May 30, 2015

NEPAL EARTHQUAKE: Sometimes I forget that I came to Nepal in April to climb mountains.

Sometimes I forget that I came to Nepal in early April to climb mountains. 

At 11.55am on April 25th, 2015 I was on the snow-covered slopes of Mt. Shishapangma, the 14th highest mountain in the world, when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck. 

The weather conditions that morning offered zero visibility so when the earth began to move and the ice, rock, and snow tumbled down with a vengeance we were left paralysed with fear and confusion. Completely disoriented by our surroundings my Sherpa guide Lhakpa and I didn’t know where to run for safety – we were literally surrounded on all sides by mountains. It was like we had 4 loaded guns pointed at us as we tried to guess which would ‘shoot first’.  Fortunately none did.  I can say with a strong degree of confidence that it was the most terrifying few minutes of my life

On May 12th I was in Kathmandu assisting with relief work when the second earthquake struck. I escaped unscathed but sadly, in old and poorly constructed buildings around the across the city and around the country, many lost their lives. 

The contrasting experiences of being on a mountain for the first earthquake and in a city for the second have been equally terrifying. In the city it wasn’t avalanches coming down that frightened me, it was Kathmandu’s old rickety buildings. 

Still today, 1-month on, I feel a perpetual ‘earthquake hangover’ and jump at the slightest ‘bumps,’ both real and imagined - apparently a common inner ear reaction to the aftershocks - some 260 since April 25th. On more than one occasion I’ve gripped the table, frantically seeking confirmation, ‘Did you feel that?’

I’ve been asked by many people how I feel about what happened… Am I sad not to have continued with my expedition? What I have I learned from my experiences over the past two months? How have I made an unfortunate situation a positive one? What have I learned through the relief work that I’ve been involved in?

I could write a book about everything that I’ve felt, seen and heard. To keep it simple I’ve found three simple words which best sum it up Resilience. Resourcefulness. Respect.

The past two months have taught me about resilience.

It wasn’t until our evacuation from Shishapangma and arrival back in Kathmandu that I began to realise the full scale of the disaster – something we’d been protected from in our lofty Himalayan heights. I’d only heard about the tragedy on Everest but hadn’t prepared myself for the bigger picture.  It was overwhelming, at a scale unprecedented to my senses and any previous frames of reference. The earthquake’s devastating impact had killed over 8600 people, injured over 18,000 and left hundreds of thousands homeless and sleeping under flimsy tarps in the streets. 

One month on and many of the villages I’ve visited still have the look of a war zone. Buildings tilt at vertiginous angles, a door or window visible through a twisted mess of corrugated iron. Brown dust drifts over the disintegrated remains of once proud homes. 

But between the rubble and cracks in the walls, hope shines through. I’ve been astounded by the resilience with which Nepalis have been tackling the most adverse of conditions in not only a stoic, but also a heroic, manner. This applies not only to the villagers in the most-affected districts, but the waves of Nepalis selflessly volunteering to help themselves and their fellow citizens in this time of national need. As swathes of the country have become a patchwork landscape of tents, Nepalis stand resiliently strong.

I can’t help but think back to an elderly woman we met in Thamo, just outside of Namche Bazar in the Everest region. She was praying on the trail on our way into the village – her face weather beaten, her eyes tired but strong. She led us to what was left of her home where she had been making lunch when the earthquake struck. She had run out of the house as the building crumbled to its foundations around her. 

As if that wasn’t enough, the pile of rubble caught on fire and the fire consumed all that was left. 

When we visited, all that remained what a blackened, charred heap of rocks. Beside it, two simple bright orange tarps that had been converted into a tent, a  dented kettle, a mud-stained and charred duvet, a blackned photo of a religious figure and an emancipated and sickly looking cat.

We were invited into her tarped ‘home’ where we met her elderly husband who was praying in front of a small alter set up against a pile of rocks. The woman offered me a cup of hot milky tea – I knew how scarce resources must have been for the couple and how proud she was to still be able to offer me a drink. I felt humbled. A package of dry biscuits then appeared… I think that ‘tea’ and ‘biscuit’ were among the only two English words she spoke. 

The couple never asked for money, they never complained, they only told their story and spoke of their plans in an uncertain future. They would take what they had and rebuild, slowly but surely, brick by brick. 

