude sickness.
Richards walked from camp 2 to base camp under his own power and was evacuated via helicopter to Lukla where he is receiving medical treatment.
Richards was on an expedition to Mount Everest, with support from National Geographic and The North Face.
Both National Geographic and The North Face extend our thoughts and prayers to Cory for a speedy recovery.Update 4/29/12, 12:05 AM: Cory's affliction was not related to altitude, but was a possible pulmonary embolism. Cory is now in Kathmandu, where he is resting and awaiting a diagnosis.
The following is an update on the avalanche that hit at Base Camp 1 on Everest today, written by Montana State University student Travis Corthouts, who is accompanying geologist David Lageson on the Everest Expedition.
Usually I’m not in the right place at the right time to see something incredible happen, I always just miss it.
That wasn’t the case this morning.
After breakfast I took a walk up to the Everest ER medical clinic where I found myself sitting in the sun, chatting with some of the staff. The ER location is as far up valley as a base camp location can be, which offers a great look at the icefall and into the beginning of the western cwm. While chatting with ER staff and enjoying the morning rays, we heard the common rumble of an avalanche and looked up to the faces that flank the icefall, but saw no avalanche. We looked back at each other to continue talking but the rumble increased and we looked back, but again saw nothing.
Seconds later people began screaming and shouting, and this time we looked up to see a cloud of snow over 100-feet high barreling out of the western cwm over the top of the icefall. The mass of snow was so tall it didn’t even seem real and it filled the entire width between the walls of Everest and Nuptse.
We were in disbelief - Camp 1 sits right at the top of the icefall. All you could hear was people saying “no, no, no” as the cloud pushed out over the icefall. Near the top of the fall I could see a single file line of small black dots disappear - people, making a routine descent were now enveloped by the expanding cloud. All we could think was, ‘is Camp 1 completely buried?’ How many people are lost?
Views of the avalanche from Everest Base Camp.
The scale of what we saw didn’t make sense at first. The top of the icefall is low angle, nearly flat, and yet a plume of snow ten stories tall went blasting over it like an explosion. The avalanche must have been massive! Guides, Sherpas and anyone nearby affiliated with an expedition converged at the Everest ER tents, all with radios in hand on a different channel listening to someone screaming in Nepalese, Italian, English, whatever; it was chaos for several minutes following the avalanche.
As the snow dust cleared I looked up to see the black dots, which were now huddled in a group – Safe!
Imagine their panic when they saw what was coming for them, not knowing if a river of snow would entomb them or the tail-out would just dust them. Luckily it was the latter.
News began piling in from the radios. One of the doctors who speaks Nepalese was frantically taking notes to keep track of which expeditions radioed in as “all accounted for.” There were still so many questions. The radio talk was frantic, with people on scene and in Camp 2 rushing to get a tally on their clients and guides, and to form a search and rescue plan ASAP.
Some of the first details were - one Sherpa was definitely missing, an orange helmet was found along the debris periphery, some people were injured, a young man was blown into a crevasse, and members on multiple radio channels called for their Camp 2 first aid kits and skeds (body sleds) to be sent immediately to the site.
I stayed at the ER for a half hour and then returned to camp. Right now it’s just Dave and I at base camp- the rest of the team is on their second rotation up the mountain.
From our camp, Dave didn’t quite get a good view of the action and so I informed him on the severity of the situation. We scanned the radios, getting updates on the status of each expedition. Things were scattered, but it seemed most people were accounted for. We had little concern about our team as we knew all members to be up at Camp 2 or higher.
The main effort soon revolved around the man who had fallen into a crevasse. He had been rescued from the void but was in critical condition. People on scene were rushing to set up a tent to treat him and mark out an area for a potential helicopter rescue.
The medical reports over the radio were poor, but we picked up that he was in and out of consciousness, barely responding when conscious and tachycardic (going into shock).
All the while there were constant questions on the radio about a potential helicopter evacuation – is there a landing zone marked, what’s the wind, elevation of clouds, is there a helicopter available, is the patient stable enough?
Soon Simone Moro’s high pitched, fast-talking Italian voice became involved in the conversation of a helicopter rescue.
Simone has graced our camp multiple times as he is friends with Conrad and Cory. He was also one of Cory’s partners last year on the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum II. Simone is one of the more decorated mountaineers alive today and he’s planning the Everest-Lhotse traverse this year without oxygen. He’s also a helicopter pilot and owner, with experience in high altitude rescues. In fact he was the pilot who flew to Camp 1 to retrieve the body from last week’s casualty.
