Teams from four Washington-based mountaineering firms, caught on Mount Everest during Nepal’s massive earthquake, have descended by helicopter and “are happy to be healthy and alive.”
Their escapes ranged from high-altitude evacuations by chopper on the world’s highest peak, to a reactionary “duck and dive” for cover in a scenic Himalayan park.
Regardless of how they did it, several mountain guides, climbers and a traveling Buddhist counted themselves among the fortunate Washington residents who survived this weekend’s devastating earthquake in Nepal, as the official death toll mounted to more than 4,000 on Monday.
Earlier in the day, climbing teams from four Washington-based mountaineering firms, caught on Mount Everest during Saturday’s quake — and a deadly avalanche it spawned — safely descended the mountain to base camp or villages beyond, company officials said.
“Now that we have everyone off the mountain, the scope of the devastation is starting to sink in,” Kurt Hunter, co-founder of Madison Mountaineering, said in a phone interview from Seattle. The 15-member Madison team, as well as climbing teams from Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International, and Ashford, Pierce County-based Rainier Mountaineering and International Mountaineering Guides, were among about 160 Everest climbers evacuated by helicopter from Camp 1, elevation 20,000 feet, to Everest’s base camp.
As they descended by air, the perspective of chaos in the slide-flattened tents and villages below proved sobering for many.
“There was no backslapping. No cheering. No high-fives,” Rainier Mountaineering guide Dave Hahn wrote on the firm’s website. “We’d put down at the epicenter of a disaster and we could barely believe our eyes.”
Meantime, Seattle resident Greg Davenport, a 50-year-old Buddhist who had been trekking with two friends in Nepal’s Langtang National Park when the quake hit, rested safely in Kathmandu on Monday after a sprint for his life two days earlier.
With a blast of rock and ice flying around him, Davenport ducked behind boulders and dived into ditches as he and his friends, Jim and Vance Watt, scrambled for their lives, his brother said.
“Greg told me he was in between death zones,” Tim Davenport, of Denver, told The Seattle Times after speaking with his brother on Monday. “Behind him was a landslide that killed an entire village, and in front of him was an avalanche blowing a wall of ice and rock.”
The three men managed to hike to a Buddhist monastery with dozens of other survivors, then huddled through the night in subfreezing temperatures. Davenport wasn’t injured; Jim Watt suffered a broken leg, Tim Davenport said.
Several other Washington residents in Nepal during the earthquake reportedly remained missing as of Sunday. They included Jim Lane and Doreen Richmond, a retired married couple from Whatcom County, a relative confirmed to The Times on Sunday. Family members could not be reached for an update Monday.
Bailey Meola and Sydney Schumacher, both 19, who were trekking the Langtang Valley in Nepal when the earthquake hit, have not been heard from, according to a website set up by their families.
Their families believe they were between Rimche and Kyanjin Gompa on the Langtang trail when the earthquake struck. Their names have been added to an online database of more than 200 people who are missing in the Langtang Valley.
Both girls are traveling around the world after graduating from Seattle’s Garfield High School in 2014.
At Mount Everest, Alpine Ascents’ six-member international team of guides and climbers arrived safely at base camp Monday, Gordon Janow, the company’s director of programs, said in a telephone interview from Seattle. “They’re all stable,” Janow said. “They’ve got food, shelter and clothing.”
The team remained at base camp Monday to help with recovery efforts.
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“In the next couple of days, we’ll figure out how to get them all out,” Janow said of the Alpine Ascents team.
Madison Mountaineering’s expedition wasn’t as fortunate. While an international team of 15 clients and guides had reached Camp 2 on its ascent of the world’s highest peak, the avalanche destroyed its base camp, killing team physician Marisa Eve Girawong, of New Jersey, and injuring several support members, Hunter said.
“We are just totally devastated that we lost her in Base Camp due to wind blast from the landslide,” Garrett Madison, the expedition’s leader, said in a dispatch posted on the firm’s website.
Support staff members of the Madison team who were at base camp when the avalanche hit have since left, with some seeking medical attention at nearby villages, Hunter said. Meanwhile, the climbing expedition safely descended from Camp 2 to Camp 1 early Monday, then was flown to base camp that afternoon, he said.
“They spent a couple of hours there, sorting through the rubble of what was left,” Hunter said. “But everyone has since descended to Garak Shep,” a nearby village.
Teams with two Ashford-based companies — Rainier Mountaineering and International Mountaineering Guides — each reported successful helicopter evacuations Monday.
Since the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on Saturday, the official death toll has soared past 4,000, even without a full accounting from vulnerable mountain villages.
Locally based humanitarian organizations, including World Vision of Federal Way, have sent staff and volunteers to join crews responding to the quake.
The avalanche began Saturday on nearby Mount Pumori, a 23,494-foot-high mountain a few miles from Everest. It gathered strength as it headed toward the base camp, where climbing expeditions have been preparing to make their summit attempts in the coming weeks.
The avalanche — or perhaps a series of them hidden in a massive white cloud — plowed into a part of the base camp, said Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.
As the first stunned survivors of the avalanche reached Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, they said dozens of people might be missing and were almost certainly dead.
Hunter, in Seattle, said he has been in sporadic contact with Madison, the expedition leader, while discussing various transportation options with the U.S. State Department and the offices of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Maria Cantwell in trying to plan how to get the firm’s clients and guides out of Nepal.
“My understanding is the airport is open, and there are flights coming in and out of Kathmandu,” Hunter said. “But things are very chaotic.”
On Monday, Greg Davenport, who had planned the trek through the Himalayan park, had called family members in the United States to describe his experience.
“Greg, being the good Buddhist that he is, felt a moment of serenity when he believed he was going to die,” Tim Davenport said. “We’re all so thankful that didn’t happen.”