On the morning of April 25, Coloradans woke up to news of a tragedy unfolding halfway around the world, as a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake shuttered through Nepal near the capital of Kathmandu, and unleashed avalanches on the famed Mount Everest in the Himalayas. With Colorado’s soaring peaks and outdoors ethos, it’s not surprising that the state is home to many mountaineers and trekkers who were in Nepal at the time of the quake and are still trying to find their way home.
“I was sleeping when the buzzing from my phone woke me up. It took me awhile to realize it was from a satellite phone. By the time I answered it, they were gone,” says Mike Moniz, father of 17-year-old Mount Everest climber Matt Moniz of Boulder. “When I finally got ahold of someone, they were shell-shocked and told me there were people dead all around them and hung up. I assumed Matt was alive, but it took over three hours to actually talk to him. It was the beginning of several sleepless nights.”
Matt Moniz is one of 10 Coloradans who were at Everest when massive avalanches descended from the mountain and roared into base camp, killing 19 (including filmmaker and Evergreen native Tom Taplin, 61) and injuring more than 60. As the Colorado contingent—including Jim Davidson and Alan Arnette (Fort Collins), Charley Mace (Golden), Jim Walkley (Denver, who arrived home on May 3), Jon Kedrowski (Vail), Kim Hess (Steamboat), Dave Elmore and Ryan Waters (Boulder)—makes their way out of the Khumbu region, where Everest is located, and home to the U.S., they are sharing harrowing tales of near misses (“We saw a huge wall of snow and we all dove behind a rock and covered our faces,” says Moniz), and rescues (“They flew more than 70 high-altitude flights to rescue all of us from camp 1. We simply could not get down the mountain any other way,” says Davidson).
What awaited them as they made their way to Kathmandu, a city that’s effectively destroyed. The earthquake has left a wide swath of damage across the central part of the country. More than 7,000 people have been killed, and twice as many have been injured. The quake was powerful enough to raise the capital city by three to six feet, according to the European Space Agency.
“There are regions in the Gorka District near the epicenter of the earthquake that we can’t even get into. Whole villages are gone,” says Denver resident Josh Duncan, director of development projects for MountainChild, a nonprofit focused on improving the lives of children in the remote mountain villages of Nepal. In a country with rudimentary infrastructure, the landslides unleashed by the quake have severed important arteries. “The reports I am getting from back home is that numerous roads are out, water supplies are shattered, and there is limited electricity,” says Karma Sherpa of Sherpa Mountain Adventures in Boulder.
“We are slowly hiking out, headed for Lukla [where Tenzing-Hillary Airport is located],” says Davidson. “But we have heard there are over 1,200 people there waiting for flights out, so we might have to keep heading towards Kathmandu. Once there who knows what our next steps will be.”
As this group of Colorado mountaineers makes their way across the devastated country, attention turns to the thousands of trekkers across the Everest Region, many of whom are still unaccounted for. The Red Cross estimates that hundreds of Americans are still missing in Nepal. “We have led numerous trips in the regions affected by the quake and even in best of times communications are spotty,” says Karma Sherpa.
While Western visitors are starting to return home, the Nepalese have to dig out and rebuild. But as the death toll continues to rise, it’s possible that things will get worse before they improve. This is of particular concern to the almost 3,000 Nepalese immigrants who call Colorado home. “I have activated all my guides and staff back in Kathmandu to help with relief efforts; they are working 12-hour days helping distribute supplies,” says Karma Sherpa. “We have received an outpouring of financial support from the local Nepalese community along the Front Range through our You Caring site, but we desperately need more. Right now we are trying to secure the services of a helicopter to get into the more remote areas.”
As Coloradans enjoy hiking and climbing our peaks as the weather warms the Front Range, remember the people of Nepal, who are trying to recover and rebuild. You can help by making a donation through these organizations: Red Cross, You Caring, Colorado-based dZi Foundation and MountainChild, and UNICEF.