We offered them a meagre contribution of financial relief which they accepted with tears streaming down their cheeks. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the looks of quiet gratitude on their faces.

The past two months have taught me about resourcefulness.

I could list numerous examples of resourcefulness. From the grassroots movements of Nepali and international volunteers who travel to far-flung villages to distribute food to the individuals and communities who worked together to provide emotional and physical support during the grim and difficult task of searching the rubble for survivors to the ongoing staffing of 24-hour medical posts operated by local and international volunteers... ‘Community Kitchens’ have been established in the tent cities whilst relief-and-rebuilding initiatives, school rebuilding projects are all underway.

Many of these initiatives started within hours of the first earthquake and are ongoing to this day.

Since my return I’ve been fortunate enough to stay with my friends, Tashi and his wife Tseten Sherpa at Sherpa Adventure Gear, a global outdoor clothing company headquartered in Kathmandu and with retail outlets around the world. Tashi is CEO. The company’s logo is the ‘the Endless Knot’ – meaning, ‘What goes around, comes around.’ The auspicious symbol represents the unity of thought and action, words and deeds, wisdom and compassion.

Within 24 hours of the first earthquake Tashi and Tseten had assembled a team of volunteers (employees who themselves had been directly impacted by the earthquake) who worked around the clock using the sewing machines and fabrics once reserved for waterproof and fleece jackets and jumpers to produce and distribute hundreds of blankets, tents and tarps to those most in need. 

Despite international and local business pressures, clothing production and distribution deadlines were put on hold as the factory became a recognised as a leading example of relief coordination and activity. 

Through the Paldorje Education Fund, an existing Sherpa Adventure Gear fund providing scholarships to underprivileged children, Tashi immediately established an Earthquake Relief Fund – which has raised nearly $150,000. The money, from generous donors around the world, has provided relief in the form of tents, tarps, medical supplies, food, and financial assistance to hundreds of families most in need. 

The resourcefulness of the company, its selfless leadership and the compassion shown to the people of Nepal has become an example for others – and has provided a personal example to me, demonstrating a resourcefulness that I’ll remember long after these tectonic tremors have subsided...

The past two months have taught me about respect for the environment.

I majored in Geography in university. I knew that nature could be as ruthless and powerful as it was beautiful. Through mountaineering I've seen the beauty firsthand. Through mountaineering I've now also seen and felt the other extreme. Never in my life have I felt as humbled by nature as when the ground began to rumble below my feet on April 25th. I was convinced that the avalanches rolling down the face of Shishapangma would be my end. Subsequently, I’ve continued to feel completely helpless with each of the aftershocks – their unpredictability, their randomness, their silent, omnipresent threat. 

In the village of Langtang, one of Nepal’s most popular trekking destinations, moments after the earthquake struck a massive expanse of ice fell thousands of feet, creating an avalanche that obliterated a community where 400 people lived and where nearly 100 foreign trekkers are believed to have been. In a matter of seconds the entire village was wiped off of the face of the earth, buried under 50 – 80 feet of rock, snow and ice. Only 180 villagers survived and many of the trekkers lost their lives. Landslides triggered by subsequent aftershocks continue to make the area unstable and unsafe and the search for bodies have had to be put on hold. Nature's ruthless force.

Last week, here in Kathmandu, the ‘pre-curser’ to the monsoon rains began. It was only 3pm but the sky was completely black. As the sky began to rumble from above, the unsettled earth began to rumble from below. Once again I felt incredibly helpless and truly put in my place unsure where to go to ‘hide’ from the powerful forces that nature was once again about to unleash up on us. It came in the form of gale-force winds, claps of thunder, flashes of lightning, hail, and torrential rain.

But then in contrast to the chaos I can’t help but think back to those early weeks of April on Shishapangma. As Lhakpa and I fearfully made our way back to Advanced Base Camp, we couldn’t help but notice the impact of the quake and the avalanches of snow and rock it had released - fresh cracks in the ground, loose boulders dislodged, cracked ice in the lakes. Almost eerily, the snow had stopped and the cloud had lifted, burnt off by a blazing Himalayan sun. Visibility was restored and rather than reveal a scene of destruction and devastation, the mountain vista stretched out before us seemed almost… beautiful, natural and strangely rebalanced. 

