Annapurna eathquake update

The 24th of April I descended all the way from Camp 4 at 7000m on Annapurna to base camp. But before I get into why I descended without attempting the summit I’ll talk about the earthquake. 20150423_0956350 It had been snowing steadily all morning today when, at around noon, a large earthquake struck. The earthquake was so forceful, it felt as if we were inside a snow globe being shaken by God. The storm kept us from seeing much but we could hear avalanches ripping down everywhere. The roar was so loud I thought we’d surely be hit. Annapurna Base Camp is situated on a muddy ridge clinging to a adjacent mountain. During the earthquake large sections peeled off and cascaded down some 800ft to the glacier below. Totally insane. But it turned out nothing happened at camp other than a few toppled piles of equipment and a couple of tents knocked over. As I write this another roar of what sounds to be a massive avalanche rips down Annapurna. Just two days ago, on the 23rd I had made my way up from Camp 3 to Camp 4. The route is straight-forward. It starts with a low angle section of ice up a serac out of camp 3. To a traversing section of steep snow then a long ramp to C4. The ramp connects the German Rib with the summit area of Annapurna. The ramp is a slope of 30 to 45 degrees and it was covered in fresh deep snow up to waist deep. Climber on way to C3 That afternoon myself and another team set up camp underneath a serac at 7000m. Their plan was to start out that same night – with their 4 Sherpa guides to leave at 8pm to break the route – and the 4 members of their group to follow at 9pm. I decided not to attempt the summit because: – Too cold of a night to climb without supplemental oxygen – Retreat would be difficult at night as the wind was blowing too much snow and covering the track. – no previous time spent above 18,000′, so I was not properly acclimatized. – too much technical ground below us – with forecasted storm by Noon the next day. – high risk of avalanche if caught above camp 2 after the storm. This team disregarded these hazards and barely got away with it. I descended from C4 the morning of the 23rd. As I was leaving, the members of the team that had attempted to summit started straggling in from their failed summit attempt. They were too tired to descend from C4. I re-broke the route to C3 in sketchy and quite heavy deep snow. As I dropped down a final steep descent before Camp 3 on an arm wrap rappel, I plunged into a concealed crevasse. I was already feeling quite sick from overheating in my down suit. The sun had come out and started slowly deep frying me in the down suit. Half way in a hole, about to vomit from overheating and my arm wrap biting into my forearm, I comically rolled down into C3. I was moaning in discomfort, dry heaved a few times, and laid there motionless for a time. I had to get moving again though, because the weather was coming in fast. I cached a few things at Camp 3 and started rappelling off the serac whose top forms the flat surface of camp 3. The route down the German Rib is steep and riddled with crevasses and alpine ice. But large areas of the route had deep snow blown in from the night prior. … Another large avalanche is ripping down Annapurna… this place is quite unstable since the earthquake. Soon after completing my descent from the serac I, twice, stuck a leg into a concealed crevasse while rappelling down the further slope. I shouted to a Sherpa named Pemba from the summit team that we’d better employ the buddy system and re-break the route together. As we started down the visibility went to zero and a heavy fall of snow started. About midway down we lost our rappel lines and started carefully climbing down without the safety of the lines. Searching the snow with our ice tools for the rappel lines while slowly inching our way down. We were In a couloir with seracs all around and above us, my mind kept telling me we were in a very dangerous place to be moving so slowly. A few minutes before finding the lines again we set off a small slab slide 3 ft to our right. Things were getting spooky! Finally, we made the last rappel onto the glacier below the German Rib. Now the last hurdle was finding camp 2 in a whiteout. An island of safety in the insanely dangerous glacial field below the crosshairs couloir and sickle ice cliffs. In the reduced visibility we wove through large ice blocks of avalanche debris by GPS. We moved with baited breath – hoping not to hear that tell tale rumble that has become such a familiar sound to me here at Annapurna. The Korean team a day earlier had had a near miss right in this area. After having been on the move on a very scary mountain, in terrible weather, for 11 hours I finally arrived at Base Camp at 8:40pm that night. Descending through deep snow and limited visibility all day. At Base Camp I found out that an avalanche had hit the team at camp 4 earlier that night. No one was hurt but they had to cut their way out of their tents. They were also all exhausted from their summit attempt. Including one climber who had frostbite on his hands and one suffering from HAPE. They would later be rescued via helicopter. It’s funny that yesterday I was cursing the weather for turning me back, and today I realize it probably saved my life. No one was above base camp at the time the earthquake hit, and that’s probably why we suffered no casualties here at Annapurna. Before the earthquake, three of the 5 teams here at Base Camp had planned on leaving, The team that attempted the summit blew their oxygen supply. Another team’s Sherpas bailed because of concerns that Annapurna wasn’t to be climbed this year. The mountain is angry. Yet another small team’s permit has run out. I was planning to stay until mid-May as now I am acclimatized and my equipment is cached. However, with recent events I’m not sure what will happen, there’s a lot of hearsay… and Annapurna sounds extremely unstable right now. I’ve heard at least three avalanches while I was writing this. My thoughts go out to everyone in Nepal, especially to my friends in Kathmandu and over on Everest. I hope they are all safe.

