SA climbers tell of ‘hell’ on Everest after earthquake

2015-04-27 15:28

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While helicopters rescue injured climbers from base camp at Mount Everest, an adventurer who is among at least 11 South Africans who are trapped on the mountain following a massive earthquake in Nepal has described the scene on the avalanche-hit mountain as “dire”.

Sean Wisedale, the first African to climb the highest mountain on each continent, said on his blog that there was nowhere to go that was any safer than where they were at base camp.

“We survived because of the position of our camp. We’re protected by being centrally away from the ice-laden slopes and we’re surrounded by large glacial pools and deep empty motes. Moving down the valley exposes us to rock fall off the slopes should there be another quake.”

He described the circumstances that the mountaineers faced as “dire”.

“As I lie here writing this, the ground is moving beneath me. My heart leaps every time the earth moves. I can’t get used to it. It feels like we’re afloat and there is massive power and force behind the movements. These are the after shocks. Still, I am worried that something more violent may happen.”

Wisedale was one of at least 11 South Africans who were on Mount Everest at the time that the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck near Kathmandu in Nepal, causing avalanches on the mountain.

According to Urban Everest, the South Africans (one of whom is on the north side, in Tibet) had joined different expeditions.

Saray Khumalo, who is attempting to be the first black woman to climb the peak, arrived back at base camp this morning.

Yesterday expedition organisers Ubuntu Everest (she is with Asian Trekking) reported Khumalo as saying that all was well, despite the circumstances: “The earthquake and multiple avalanches [occurred] and I was on a shaking glacier between camps 1 and 2 at 11.50am with a sherpa. Going back we found the craves had swallowed the ladder and in the heavy snow we got lost.”

She said she was “shaking like a leaf” by the time she arrived at Camp 2, and had to wait for the “ice doctors” – the sherpas who fix the ropes and ladders that the climbers use – to fix the way before she could make her way back to base camp.

Khumalo, who was hoping to raise R1 million to set up libraries at schools by reaching the summit of Everest later this year, added that she was “still climbing with a purpose”.

Wisedale described the avalanche as “unimaginable horror”.

“We all dived into our safest and most shielded tents. The horror was unimaginable as it went completely dark and we huddled around hoping not to be crushed alive. The tent held up.”

Video: German climber Jost Kobusch was at base camp when the avalanche hit, and recorded the moment. 

The earthquake has so far claimed the lives of 3 200 people, according to Reuters, at least 17 of whom were climbers.

The other South Africans who are known to be on the mountain are Lysle Turner, Ronnie Muhl, Donna McTaggart, Elizabeth Bool, Marlette Hegyi, Wilmien van der Merwe, Nico Oosthuizen and Katlego Letheo. According to Ubuntu Everest, they are believed to be safe.

Mountain rescue teams are using helicopters to airlift climbers.

Reuters reported that three helicopters had reached camps 1 and 2, which are at altitudes of more than 6000 metres.

Each helicopter was only capable of carrying two climbers due to the thin air.

A French news crew has captured a dramatic air rescue on video.

An estimated 100 climbers and guides were safe but trapped at camps 1 and 2 by the earthquake, which rendered the treacherous Khumbu icefalls leading up to them from base camp impassable, reported Reuters.

“We are still operational (by incredible luck) and assisting where we can. Helicopters have been flying in all day to evacuate the wounded. We are thankful to be safe and alive. Even now there are still small after shocks going off around us. We are unsure of what we should do – leave or stay – we haven’t made that decision yet,” said Wisedale, whose posts had been relayed using a satellite phone.

“My greatest hope is that Mother Nature will settle down,” said Wisedale. “History tells us that after the storm there will always be a calm. I hope the storm has passed.”

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