As quickly nature destroys, it also brings peace and reveals beauty.

Closing thoughts…
Sometimes I forget that I originally came to Nepal in early April to climb mountains. Little did I know that when I arrived that these mountains would be more proverbial than real. As I prepare to head back to the UK tomorrow, I can’t help but reflect that the people that I've met, the things I've seen and the lessons learned have been more impactful than any summit I've ever attempted, stood on or dreamed about. And for those lessons I’ll be forever grateful. 

May 27, 2015

NEPAL EARTHQUAKE: The life and times of a bag of food relief...

To help our Nepal earthquake relief fund supporters see the tremendous impact of their donations, I would love to one day attach a video recorder onto a bag of relief goods that passes through our doors here at the Sherpa Adventure Gear HQ in downtown Kathmandu. I'd love to visually record the journey as the relief follows the 'supply chain' and makes its way out of our distribution centres, onto the trucks and into outstretched arms of those most in need. 

As our Sherpa Adventure Gear Earthquake Relief Funds’ commitment is to ensure that 100% of all of the donations we receive from across the globe are delivered directly to the individuals and families most in need we are always immediately involved in the process.

Yesterday I again had the opportunity to experience this firsthand as I travelled overland with our team of volunteers from Sherpa Adventure Gear in a heavily loaded truck to deliver and help distribute relief to a community in Dolakha. Dolakha is one of the districts worst affected by the 25 April earthquake and the epicentre of the 7.3 aftershock on 12 May. In Dolakha, 134 people have been killed and 304 people injured since 25 April and thousands have been left homeless – now living under plastic tarps and sharing rickety stables with what livestock remains.

Aftershocks continue to rock Dolakha – even yesterday as we distributed the relief the ground continued with gentle seismic shifts below our feet.

Bringing dhal to Dolakha

As an intrepid team of 5, our mission was to distribute 100 tarps, 100 x 30kgs bags of rice, 100 x 10 kgs of beans, 100 x 10kgs of dhal, cooking oil, water filters, water purification tablets, and biscuits. These were personally delivered to the individuals and families as selected by their communities based on the degree of loss suffered during the earthquake - many having lost both their homes and family members. These relief goods had all been donated or purchased locally here in Nepal through the generous contributions of people from across the globe to our Nepal-based earthquake relief fund. All those involved in the entire process are volunteers.

We loaded the truck in the early hours of 6am and turned into the bustling Kathmandu traffic – the temperature was already above 25 degrees – it was going to be another scorcher of a day. The early signs of monsoon are starting to reveal themselves with a fury – hot days and in the evening, heavy rains and high winds. 

We’d experienced a horrific wind and rainstorm the previous evening. Kathmandu’s populous tent cities had clearly borne the brunt of last nights storm as people emerged from the battered remains of their ‘shelters’ with soaking blankets, screaming children, soggy clothing and grim faces. It had been a long night. And the monsoon season technically hasn’t even started… this is just a precursor and a warning of devastation that is to come. As many have predicted, we have not even begun to see the true impact of the Nepal Earthquakes yet.

Sindupalchok and Dolakha

Our 4 hour journey took us through one of the hardest hit districts of the earthquake – Sindhupalchok. In this district alone, 4,242 people were killed, 4,000 injured, and 95% of homes destroyed.

One month after the disaster, many of the communities still have the look of a war zone. Buildings listed at vertiginous angles, the occasional door or window visible through a twisted mess of corrugated iron. Red dust blowing through the wind drifting the disintegrated remains of bricks which had once made up proud homes. High up on what must have been the second floor of one house, a kitchen cupboard clings to an external wall, tins and packets of food still sitting on its shelves… an emancipated cow roams the street.

In one of the villages we passed a hospital where over 200 people died in their beds when the buildings supporting walls crumbled and the building literally collapsed on top of them. A blind man in a lonely wheelchair sits, as if abandoned, next to a spaghetti-like mess of iron bars which once supported the concrete structure. 

The once buzzing countryside is now a depressing tapestry. Orange, blue, yellow and white tents and tarpaulins confetti the steeply terraced hillsides. People and animals stare up shyly from dwellings that look incapable of sheltering any life at all while birds swoop over the red tumbles of brick and grey concrete that were once homes and schools. Beams protrude through shattered roof tiles like open fractures. Village after village lie flattened.

