SA climbers uncertain of Everest ascent

2015-04-29 08:35
Five South Africans at the Everest base camp. From left: Donna McTaggart, Sean Wisedale, Saray Khumalo Marlette Hegyi and Wilmien van der Merwe. (Netwerk24)

Five South Africans at the Everest base camp. From left: Donna McTaggart, Sean Wisedale, Saray Khumalo Marlette Hegyi and Wilmien van der Merwe. (Netwerk24)

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Johannesburg - South African climbers are still uncertain about whether they will tackle the highest peak in the world after an earthquake in Nepal left 5 000 dead, and resulted in an avalanche at the mountain.

Durban based climber Sean Wisedale and his teammates were at Mount Everest base camp when the avalanche hit the Nepali side of the mountain.

At least 17 people at the base camp died.

Wisedale said in a blog post on Wednesday that his teammates were "unbelievable" during the crisis.

"When the injured needed to be hauled into a makeshift medical tent – Rob [Bentley, the team's base camp manager] was there. I am very fortunate to be in the company of people I would go to war with," he said.

"We are currently out of base camp reflecting on what we have just survived. Our plans are not certain."

Overcoming challenges

He said the uncertainty about the future of the climb was because it was a decision that could not be made immediately.

"Climbing is an analogy for life. We constantly face adversity. Overcoming challenges and celebrating success gives us a reason to climb and to live," Wisedale said.

"Right now we are safe. We believe that the seismicity of the region has stabilised. We have little more to offer to assist the dead and injured, most of whom have been evacuated from base camp."

Also on the Nepali side was Saray Khumalo, who could be the first black African woman to summit the mountain.

When asked whether Khumalo would proceed with the climb, Sarieta Schultz from Ubuntu Everest said: "In terms of the future of the expedition, no formal decision has been taken."

Also attempting to be the first black African woman to climb Everest was Katlego Letheo.

‘No competition’

Afrika Freedom Climbers said Letheo was not affected by the avalanche as she was climbing from Tibet.

Schultz said she did not want to speculate on a "competition" between Khumalo and Letheo.

"Each side of the mountain has its own difficulties. Both are very brave woman."

Wisedale posted an evocative description of the avalanche on Sunday.

‘Terrifying’

"Mountains and glaciers shook all around us. It was terrifying. From the neighbouring mountain Pumori an avalanche was triggered. A massive ice slab sheared and thundered into base camp. It lifted rocks and boulders ahead of it, slamming into hundreds of tents in the centre of the camp and spilling over onto the Khumbu glacier on the other side," he said.

"Many cook staff and climbers were in their tents at the time. Fortunately our camp was protected by a high ridge. Still, we were hit by a hundred metre high plume of crystallised ice about a minute after the quake. 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. A minute later it had passed but we all knew there were going to be casualties. Unsure of whether another quake or aftershock would hit or whether the glacier would open up beneath our feet we waited for a while. The weather conditions were bad then – heavy snow began to fall and visibility of the surrounding peaks was nil."

Read more on:    nepal  |  nepal earthquake  |  natural disasters

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