Before long Simone was airborne and on his way to base camp from Lukla. We listened to his eta updates over the radio and when he warned 1 minute, we could hear the dull roar of his blades and we stepped out of our mess tent to watch him blast over our camp. He landed and held idle, waiting for the go ahead from people coordinating the rescue above.
I grabbed my camera and a radio, and jogged to the helicopter, parking myself 50 feet away with the helicopter pointed right at me. I could see Simone through the windshield and I listened to the communications between him and rescuers on site. A few minutes passed and then a voice on the radio said, “Simone, ready to take off?” Simone insta-replied, “ok ok, we take off!”
He throttled up, lifted about 10 feet, dropped the nose of the chopper straight at me then floored it. The rescue took minutes only, and Simone landed back at base camp briefly to drop off Rachael, the ER doctor, and then took off to Kathmandu hospital.
That’s all the detail I have now, but I will keep you posted as things develop.
Why skiing? Why mountains? Why yoga? Some themes and passions have come and gone from my life, while some the desire only deepens upon continued exploration. My desire for inquiry has never quelled. I can explore myself, the planet, and my connection with nature and humanity using these tools. My body loves to be physically pushed and challenged. I love the moments of sweet, blissful perfection that come when blending strength, balance, and grace and hitting maximum velocity down a mountain. The ascent often requires determination and carefully chosen routes as often as the decent. The technical and mental challenges keep it a constantly changing game.
Yoga is the same. I am never There and always There. There is no ending point where the posture can go, so boredom can never set in. The mind will eternally pose challenges. I do know that with a lifetime of skiing and twenty years of yoga my body continues to rise to the occasions. I attribute my general strong constitution and nearly injury free ski life to taking time to continue this practice. It gives me daily challenge to find symmetry of strength, flexibility, and balance. Life does not hand us powder days and blue skies every day, and when diving in, we are bound to encounter suffering and challenges too. Yoga helps me keep this all in perspective and to embrace the awkward and the bliss.
I love to practice yoga in a studio but don’t reserve yoga for the studio. On the journey, intimate connection with self and place can develop in just a few minutes. This day I was in a hurry to arrive at the next camp and almost didn’t stop here. I almost didn’t even notice this spot. First I took a picture. Then I took off my pack for a drink. Then I thought, “Why not 5 deep breaths?” A quick downward dog to alleviate tightness in the back and hamstrings led to three simple and purposeful rounds of sun salutations and a five minute meditation. Not even fifteen minutes elapsed and I was hydrated, my cells freshly full of oxygen, my entire body refreshed and ready to again shoulder my pack and continue on the trail.
I know this spot intimately now and just looking at the picture, I am transported. I remember the sun on the water, the snow blowing off the top of the majestic peaks, the feel and smell of the grass under my hands and feet. Instead of a long tedious march, my body was filled with fresh energy, and my attention to thought and focus returned. Keeping happy and healthy on the way to the top helped me to achieve my mountain objective with more strength and energy.
Want to make a decent living and a better life? Here’s one way. Get a job – a nature-smart job. Or better yet, be a nature-smart entrepreneur. By that, I don’t mean a career devoted only to energy efficiency. That’s important, but there’s a whole new category of green jobs coming. These careers and avocations will help children and adults become happier, healthier, and smarter, by truly greening where people live, work, learn, and play. Here are a few examples.
• New agrarians. Who are they? Urban farmers who design and operate community gardens. Designers and operators of vertical farms in high-rise buildings. Organic farmers and innovative vanguard ranchers who use sophisticated organic practices to produce food. The focus is on local, family-scale sustainable food, fiber, and fuel production in, near, and beyond cities.
• Natural health service. Ecopsychologists—Wilderness therapy professionals—are going mainstream. Some pediatricians are now prescribing or recommending “green exercise” in parks and other natural settings for their young patients and their families. Hospitals, mental health centers, and nursing home are creating healing gardens. The Portland, Oregon, parks department partners with physicians who send families to local parks, where park rangers serve as health para profesionals. In the U.K., a growing “green care” movement encourages therapeutic horticulture, ecotherapy, and green-care farming.
• Green exercise trainers. Exercising indoors and outdoors seems to produce different results. Even when the same number of calories are burned. Outside exercise appears to have better results, especially for psychological well-being. Green exercise trainers can help individuals and families individually or by organizing “green gyms” and family nature clubs. “People walkers” can help the elderly take a hike.
• Natural teachers. As parents and educators learn more about the brain-stimulating power of learning in natural settings, demand will increase for nature-based schools and nature-based experiential learning, providing new opportunities for natural teachers and natural-playscape and school-garden designers.