Communities are suffering – as much physically as psychologically. With every tectonic tremor people are sent screaming to the perceived shelter of their tents. But now the bigger danger isn’t just earthquakes, it’s also landslides. With the coming monsoon rains, the number of landslides is expected to increase exponentially as many mountain slopes have become unstable and ready to release with devastating consequences to the communities, agriculture, livestock and the country’s extensive network of river systems.

2-3 weeks of food... and hope

It ‘looks’ all doom and gloom from the surface but there are many layers to a tragedy.

Arriving at our pre-arranged meeting point in Dolakha, we were met by a group of about 150 locals, made up of a lively collection men, women and children.  They greeted our convoy of food with weary looks of happiness – in most cases, likely thinking ahead to the first warm, full meal they may have had in days. The children smiled shyly with toothless grins, hiding behind the long colourful bright pink, green and blue dresses of their mothers and sisters. The elderly looking on quietly, their eyes tired yet resilient, their weather-beaten faces bearing witness to the arduousness of living off the land and season-to-season unpredictability of nature. The men proud with strong, kind faces, speaking quietly amongst each other reviewing how the organised distribution taking place.

One woman in the community held a pre-agreed list of names of people who would receive their donation. As she called out the names, the locals would come up one by one and handed their heavy loads. Even the elderly hoisted the 30kg bags of rice on their shoulders as if they weighed no more than a few kilos each. Whilst this was happening the children played together and were given packages of biscuits that they shared amongst each other and devoured with joy.

The entire distribution took about 1.5 hours and will provide 100 families with enough food for at least 2 - 3 weeks. The tarps will provide temporary relief from the rains while the remains of homes are slowly recovered from the rubble and reconstructed. Water purification systems will limit the spread of disease and reduce instances of diarrhoea.

As I watched three spritely old women walk up a boulder-strewn path back to the remains of their home I couldn’t help but think of the less tangible but equally important impacts of our distribution that day. This aid, provided thanks to the generous contributions of people from all over the world - will give these 100 people in the community of Dolokha renewed strength and hope… two things they’ll need in spades as they begin to rebuild their lives out of the rubble and plan for a future ahead. 

As much as I'm an important 'cog in the wheel' of this supply chain of aid going to those people who are most in need, I am equally as important a 'cog in the wheel' in ensuring that all our donors directly see and experience as much as they can, the TREMENDOUS difference that these contributions make in rebuilding a country that is still reeling from this tragedy.

On behalf of everyone here in Nepal, THANK YOU SO MUCH for your continued contributions and donations. Whilst the Nepal earthquake headlines may no longer dominate the front pages of international media, the impacts here remain real and omni present. Please continue to donate, to spread the word and give what you can.

May 25, 2015

NEPAL EARTHQUAKE Report: The Khumbu - Open for business... almost

The Khumbu, often referred to as ‘The Gateway to Everest’, sees a large portion of Nepal’s 600,000 visitors per year. With an extensive network of well-maintained stone and dirt trails meandering through friendly towns, past idyllic guest-houses, local farms, and waving children shouting ‘Namaste’, the Khumbu captures both the heart and the imagination.  For many, the first visit to the Khumbu will inevitably lead to more.

This week, in the aftermath of the magnitude 7.8 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks which devastated Nepal, I had the opportunity to travel to the Khumbu. The purpose of my visit to the region was three-fold: (1) to hand-deliver much needed earthquake relief in the form of financial support and shelter to the village of Thame in the Khumbu on behalf of the Sherpa Adventure Gear Nepal Earthquake Relief fund (2) to assess the damage to the area between Lukla and Thame (3) to get a break from Kathmandu where I felt like I was suffering from an ‘earthquake hangover’ – the constant feeling the ground was moving even when it wasn't…apparently an inner ear reaction to all the aftershocks, some 240 since April 25th

The Journey:
On May 18th I flew into Lukla, an infamous and remote mountain airport bearing the unenviable reputation of being ‘the most dangerous airport in the world’. Having just survived 2 earthquakes I pushed my luck even further, flying in what seemed like my own fully stocked private jet packed with with tents, tarps and medical supplies provided by aid agencies around the world.  

