Witness recounts scene of tragic Nepal avalanche

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldApril 26, 2014 

Editor's Note: Pemba Sherpa, a nephew of Everest guide Ang Dorjee Sherpa of Richland, was on Mount Everest on April 18 when an avalanche killed 16 guides. The following is an edited account of what he saw and felt before, during and after the disaster.

Pemba and a client from Alaska were climbing that morning, along with Sherpas hauling loads up to camps at various points on Everest's steep slopes.

Pemba, 22, working his second season on the mountain, and his client were resting near the Khumbu Icefall at one of Everest's glaciers, when a strong wind struck them.

"Now I realize that it was a sign alerting Sherpas about the avalanche," Pemba later wrote in a message to Ang Dorjee's wife, Michelle Gregory.

Five minutes later the two men watched as a block of ice the size of a house fell from the glacier. It created a cloud of snow that engulfed one of the mountain camps but then began flowing toward them.

"My client and I (ran) down and hid behind a big (piece of) ice," Pemba said. "The cloud of snow covered us and made dark for a while."

Pemba and his client were unharmed in the avalanche, and they descended after the air cleared. But then he began hearing calls on his radio from other Sherpas describing countless bodies buried under the snow.

"I was so scared to hear that," Pemba said. "I just kept chanting prayers until I got to base camp."

Numerous people called Pemba once he was in base camp, including his parents, who cried and asked him to return home. Pemba's father had paid for his son's boarding school education with money he'd made working as an Everest guide.

The avalanche wasn't the first of the season, Pemba said. He and three other Sherpas were almost caught in another a week before, but a large crevasse halted it before it reached them.

"So it was already twice that I got my life back," Pemba wrote. "So I thought (the) third time I may not have the luck to get back home and see my family."

Pemba has since returned to his village and hopes to find some other work to do.

"Life (on the) mountain is very uncertain," he said. "A day before I was kidding and seeing those friends and the next day they were gone."

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