11 responses to “Annapurna eathquake update

  1. alex,

    So good to hear your safe! RMI Everest team reportedly ok too. Terrible tragedy. Take care and again, have been thinking of u since the news broke.


  2. Hi Alex. I have been following your reports and thank you for them. What a harrowing eleven hours. I can’t imagine the fear realizing up high that the noise is an earthquake and that the avalanches could just keep coming and coming. You are a cautious man and by following your rules, you did not put yourself in further jeopardy. Your description of the decent is spellbinding. So glad you reached base camp safely.
    Turning to the tragedy in Nepal and over on Everest, we have heard reports that Melissa and Jon are safe, as is Dave Hahn and their team and base camp manager. Supposedly ten deaths so far on Everest, surely more, many injured and others not yet accounted for. Helicopters coming in the morning to assist. Apparently injured climbers are stuck above the ice fall and some reports that the ice fall route is destroyed. Everyone prays for the best for the climbers and the people of Nepal.

  3. Alex,

    Attempted to post earlier and not sure if it went through? Anyway, so good to hear from you. I see another post that updates the RMI Everest Team for you. An eventful descent it sounds like and your careful decisions were spot on! Again, our prayers are with you. Nepal will surely need assistance from other countries given the scale of this tragedy.

  4. Alex – Kevin Caldwell here, been praying and and so thankful you are safe. Hope to see you soon for a trip to the beach for surfing. Be safe brother.

  5. Hi Alex,
    This morning Tim and I were going to breakfast and I was reading to him your recent update on Annapurna. We were discussing the events you describe on the mountain and the decisions you faced. We where amazed with the challenges you have faced and your efforts. As we were talking I went on goggle to see where Annapurna is, when I read of the earthquake 9 hrs. earlier I was shocked. I immediately reach out to your mom and dad praying and hoping all was well with you. I was sick and so worried about you. I called Kevin and Scotty to try to find out any information about climbers and base camp survivors from internet postings. Finally at 4:40pm I got a hold of your Mom and she told me she had talked to you this morning and you are physically fine. Also read your blog posting about the earthquake and what you are experiencing. My prayers and good thoughts are with you and the people of Nepal. I know you will use your knowledge and compassion to help out the people of Nepal and those around you. Stay safe! Are thoughts are with you! Sharen

  6. Alexander – my name is Chris Friedman and I work for The Weather Channel, based in Atlanta. So glad you’re safe. I’m friends with Thomas Nybo. If you’re in a position to talk about your tale, please e-mail me at Chris.Friedman@Weather.Com Our viewers would be interested in hearing your story. Thanks, Chris

  7. Alex!!
    So glad to read you are safe.
    Amazing writing, brother! You have several gifts.
    Best wishes and continued success as you move forward. Godspeed.

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