A MOVING EXPERIENCE The area of the earthquake
Mera Peak is in the centre of the picture
Steve Ellingham of White Rose of York Lodge No 2491, Sheffield was in Nepal last year when over 8,000 people were killed and more than 21,000 injured in the Gorkha earthquake. He had flown to Kathmandu, Nepal to attempt to climb Mera Peak. Steve has been a member of the British section of the Austrian Alpine Club for 25 years and from 2003 onwards, started to visit the Himalayas for trekking holidays, visiting India, Bhutan and Nepal. In 2008, he went to Nepal with his wife and they managed to get to the south Everest Base Camp, at 5,700 metres and in 2010, he went with two friends to Tibet, where they managed to walk to the north Everest Advanced Base Camp at 6,386 metres. Advanced Base Camp however is in a valley, and they decided that it would be a good idea to stand on a summit with a 360-degree panorama. Mera Peak at 6,476 metres became the target. From the top of Mera, five of the six highest mountains in the world can be seen; Everest, Kanchenchunga, Makalu, Lhotse and Cho Oyu. (K2, the second highest, is in Pakistan and is too far away). Just before they were due to leave the UK, the wife of Steve’s friend was taken ill and so he decided to go on his own, despite his family’s misgivings. He met his guide, Karma in Kathmandu and after a day checking their kit, they flew to Lukla, which is the gateway to the Everest region and where they met their two porters. The four of them then set off from Lukla. In order to achieve a gradual ascent, important for good acclimatisation, their
Karma is pictured loading aid onto a truck
path initially led away from Mera Peak, but then swung round to start the approach. As most trekkers go towards Everest, which is the other direction, in the first five days Steve only spoke to six Westerners. On reaching 4,000 metres, snow began to fall through the night. The following day, they set off as usual around 7.00 am and paused just before mid-day for a snack; Karma had found a disused shed in which to shelter from the snow. Suddenly, Steve’s vision went blurred and he started to stagger around. His first thought was that he was having a stroke; not uncommon amongst climbers at higher altitudes, due to thickening of the blood. However, on seeing the looks on his companions faces, he realised they were experiencing something unusual too. Karma said that they had felt an earthquake. However, he said that they get two or three a year around there and as they couldn’t see any damage, they may as well carry on. They did feel one or two aftershocks, but again saw no damage. The next day, on arrival at the first village they had seen for three days, Steve thought he had better let his wife know he was OK, just in case she had heard about the earthquake; little did he know that it was wall to wall news around the world. He managed to borrow a satellite phone and got through to his wife, who immediately asked if he was coming home. His reply was that as there was little damage where he was, he may as well carry on, and by the time he got back to Kathmandu, it would all be sorted. His wife replied “I don’t think so......”, and the phone went dead. That night, he met a young man from Ireland, who looked shell shocked. He told Steve that earlier in the day, he had been in the village up the valley, where they were intending to go to next. There had been an aftershock that morning, and he had seen the village fall down around him. He also said the village above that was also destroyed. Having thought about this overnight, the next morning they decided to turn back, as it seemed unfair to continue when all houses would be needed for the local population to live in and also, there was a risk of more damage through aftershocks.
They set off back to Lukla, which took two more days; the return was quicker, as they were able to cross over a high ridge, being now acclimatised to higher altitudes. On arriving back at Lukla it took two days to get a flight out, as the town was extremely busy with trekkers returning early. There were many helicopter flights from Everest base camp, carrying walking wounded and some of the 21 killed on Everest that day. After two days, Steve got a flight back to Kathmandu and reported to the British Embassy, as his name had been on the ‘missing’ list. Ethihad Airways, in view of the circumstances, brought his flight home forward by a week at no extra charge. Whilst on the trek, Karma spoke to him about a charity he had helped set up; Sherpa Health Care. The charity raised funds to build health clinics in outlying areas, so that local people don’t have to walk for three or four days to get basic health care, such as vaccinations and treatment for minor injuries. Karma devotes his time to this charity during the monsoon season, when he is unable to work as a guide. Since the earthquake, the charity has changed direction towards providing earthquake relief. Steve gave a talk on his experience at Tapton Hall, Sheffield, raising just under £800 and, adding this to other donations he has received or knows about, approximately £5,300 has gone to Nepal. A year on and Steve believes the future is bleak for Nepal over the next two to three year as a huge proportion of their national product comes from tourism and trekking. Because of the earthquake, this income has all but disappeared and much of their tourist infrastructure has been destroyed. Sherpa Health Care primarily use volunteers, so that their overheads are minimal and a much higher proportion of donations are used for aid. They have a website www.sherpahealthcare.org where donations can be made.
Karma is pictured with the porters
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