• Bioregional guides. We’ll see the emergence of citizen naturalists who, as professionals or volunteers, help people get to know where they live. One organization, Exploring a Sense of Place, in the San Francisco Bay Area, guides groups that want to have a deeper understanding of the life surrounding them. Think of these guides as nature-smart welcome wagons that help us develop a deeper sense of personal and local identity.
The list of possible careers can go on. Stream restorers, law-enforcement officials who use nature for crime prevention and improved prison recidivism, specialists in nature-based geriatric services. Once the entrepreneurial spirit kicks in, it’s easy to start thinking of products and services. And when people begin to consider the career possibilities of human restoration through nature, their eyes light up: here is a positive, hopeful view of the human relationship with the Earth, a way to make a living and a life.
Richard Louv is the author of “THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age,” now available in paperback, from which this piece is adapted. He is Chairman Emeritus of The Children and Nature Network and 2012 spokesperson for the CLIF Kid Backyard Game of the Year. For more information on his books, go to http://www.richardlouv.com. For a free online Field Guide to the New Nature Movement, see http://richardlouv.com/books/nature-principle/field-guide/.
Today the mountain warned us.
The upper part of the icefall has been a topic of hot conversation among our small basecamp community in the past few weeks. Conrad referred to the act of hiking through this section as “Dancing with the Fat Lady of Fate in the Ballroom of Death.”
The seracs above and to the left of the trail hang precariously, calving off multiple times a day and dusting unsuspecting climbers below. Thus far, there have been no injuries, but these instances are mere hiccups compared to what could happen. A much more massive section could slide, dropping truck-sized ice blocks onto the trail below and killing anyone that may be in its path.
Even the Sherpas have been wary of the Fat Lady.
They said it was dangerous, the trail was too close, but that the other routes that steer clear of this danger may not be much safer. The bottom line is that the icefall is unstable and dangerous this year, and with hundereds of people passing through per day, it is only a matter of time before something bad happens.
Among our group, Cory was the most frightened. He stated his opinion many times, to us and to others at camp. He wanted the route to change. He even said one day that he would not go through the icefall again until it had changed. “It's scary and I hate it,” he would say, shaking his head and casting his gaze downward.
His feelings made me scared too. I have zero experience in the big mountains, but I fear most what those who are most experienced are afraid of.
Today, the Fat Lady was active. She sang and danced throughout the morning and early afternoon, dropping sizable chunks of ice near the trail, to the point where the group of Sherpas returning from Camp 2 refused to descend.
“To dangerous. Big ice will fall. They will wait.” Panuru, our Sirdar (head Sherpa), told us this afternoon.
We are scheduled to head up to Camp 2 tomorrow at 4am. “If no ice fall before tomorrow, you wait one more day.” He told us, shrugging with his characteristic half smile that makes everything seem o.k. even when it's not.
Years of experience, or maybe the mountain itself, had told the Sherpas that passing through the Ballroom on this day was not a good idea, something would happen. “Big ice will fall” Panuru's words echoed in my head. “How do they know?” I wondered.
I was sitting in my tent fitting my crampons onto my boots when I heard it. I know the sound now. Before, when the loud rumbling began I instinctively thought of a giant semi barreling down a highway. But there are no vehicles here.
Now, I am used to hearing the sound of the avalanches. It starts low and guttural and then builds and echos off of the surrounding mountains, crashing waves of snow and ice that fill my eardrums and quicken my heartbeat.
“Holy Sh*t!” I heard someone say. The sound was louder than usual. I immediately searched the icefall, my eyes landing on the Ballroom up high. The entire lower section was collapsing, spilling over itself and piling up below in a mass of bone crushing ice and snow. Powerful and terrifying, I felt my panic rise. I pleaded with a higher power, “Please don't let there be anyone in there. Please.”
We hurried over to Panuru, who was already on the radio speaking rapid Nepali to our Sherpa team up high. “No one in there. They come down now. Much, much safer now.” He told us.
Safer now and no one was hurt.
The Fat Lady has fallen and there's not as much left to collapse. The icefall is still dangerous, and requires immense caution and awareness, but one of the biggest dangers has been diluted by the avalanche this afternoon.
What could have been a terrible tragedy was instead an impressive lesson in patience on the part of the Sherpas. They had listened and heeded the warning of the mountain, and were rewarded with safe passage.
We are extremely lucky to have such competent and experienced people climbing with us.
Now that the danger has lessened, I am finishing my packing to head up to Camp 2 tomorrow morning. We will climb to Camp 3 and possibly to Camp 4 before heading back down in a week or so.
