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Everest Climbers Hit By Deadly Snow, Rock After Nepal Quake


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. As we heard earlier in the program, the death toll from yesterday's earthquake in Nepal has passed 2,000 and is expected to rise. The tragedy also struck on Mount Everest, where a number of climbing parties were hit by avalanches triggered by the earthquake. Outside Magazine Senior Editor Grayson Schaffer is monitoring information coming in from the climbing community. He joins us on the line from Santa Fe, N.M. Thank you so much for being with us, Grayson.

GRAYSON SCHAFFER: Thanks for having me, Rachel.

MARTIN: It sounds like the worst avalanche hit base camp, which is usually safe from avalanches, right?

SCHAFFER: Yeah, this is completely unexpected. This one came from behind base camp. People and survivors who were on the ground described it as an aerosol avalanche. That it landed and the windblast alone was powerful enough to knock tents over and turn tent poles into projectiles and to shift rocks in base camp, which created a lot of blunt-force injuries and bone breaking for people who were in their tents.

MARTIN: So what are you hearing exactly, Grayson, about the situation in terms of the number of fatalities on the mountain related to this and the numbers of climbers who are trapped or missing?

SCHAFFER: At this point, everyone who's in base camp is essentially trapped in base camp. The people who are uninjured have enough food. Base camp is generally very well stocked. There are a lot of people who are missing their tents, who are were having to bunk up with other people. The death toll is currently being reported at 18, with other people seriously injured who've been flown out on a series of helicopter flights that they were able to get in and out to some of the various towns. Other people are having to go to some of the smaller villages. Part of the problem with doing these evacuations is figuring out where to evacuate people to because the entire country is in chaos. And all of the medical facilities are overwhelmed.

MARTIN: What about climbers who are further up on the mountain? Are they calling to be evacuated?

SCHAFFER: Well, there are a number of teams that are stuck above the Khumbu icefall, and the Khumbu icefall, of course, is the yawning chasm of hanging glaciers and that sort of thing that people have to cross on all of the ropes and aluminum ladders that you see these sort of amazing pictures of. There are a number of teams that are trapped above the icefall. The route through the icefall has collapsed so they have no way to get down. Those groups are stranded up there, but they're in pretty good shape. They have all of the food that was being stocked for all of the teams on the mountain to climb higher. They're not really in any immediate danger. Those camps should be pretty well-insulated from further avalanches that might come down on them. So from what we're hearing from the people who are calling in via sat-phone from camps one and two, they're just going to sit and wait it out.

MARTIN: April is a peak time in the climbing season. How many climbers are thought to be on Everest right now?

SCHAFFER: There are probably 300 to 350 Western climbers, paid clients who are either in base camp or on the mountain who were attempting to climb. And then probably another 600 to 700 Sherpas and cooks and guides and local workers who are supporting them. So at any given time in base camp around this time of year, usually you're talking about a thousand people. And one of the things I think that's interesting to think about too is, you know, Everest has a way of drawing a lot of attention to itself. And I think it's important not to, you know, allow this mountain to, you know, draw all of the attention away from these villages in the Khumbu that - all of which have been badly damaged. So I think the scale of the tragedy is still completely unknown.

MARTIN: This earthquake comes almost exactly after a year after the avalanche that killed 16 Nepalese on the mountain. Obviously, this is another devastating blow to the Sherpa community. Have you been hearing from those local climbers who suffered such a loss, and now, I'm sure, are wondering what 's going on with their families?

SCHAFFER: We've heard from Sherpas who are telling us that entire villages lower down in the valley have been completely destroyed. The young man who's helped me report all of my Everest stories over the last three years there, he is still unaccounted for. So I'm trying to get in touch with him and see if he's all right. There's so much loss of life, I think, in every direction that it's just - it's sort of hard to comprehend. I think people are just still trying to take stock.

MARTIN: Outside Magazine's Grayson Schaffer talking to us from Santa Fe where he is monitoring the devastation caused by the Nepal earthquake. Grayson, thanks so much for talking with us.

SCHAFFER: Thanks for having me, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.