Some of the worst damage Aidan Anderson and Tyler Kelly saw during their week in Nepal following last month’s devastating earthquake was in the first hour or so after they were surprised by the shaking during their walk on a remote mountain trail.
Another hiker, passing by in the opposite direction with his Sherpa guide, had been struck in the side of the face by a falling rock.
“The front of his shirt was covered with blood,” said Kelly. “We asked him, ‘Dude, are you OK? He said, ‘Man, I’m just running on adrenaline now,’ and kept going.”
So did Anderson and Kelly, which eventually led to their stranding in the isolated village of Namche Bazaar for nearly a week. That ordeal ended when the 18-year-old Campbell River men were able to hike out last Friday and catch a series of flights that delivered them to a reunion Sunday with their families at Vancouver International Airport.
While their mothers fretted and made calls to try to help extract their sons from the heavily damaged country, however, the worst problem the 2014 Carihi grads suffered was illness they contracted after a few days in Namche.
“It was pretty well set up,” Anderson said of Namche Bazaar, a staging area for hikers and climbers bound for Mount Everest’s famed base camp. “We could still go to a cafe and order espressos and apple pie.”
On the other hand, the historic Sherpa village of Namche, at 3,400 metres altitude, has no road or reliable air access, and is populated by perhaps 500 local residents. Internet access is available from some spots, though cell phone coverage is spotty at best and there was limited access to radio and television coverage.
During their days of worrying over their teens’ situation in Nepal, Shari Jensen, Tyler’s mother, and Denise Henley, Aidian’s mom, thought their sons were “minimizing” the earthquake.
That actually started in the quake’s first moments, as the young men hiked along a cliffside with a Sherpa guide and two female hikers from Norway, on a well-used trail from Lukla to Namche Bazaar. The group was on the second day of the hike in, after staying in Phakding following a three-hour walk from Lukla.
“Actually, we heard it first,” said Anderson. “It sounded like thunder.”
“We didn’t have the best reaction,” Kelly added. “Because we’re from the west coast, we’re like, ‘Cool, an earthquake.’ The girls were screaming and running to the side of the mountain (away from the cliff’s edge). The guide just seemed confused. I don’t think he had dealt with something like that before.”
During the quake, several avalanches rolled down the slopes in their area, and they watched one section of cliff ahead of them and across the canyon literally erupted in a shower of rock, snow and ice.
“It sounded like somebody detonated something,” said Kelly.
When the shaking stopped, the traveling party resumed the trek to Namche. From there, they still planned to hike farther into the mountains to viewpoints of Everest and the base camp.
“We thought maybe some of the trails might be damaged and it might cause some things to cost more, but there was no discussion of going back,” Anderson said.
The first major aftershock came while they were still on the trail, taking a break on a rock bench carved into the mountainside.
“When it started shaking again, my first thought was, ‘Aidan, quit shaking the bench,'” Kelly said. “Then I realized it was part of an entire mountain.”
The first reports Anderson and Kelly heard after arriving in Namche were that 30,000 people had been killed in the initial quake (the death toll after a week of search and rescue efforts was just over 7,000).
“There was very little information being turned into very big rumours,” Kelly said of coverage in Nepal. “The worst part was the panic of the locals. Every little shake, they came running out of their homes.”
Eventually, something of a shadow tent city— not for visiting climbers, but for local residents — sprung up in Namche, outside of the largely brick homes in which the local population lives. Back in the dining room of Anderson’s Campbell River home this week, he and Kelly shared photos of some of those structures with collapsed walls.
The guest house the pair had booked suffered no such damage. Once they realized the earthquake’s import, they sprung the $5 per day for online access, in order to keep their families and friends apprised of their status through social media.
With Everest climbers returning prematurely to Namche, resources became strained. At one point, the men’s guest house was down to rice and porridge before it was resupplied by porters returning over the trail from Lukla.
That but the pair’s status went downhill when Anderson was left virtually bedridden for nearly two days by an illness he believes may have been caused by food poisoning. In the first day or two after the quake, officials had recommended foreign visitors should hunker down if they were in a safe area.
By the time visitors were told to make their way to the capitol city of Kathmandu for flights out of Nepal, Anderson was no longer able to make the seven-hour hike.
“I think if I hadn’t gotten sick we still would have gone up (for the view of Everest),” Anderson said.
They never made that trip. After their Norwegian companions departed on the return hike to Lukla midway through the week, Anderson began to recover just as Kelly came down with a nasty bug that left him short of breath and coughing up phlegm.
After learning 18 climbers had died when a major avalanche swept through Mt. Everest’s base camp, the pair lost their appetite for continuing the hike. That, combined with their health issues and the concern of families at home, prompted them to start the hike last Friday back to Lukla, where Henley had booked them a flight on a small, twin-engine plane on to Kathmandu.
Though Kelly struggled at times with his respiration — he was still hoarse and had a nasty cough while telling the story this week in Campbell River — the two made it safely with little trouble, other than a short detour around a damaged portion of trail and getting lost for about 40 minutes.
Their first look at Kathmandu was revealing, even though they saw little of the massive damage that occurred in the poorer, outlying areas of the city.
“We were downtown, which wasn’t hit as bad,” said Anderson.
“I think the biggest difference from when we arrived was there wasn’t anything open and there were a lot fewer people around,” said Kelly. “It was totally packed when we got in.”
The two were flown on to China, on hurriedly acquired visas, and snatched three or four hours of sleep before flying on to Vancouver and the reunion with their families.
It had been a long, grueling week, but the men said they never felt they were in any real danger.
With a nod to his mother, Kelly said, “I think they were more worried than we were.”