Click play below to listen to an audio message from Conrad Anker who is at Camp 2 on Mount Everest.
We've now had 5 full days at basecamp and everyone is starting to get a bit stir-crazy. This morning we had a group meeting to plan out our next rotation up the mountain. The Lhotse face will be getting fixed with ropes on the 26th and, as all the groups have agreed, we cannot climb on it prior to that time, it looks as though we won't ascend until Wed, the 25th.
With that said, we are all falling into our Basecamp routine which mostly consists of eating!!! Today, Emily and I sorted out all the food that we will need for our high camps for both the West Ridge and the South Col routes. Conrad is checking our water for us on a daily basis- a good thing given the warm temps here in camp.
Yesterday, I did a great hike up to Pumori Camp 1 to get a look at the Lhotse face and see if there was any more snow. Not so much, still super icy! We all had an amazing day of ice climbing. Dawa, our sherpani, is a strong climber and it was fun to climb with Sam and Emily, as well as the other Sherpas in our crew. I even did my first ice lead, in ski boots!
All in all, we are healthy and well acclimatized and looking forward to getting back up the mountain...
It’s 6:02 pm at Everest base camp, 6:18 am in Boulder, CO where I left 5 weeks ago tomorrow. We’re about to eat dinner here. Today around noon, I lay resting in a yellow room - my tent - like a starfish, no shirt, ¾ length long underwear. My wristwatch read 91 degrees Fahrenheit, and the air was heavy, but thin to my adapting lungs. I must consciously inhale and exhale deeper. It’s uncomfortable but I’ve nearly grown accustomed to it. We’re residing at over 17,000 feet (5254m). It stank in there; only 3 showers in all these weeks, and not many fresh clothes.
My mind drifted. Around me, the landscape rises up with massive relief. My tent is oriented such that behind me there is Pumo Ri (7165m), and to its left in a semi-circle – Lingtren (6749m) and Khumbhutse (6665m). Then, out my front door is Everest (8850m), Lhotse (8501m), and Nuptse (7861m). Each except Nuptse is on the borderline of China (Tibet) and Nepal. Everest base camp is the cul-de-sac of the Khumbu valley and glacier. There is nowhere to go from here but up.
Down valley you can see the tops of smaller peaks – Tawoche (6367m) and Cholatse (6335m). This is a radical place - harsh and raw and extreme. It’s amazing to be here, but I feel out of place. Around me, the land speaks – rock fall, landslides, avalanches, serac collapses.
Every afternoon the wind picks up, the clouds come, and it gets cold quickly. It all adds to my sense of awe and anxiety as a visitor. This afternoon was no different. My bodily sensations brought my mind back from its wandering – I was cold. My watch read 29 degrees, and it was pounding snow. Things can change so quickly here. It is a magical place, but it commands attention. We are lucky to be here…
Time to eat.
I can probably think of 20 specific yoga poses for injury prevention, and really YOGA as a whole is injury preventative and body restoring in itself. You are not only stretching and strengthening, you are using breath and focus to compliment your physical work. I’m not too great at the technical sanskrit terms, but here are some poses I find helpful:
Off hand, here are some balancing sequences I love:
- Tree to warrior three, to eagle, and back to warrior three- fun!
- Warrior two, to side bend, to warrior two, to goddess, and back.
For some restorative moves (which are amazing in themselves!):
- Twists are always great for your spine/nervous system and digestive. Twists come in all poses: lunges/triangles. My favorites are on my back, and you can do those at the end of your routines, when you wake up, or anytime really - even when sitting on a plane.
- Frog pose and Earth pose are a couple of great poses for snowboarders, as you are working your glutes, (outer rotation) hips, piriformis, and hip flexors. It’s especially great if you can hold these poses for up to 5 minutes - life changing!
My injuries are numerous, unfortunately, but they’ve been a really great way for me to learn about my body and how to heal myself, both mentally and physically. Spraining my sacrum was a huge injury for me, and yoga was instrumental for my recovery. I think it may be the most painful and debilitating injury I can remember, and it was a lengthy, painfully intense rehab.
Yoga was my best friend during recovery, especially the part of yoga about "letting go" of expectations I had on my body, recovery time, and my whole personal theory about not being "whole" unless I was healed and strong. The process of re-training my deep muscles to support my back, retraining my spine as a whole, and recovering all of my core strength, I could not have done without yoga. After all that, I learned more for future prevention and could continue support for myself!
Yoga also helps me on every snowboard trip. All the sitting you do to travel, the falling, the hiking, the hucking! Really, if you don’t consider yoga, or even stretch, it’s only going to catch up and eventually break you down.