I’ve traveled the flight between Kathmandu and Lukla on a number of occasions but what made the journey unique this time were the startling views  –  a patchwork of orange, yellow and blue tarps scattered across the rolling hills and between the rubble remains of destroyed homes and villages littered across the countryside.

The earthquake came during Nepal’s popular spring trekking season. I’d expected the region to be quieter than usual given the circumstances but I was shocked to find that literally every trekker, mountaineer and tourist (as well as many locals) had left… All that remained were myself and two well travelled Americans – Mike and Parker – who were on a mission to deliver relief to Khumjung and assess the damage to the Khumbu Climbing School in Phortse. They were welcome company on the quiet and sometimes treacherous, landslide prone trails. With a backgrounds in carpentry and climbing and past trips through the area their insights proved to be equally informative. 

To provide some context, when we entered Sagamartha National Park, paid our $38 and passed through the checkpoint we were told that there had been 5 tourists in 5 days… including the three of us. Normally at this time of the year (April - May) between 3,000 - 5,000 trekkers pass through the park gates.


I’ve done my best to summarise below some of my observations about the well-trodden route between Lukla and Thame. Before going into detail I stress that these insights are based on my visit between 18 – 22 May 2015 only and are compared to my last visit to the area in the Spring of 2013. 

Given the speed at which the area is already being rebuilt, I fully expect that any specific photos or accounts of damaged or destroyed homes and landslide-prone trails will be out of date by the autumn trekking season. 

The ‘executive summary’ is that Khumbu will once again be open for business and ready to welcome trekkers to the region come Autumn. The caveat to this statement is that the region will, in the short - medium term,  be heavily reliant on both financial support to help with ongoing rebuilding efforts and continued tourism dollars coming into the region.

Main villages visited:
18 May: Lukla (2880m) – Phakding (2610m) – Monjo (2804m) (overnight)
19 May: Jorsalle – Namche (3445m) 
20 May: Namche (3445m) - Thame ( 3820m) – Namche (3445m)
21 May: Namche (3445m) – Lukla (2880m)
22 May: Lukla - Kathmandu


Building Damage:

Beyond cracks and minor structural damage to many of the older buildings, Lukla sustained only minor damage with popular haunts such as the ‘Lukla Starbucks’ still serving up steaming hot lattes and mouth watering carrot cake. Popular lodges including Paradise Lodge remain open and fully operational with the kitchen continuing to serve up the best momos on this side of the country. The most significant damage that I saw was a completely destroyed and burned-out building mid-way through town formerly known as ‘The Sherpa Café’ – this may have been damaged before the earthquake.  

Whilst building damage appeared minimal the psychological impact of the earthquake is significantly higher. A large portion of the population of Lukla (and the Solukhumbu and Khumbu more broadly) have moved to temporary shelters including tents, tarps and wooden animal stables. Living in fear of future earthquakes, many locals feel that their homes are unsafe and sleep outside and under rather than return to their homes – some of which could be made structurally safe with minor repairs.

Lukla - Phakding
Between Lukla and Phakding we saw a considerable amount (circ 70%) of buildings with structural damage varying from minor cracks, missing sections of wall to the complete destruction of the structure. 

A number of buildings at the top of the path leading down to Jiri appeared to have been completely destroyed with the taller buildings along the trail now tilting at vertiginous and improbable angles and balancing precariously on the steep slopes. Around them, the hills of rubble reveal the occasional door, window and sheet of twisted corrugated tin. High up on what must have been the second floor of one guesthouse, a kitchen cupboard clings to an external wall, tins and packets of food still sitting on its shelves, a flower pot balancing precariously in a glassless window…

We stopped for a delicious lunch at the Sunrise Lodge in Phakding.  Like many of the guesthouses and lodges Phakding, the Sunrise Lodge appears to have suffered a fair amount of structural damage – particularly to its older stone-contructed sleeping quarters. These will have to be rebuilt. The newer sleeping quarters made of a combination of stone, wood and mortar appear to have sustained only minor damage. 

On a positive note – perhaps reflective of the future of the Khumbu and the resilience of its people – between 18 and 21 May the stone walls around Sunrise lodge which had been completely knocked over had been completely rebuilt. If this is indicative of the speed of rebuilding then there’s no doubt the area will be able to sustain tourists for the Autumn season. 

