Scarpa North America Blog

Raphael Slawinski Reports from Everest Basecamp

Apr. 29th 2015

Editor’s note: We are relieved to hear that SCARPA Ambassador Raphael Slawinski and his teammates are safe and sound on the north side of Everest, but our hearts ache for all the people in the region affected by this weekends earthquake. Chinese officials just announced that they have closed the north side of Everest to climbing. Here, Raphael shares his experience on the mountain during the quake and reflects on what’s to come.

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It began as a feeling of wrongness, like an avalanche silently rushing towards us. For a few moments we sat motionless in the mess tent, the remains of couscous and salad still on the table, then hurried outside. The ground swayed like the deck of a ship. As the shaking intensified, I found it increasingly hard to keep my balance and sat down on the cobbles. Rocks crashed down the hillsides above basecamp, disappearing harmlessly behind lateral moraines. Finally, after several long minutes, the ground became still once more; a last few stones rolled down.

The next twenty-four hours were full of rumors and aftershocks. While the stronger aftershocks were unmistakeable, we had a hard time telling the weaker ones from the pounding of our hearts. As for rumors, some, like those of Sherpas buried by an avalanche below the north col, luckily proved to be false. Others, like those of avalanche deaths on the south side of the mountain, and of tragedy and destruction on a massive scale in and around Kathmandu, unfortunately turned out to be all too true. It was a consolation that the families of climbing Sherpas and kitchen staff closest to us were unharmed. It was one of the few bright points in what was quickly becoming obvious was a major disaster.

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A couple of days passed. Forty-eight hours earlier it had felt surreal to wobble on ground that rocked and swayed beneath our feet. Now it felt equally surreal to wake up in the morning and eat breakfast at the usual time, while, on the other side of the mountain rising at the head of the valley, the body count kept rising. In our isolated basecamp we existed in a bubble of safety. The news reaching us from the outside world by email and text message seemed abstract: it was as if we were reading about the Nepal earthquake in Europe or North America, not less than a hundred kilometers away from the collapsed houses and avalanche debris.

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We talked about what to do. Should we try to get to Kathmandu and help with the rescue and reconstruction? Or, without specialized skills, would we just be three more people who needed food, water and a roof over their heads? Anyway, the point was moot: the road to Kathmandu was blocked in many places by landslides. So should we perhaps continue with our expedition? I’d spent months training and organizing, as did Daniel and David. I found it hard to let go of dreams that had dominated my life since autumn. At the same time, I questioned my motivation. Would it be disrespectful to go climbing while large swaths of Nepal lay in ruins?

However, it appeared the decision wouldn’t be ours to make. This was Everest, after all: a mountain draped in bureaucracy as much as in snow and ice. Chinese officials began appearing in basecamp, each one bearing a more impressive title than the one before. “The mountain isn’t closed but the mountain is closed”, they’d say. It was hard to know if they were being inscrutable or just badly translated. We couldn’t tell if they were guided by considerations of respect for the dead, climbing safety or political expediency. Waves of anger swept over me; I wanted to be free to make my own decision. Then I’d think about the tragedy unfolding in Nepal and calm down. We were alive. It was enough. It was more than enough.

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