Vail mountaineer tells Aspen audience about deadly Mt. Everest avalanche
The Aspen Times
Vail-based mountaineer Jon Kedrowski returned to Mount Everest in April for an expedition where he planned to forego use of supplemental oxygen.
Instead, it was a trip that took his breath away, first through exhilaration then sorrow. Kedrowski was on Mount Everest at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, April 25, when a devastating earthquake struck Nepal.
He related his story Wednesday to about 50 attendees at the Aspen Business Luncheon, a public event in its 40th year.
Kedrowski had successfully reached the summit of the world’s tallest mountain May 26, 2012. He returned this year to help lead a team of climbers up Mount Everest and, on the same trip, climb and ski descend the Lhotse Couloir with other clients.
“I want to create one project every year,” said the mountaineer. His experiences include sleeping on the summits of all of Colorado’s peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation.
Climbing without extra oxygen was his twist on his second trip to Mount Everest.
Although the expedition was going smoothly, Kedrowski said he always warned clients to expect the unexpected. He was in the dining tent at 11:30 a.m. when the unfathomable hit.
“It was really odd. It was like this vibration while I was sitting in the dining tent,” Kedrowski said, noting he had a glass of water in front of him at the time. The vibration jiggled the water in his glass just like in the move “Jurassic Park.”
“Initially I thought, ‘Oh, it’s just a small avalanche from the surrounding amphitheater. There’s nothing going on,’” he said. “It just never stopped. It was like 20 seconds of shaking.”
He exited the dining tent and encountered his teammates and other people emerging. Everyone was in awe of the earthquake and the sound of rock and ice “clashing” in the surrounding monster peaks.
“It went on for a whole minute, just the biggest shaking I’ve ever experienced,” Kedrowski said.
For him, it was initially a fascinating experience as an environmental geographer and scientist. “Everyone always asks me, ‘Were you scared?’ At the moment, I really wasn’t,” he said. “It was the biggest earthquake I had ever experienced. I was thinking of all the science behind it.”
The earthquake triggered the collapse of massive blocks of ice from the slopes above Base Camp to a natural bowl at the elevation of 17,000 feet. It triggered an odd type of avalanche that featured air blasts pushing plumes of snow and firing ice and rock projectiles toward a portion of the long, drawn-out Base Camp.
Kedrowski’s half of the camp didn’t get affected very severely, but it became clear that the other half was devastated. It was eerie, he said, because conditions remained foggy and snow covered everything.
“It was such an uncertain feeling, a feeling I’ll never forget,” he said. “The power and the force of this I’d never seen before.”
Kedrowski had taken pictures of the ridgeline above Base Camp on April 24. He took photos after the avalanche that showed the massive amount of snow and ice that broke off the mountain.
If Kedrowski had climbed April 25 to the place he did above Base Camp the day before, he would have been in the direct line of fire of the ice chucks.
“I feel lucky just to be standing here,” he said.
It was instantly apparent that his team and others wouldn’t be climbing because of the death and destruction on the mountain. The avalanche killed 17 people at Base Camp and injured scores more.
Many teams packed up and left. Kedrowski’s group decided to stay since it had enough supplies to last several weeks. They aided while climbers were brought down from higher camps, but they soon decided the Sherpa they were employing needed to get to their homes to check on families and friends.
Kedrowski promotes specific relief organizations and is organizing a service trip to Nepal in 2016. More information on his efforts can be found at his website, http://www.jonkeverest.org.