An ongoing theme was the ‘clean up’ which had already started in earnest. Resourceful Nepali’s had ensured that any salvageable lumber / tin / stone in buildings which had been levelled to their foundations had already been stacked into neat, organised piles, ready to be reused. 

As a recommendation (and I suspect that this is already being addressed), there would be tremendous value in stepping up ongoing efforts to provide locals with research / training on how to build more ‘earthquake resistant' homes using a combination of available materials including the increasingly popular ‘soil bags’ along with timber, stone and mortar so that past mistakes are not repeated – or can at the very least be minimised.

Phakding - Monjo
From Phakding to Monjo the scale of devastation appeared to increase with about 75% of the buildings having significant structural damage and held up by struts. There were greater numbers of lodges and cafes impacted. 

If the primary building material was stone then damage was often significant and the building was now uninhabitable. If mortar was used in conjunction with the stone then there was often little to no damage – and in some cases the home appeared to be habitable with only minor repairs / reinforcement required. 

Many buildings supported by timber foundations (including wooden posts) and a wooden structures appeared to be in near perfect condition. We guessed that this was in part due to a combination of the soil-structure of the ground under the house and the ‘flex’ nature of the wood in response to the earthquake. 


We slept in tents (along with most of Monjo and Jorsalle) on the front lawn of the 'Monjo Guest House'. From its exterior, the main building of the guesthouse appeared to have survived unscathed.  A quick look inside revealed that all was not as it seemed - literally all the interior walls and a large part of the roof had caved in. The entire building is unsafe and will have to be rebuilt. The glass and timber built dining room suffered little to no structural damage. 

Work had already begun on a temporary tin shelter next to what used to be the main sleeping quarters. 

As Monjo has been without electricity since the first earthquake, we dined by candlelight with the locals and enjoyed a delicious dahl baht feast.

Monjo – Namche
Jorsalle, just outside of Monjo suffered significant damage with about 80% of the buildings suffering major cracks, missing parts of walls and/or held up by long wooden struts. Significant rebuilding work will have to take place before most buildings in Jorsalle are habitable again.

Buildings in Namche seemed to have suffered only minor damage in comparison to the rest of the Solukhumbu and Khumbu that we’d passed through. 

Perhaps one of the hardest hit buildings by the earthquake is the guesthouse of popular and rather iconic Café Daphne – the site of many a post-climb celebration. Whilst the main bar area and internet café remains intact (albeit with a very wobbly wooden floor), the old stone-built sleeping quarters have been completely destroyed. Efforts are already underway to rebuild and have as much of the building open and safe for tourists coming through in the Autumn.

The Shree Himalayan Primary School in Namche is completely destroyed – the scale of the destruction shocking with many of the exterior and interior walls having completely caved in. There were about 145 pupils attending the school, from the age of three-and-a-half up till 11 years of age and coming from all parts of the Khumbu.

It’s hard to find a ‘silver lining’ on the situation but if there is one it is that it’s incredibly fortunate that the initial earthquake struck on a Saturday – the only day that children don’t attend school - and that the equally devastating second earthquake occurred while the children all been on their lunch breaks.

I stayed at the Hotel Sherwi Khangba, located a few minutes walk above Namche Bazar and also the home to the popular Sherpa Culture Museum. The hotel was fully operational with no visible damage and sustaining a fully operational kitchen. Only the traditional entrance gate to the hotel and its significant stupa suffered structural damage as did some of the walls around the museum. I did not visit the museum on this occasion so am unable to provide an update on its current state.

The front lawn of the Hotel Sherwi Khangba has become Namche’s ‘tent city’ housing about 70 tents ranging from large multi-family Red Cross tents to expedition-style sleeping tents and providing temporary shelter to about 200 people.

Namche – Thame
The entire valley of Thame and its neighboring Thameteng was devastated by the initial earthquake including complete destruction of the Thame monastery, one of the oldest in the Khumbu. Any buildings that ‘survived’ the first earthquake were subsequently destroyed in the aftershocks. A total of 423 houses were damaged affecting the population of 1876 people.

We visited one elderly couple in Thamo, a ‘suburb’ of Thame. Their home had been completely destroyed. Any remaining and salvageable possessions that they’d owned had been destroyed in a fire which subsequently engulfed the rubble. 

