National Geographic : 2014 Nov
64 national geographic • November 2014 About two dozen climbers were directly in the path of the avalanche. “I saw the ice coming, and I thought, We are gone. I am going to die.” was a shocking wind. To protect myself, I got down on my knees by a large block of ice and tried to save my face. I was covered by two inches of snow.” Babu Sherpa was about a minute above the broken ladder in a group of six Sherpas. “We huddled together. When the snow cleared, I looked down, and there was nobody below me,” he said. Fifteen minutes before the avalanche, Chhe- wang Sherpa, a 19-year-old working for New Zealand-based Adventure Consultants, had scraped through the section where the broken ladder had been. He was on his first Everest ex- pedition and traveling with his brother-in-law, Kaji Sherpa, a 39-year-old father of three. Kaji clambered up a small ice cliff, secured to the fixed rope by his safety line. When the avalanche hit, Chhewang unclipped from the fixed rope and ran, and then crouched under his pack. As he later told his uncle Chhongba Sherpa, the Nepal-based director of the Khumbu Climbing Center, ice severed Kaji’s safety line and knocked his brother-in-law unconscious. Chhewang was able to catch him and drag him to a safer spot. He poured a hot drink from Kaji’s thermos, hop- ing to revive him. “Kaji slowly woke up. He had a radio, I pressed the speak button because both of Kaji’s arms were not working at all. He said, ‘Please save me!’ If I hadn’t caught him, he would never have been seen again, because the crevasse was so deep.” Pasang Dorje Sherpa, a 20-year-old working for Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International, was climbing with two other AAI Sherpas, Ang Gyalzen and Tenzing Chottar. It was Pasang’s second season on Everest. He was carrying a large dining tent pole, a thermos, and a coil of tent rope. When he heard the tuuung, he and Ang Gyalzen were about 45 seconds beyond the broken ladder—Tenzing Chottar only steps be- hind them. Tenzing, 29, was another Everest rookie. He had completed the basic and ad- vanced mountaineering course at the Khumbu Climbing Center and was glad to have the job; he supported his elderly parents and had a three-month-old son. At Base Camp the day before, he had been able to call his wife, Pasi Sherpa, in Kathmandu. “I saw the ice coming, and I thought, We are gone, I am going to die,” Pasang Dorje recalled. “ The wind was pushing me. I dived behind a big serac. If I hadn’t been clipped into the fixed rope, I would have been swept away.” The ice slammed the tent pole against his head. It shattered his thermos and cut the rope. Flying ice punched a hole in Ang Gyalzen’s down jacket. When the devouring cloud cleared two minutes later, the two Sherpas hugged each other, then looked around in horror. What had been a yawning chasm in the icefall requiring ropes and ladders to cross was now filled in with ice blocks as big as tables and couches. “ Tenz- ing! Tenzing!” they shouted in vain. Alerted by Michael Horst, a guide at Base Camp who saw the avalanche, Lakpa Rita, the sirdar for AAI, scrambled into his boots. He put a long antenna on his radio and tried to make contact with any of his staff traveling through Chip Brown wrote about Brazil’s Kayapo tribe for the January issue. Aaron Huey covered the Pine Ridge Reservation for the August 2012 issue.