Offering countless cups of tea, the kind and weather-beaten couple never said it directly but the worries were clear in their eyes – how would they ever begin to rebuild their home

Trail infrastructure:
Overall the trails were in good condition with only a few areas between Lukla and Phakding covered by some minor localised rock-fall that has likely already been moved. 

Whilst the trail was free from objective hazards, we continued to be vigilant for rockfall and landslides and would advise others traveling through the region in the foreseeable future to do the same.

There significant evidence of active landslides between Phakding and Monjo with a ½ km section of the trail just after Phakding directly impacted. In this section two large landslides have made the main trail inaccessible and dangerous for sections varying from between 2 – 25 meters and remains an active and ongoing hazard. The ground in this section is very unstable with large cracks appearing directly on the ground and threatening to slide between 30 -  40 metres down the cliff.  We were able to climb up and around the landslide prone-areas but with extreme caution.

The bridges appeared unaffected by the earthquakes. It was great to see both the ‘high bridge’ and the ‘low bridge’ accessible and in use just below the long hot slog that is the infamous ‘Namche Hill’.

Streams in the area were flowing rapidly. Most of the water stand-pipes are made of plastic, they remain functional, providing clean safe water. The extensive aquaduct system around Monjo remained intact.

At the time of visiting the bigger water-related concern was the status of Imja Lake and the ongoing threat that it poses on downstream communities. The lake is considered by researchers to be among the three most dangerous glacial lakes in Nepal.  The recent earthquakes are rumoured to have affected the moraine of the lake however at the time of visiting I found no evidence to support this.

The main agricultural food staples in the area are potato, wheat, maize and millet. There did appear to be some activity in the terraced fields and plots of land around the villages where farmers could be seen actively weeding around the maize crop and many potato fields. Based on our general observations there does not appear to be an immediate / short-term food shortage and agriculture has not been badly affected by the earthquakes.

Tourism to the area has been severely impacted. 

When we passed through the checkpoint entrance to Sagamartha National Park we were told that we were the 5th trekkers to pass through the gates in 5 days. Not a promising figure for a region which, in April 2014, welcomed 7,208 trekkers and in May, 1,392 trekkers – (these figures do not reflect expeditions which would add another 1,500 to those numbers). In total the Khumbu welcomes through its park entrance over 35,200 trekkers per year. The lack of revenue generated by trekking permits and park entrance fees will certainly be felt.

Resourcefulness and Resilience:
Walking up on 18 May, several small villages between Lukla and Monjo appeared to be completely empty – with the panes of glass removed from many of the lodge windows and the curtains left blowing silently in the breeze.  It was eerily quiet for an area that always seems to be full of activity. We learned the following day that this may have been due to ongoing  (and false) ‘predictions’ about further earthquakes.

It’s worth noting that on my descent back down to Lukla just a short 3 days later on 21 May, the general atmosphere of the area was completely different. There was a flurry of rebuilding activity taking place with men, women and children active in the streets, in their homes and in the fields – structures being torn down whilst others were being rebuilt. A number of lodges back open for business and shops with soft drinks and chocolate bars on display in store windows. Where villages were devoid of children playing in the streets, they were now alive and abuzz with activity... It was starting to look like 'business as usual' again.

Whereas we didn’t see any porters while walking up to Namche on the 18th, I passed about 45 porters walking up between Lukla – Namche on the 21st  while I was walking down. All were heavily loaded with timber, sheets of corrugated tin, building supplies as well as rice, lentils, eggs and other food staples.

In short, it appears that slowly but surely the daily hubbub of life is returning to the Khumbu.

The future…
After a disaster of such magnitude, the task of reconstruction will never be easy – especially for an area inaccessible by motor transport and where all supplies have to be walked up or flown in. 

Having said that, as seen so clearly in the Khumbu, the rebuilding work has begun – and in light of the impending monsoon, this is all the more critical with thousands of people living under tarps, in tents and in temporary camps. Full recovery will take both time and patience – the Nepali people must continue to be resourceful and resilient.

And all the while the Nepali people and the thousands of tourists that will continue to visit this beautiful country must remember that the ground will stop shaking, the dust will settle, and we will live on to build a new Nepal. 


Much gratitude and many thanks for reading, and for caring. Whilst the devastating Nepal Earthquake headlines may have disappeared from the front pages of the international media, the country  and its people still need your help to rebuild.  Please consider making a donation to: