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Out Alive is a podcast about real people who survived the unsurvivable. Check out more seasons and episodes here.
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When Svati Narula agreed to spend a season as part of a communications team at Mt. Everest basecamp she thought there would be a buffer between hers and the perils of Everest’s high slopes. But she would find there was no safe distance from the worst disaster in Mt. Everest’s history.
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Host: In the 1950s, Sir Edmund Hillary, and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest. Over 6,000 people have reached the summit since. What compels climbers to make the trek has been studied for decades.
When asked about his own motivation, Hillary famously said, “All of my life, I’ve been afraid of having nothing to do, having no challenges to meet, being bored. Life has been a battle against boredom, but I’ve been quite good at thinking up adventures and carrying them out.” That sentiment has resonated with the 6,000 plus climbers who have followed in his footsteps to the summit at the top of the world.
To those who will never reach its peak, Everest still beckons many who will stand in its shadow and take in its grandeur from below. Svati Narula was one of those people. When Svati traveled to basecamp to work in communications for an expedition, she thought there’d be a buffer between her and the perils of Everest’s High slopes. But the mountain had other plans.
Trailer: I made a decision to survive. You’re in that survival mode. The idea of dying wasn’t in my head. I knew immediately it was the worst case scenario. I was in a fight for my life situation. Whenever you walk out on these trails, you’re in their house. I’m Louisa Albanese, and you’re listening to Out Alive by Backpacker.
In each episode of this podcast, we’ll bring you real stories of real people who survived the un survivable. I saw the rope zipped through the repel ring, and I couldn’t do anything, learn what went wrong, what went right, and how you can escape if the worst case scenario happens to you. There is no way we would find anybody alive.
Svati: I became a journalist in 2013, and I was one of those people who had always loved reading about Mt. Everest and reading about mountaineering. I was not a climber myself. I had been a beginner rock climber many times. It had never really stuck, but I loved being outdoors. I thought mountaineering was fascinating.
I found Mt. Everest fascinating, and then when I became a journalist, I found myself gravitating to news stories about Everest and writing about them when big news broke on Mt. Everest. In 2014, there was a major ice release that killed 14 Sherpas.
News Clip: Overnight tragedy on Everest involving at least 12 guides.
Svati: It was a very, very big deal, and I was able to cover that news story for the place I was working.
I became someone who was writing about Mt. Everest on a regular basis, and I really enjoyed doing that. I circuitously had a meeting with David Breashears, and David, if you haven’t heard of him, is a very famous mountaineer. He’s also a filmmaker. He’s climbed Mt. Everest several times.
Host: When it comes to Mt. Everest and the mountaineering world at large, David Breashears is a big deal.
News Clip: Mountaineer David Breashears has been on Everest 14 times; he’s reached the summit five times.
Host: He was the first person to broadcast live from the summit of Mt. Everest and has produced and directed a number of films, including the IMAX film, “Everest.” Breashears was an expedition leader working on a film during the now infamous blizzard back in 1996 on Everest that killed eight climbers.
The whole thing was chronicled by Jon Krakauer in his bestseller “Into Thin Air.” If that doesn’t ring a bell, you might have caught the same story made into a star-studded movie starring Jake Gyllenhall and Kyra Knightley a few years ago, which Breashears co-produced.
Svati: David was impressed with my skills as a journalist. I think he also wanted to do something nice for me. I had never been to Nepal before. I had never seen the Himalayas before, but David was like, “Look, why don’t you take a leave of absence from your job? I’ll pay all your expenses, and you can come to Mt. Everest basecamp with me.”
Host: Svati was invited to work as part of David’s communication team to send emails and post on his Facebook page to help David keep up with his nonprofit Glacier Works, which raises awareness about climate change in the greater Himalayan region.
Svati: This was the trip of a lifetime. I was extremely excited. I was 23. I hadn’t actually done a whole lot of international traveling, so to land in Nepal all by myself and then have this experience where David was already up at basecamp, he went ahead of me. I had an experience where I landed in Nepal in Kathmandu and was alone for a few days.
And then David had a local agency that had a porter and a Sherpa who escorted me to basecamp on this trek. It is a beautiful trek. It’s hard, and you gain a lot of elevation. Altitude sickness is a real concern. Being careful about making sure you’re drinking boiled and purified water is a real concern.
Food poisoning definitely happens, but it was just, it was incredible. Really challenging, but very cool. That was an experience I’ll treasure forever.
Host: There are two Everest basecamp, one on the Nepal side of the mountain and one in Tibet. Typically when you hear about Everest basecamp, you’re hearing about Nepal.
Every year, a tent city is erected on the Khumbu Glacier, the highest glacier on Earth. The camp sits at about 17,500 feet and is comprised anywhere from 1 to 3000 people at any given time from around the world. For every one climber on the mountain, there are about three to four local workers living at camp, including cooks, sherpas, dishwashers, and medical staff.
Svati: There are a few people like me who are journalists who are not gonna go any higher than basecamp, but are still gonna live there. Then there’s a lot of traffic going from basecamp down to lower areas of Nepal because they’re always bringing food up, or they’re bringing generators up, or they need to bring waste down the mountain.
And what was special about our camp was that we were sharing resources and sharing a camp with the Himalayan Rescue Association, and the Himalayan Rescue Association, or the HRA puts on the Everest ER Clinic.
Host: The Everest ER Clinic is an organization that provides altitude-experienced healthcare and education to anyone in the climbing community at basecamp. The clinic is staffed by volunteer physicians. They use their proceeds from caring for climbers to provide subsidized or free care to the Sherpa people of the Khumbu region.
Svati: So they do really important work there, and it’s also a hub for the basecamp. It was interesting for me living there with the doctors because I got to see climbers from all different camps come in every day, and you hear a lot of gossip that way.
You meet a lot of people. It was just neat being in a camp where people were always coming to, and the doctors were also like celebrities in camp. People really respected them and treated them well.
April 24 was the night before this happened, and I remember being on the phone with my mom that night.
I had a little cheap cell phone that I used. I called my mom every couple of days to tell her how things were going. I called her that night and I was like, “Yeah, everyone’s in a really bad mood. People are just saying that something bad is gonna happen in the Icefall this year.” There were a lot of traffic jams.
This happens on Everest every year. There are climbers who are not as experienced, who take a long time to get through the ladders in the Khumbu Icefall, and so there are traffic jams and then people get upset.
Host: The Khumbu Icefall on Mt. Everest is one of the most perilous sections of the climb that requires precision and timing to cross safely. There are hidden crevasses, and during the day, as the sun warms the glacier, the ice can melt and crumble, causing frequent avalanches. To minimize the risks, it’s imperative for climbers to cross this section in the night or early in the morning before the sun rises. 44 climbers have lost their lives on this section since recordkeeping started back in the 50s. The year before Svati was at basecamp, an avalanche was triggered on the Icefall that buried 16 Sherpa’s, and all subsequent climbs were canceled for the season. With this in the back of everyone’s mind, many of the climbers and guides that Svati met were on edge.
Svati: The next morning was April 25, and it was a Saturday, and it was really snowy and cloudy that morning.
I remember there were some trekkers in the Everest ER. They were also dealing with, I remember a Sherpa patient who was really, really sick, and they had given him an IV and were working on him. I mention this because there were three doctors working at the Everest ER that season who I was living with and being friends with.
One of them was named Rachel, one of them was named Meg, and then there was Aditia who was Nepali and was a little bit younger. All three of them were in the Everest ER tent that morning, dealing with this really sick Sherpa. It was a cloudy day. I remember that David, who was my boss, was not in camp that day.
He was up on Camp One of Mt. Everest. I don’t know exactly how many people were up at Camp One that day. I wanna say maybe 200 people, it was a good contingent of climbers who were doing their basic rotations to get up.
Host: Climbers often ascend to Camp One, just above the Khumbu Icefall, and then return to basecamp as part of their acclimatization routine.
Svati: They were going to camp one, camp two and down, which is just a normal part of climbing Mt. Everest, and a lot of us were in basecamp. I was in this office tent that we had, and I was able to get on the WiFi that morning, which was like a really big deal. I was sending some emails and I was thinking to myself, “I’m hungry for lunch. It’s gonna be lunch soon.”
Right around the same time, it looked like it got sunny outside. I remember thinking to myself, “Oh great, the snow was letting up and the sun is coming out,” and I thought that was nice. I felt this swaying, and the best way I can describe how it felt is like being on a boat at sea when the boat is stopped, the boat’s not going anywhere, but you’re just maybe at anchor or the boat, you’re maybe on a sailboat, you’re not moving, and the sea’s pretty calm, but you’re still swaying.
That’s how it felt. My first instinct was thinking that someone in a nearby camp was moving a boulder somehow. The city of tents was a mile long, and so there were well-established trails to get from one camp to the other. People were always moving things around.
I really thought someone was moving a boulder, but then I realized, wait a minute, this is an earthquake. I had been in an earthquake before actually in Maryland, which is weird. It was only a 5.8 on the scale, but I remembered that feeling and this was the same feeling, it was just much bigger.
Host: When we hear about earthquakes, we often hear about Richter scale ratings, which is used to describe the magnitude of a quake. When a number jumps up one whole number on the Richter scale, it’s measuring a tenfold increase. A Level 6 earthquake is 10 times more powerful than a Level 5 earthquake, and so on.
Of the millions of earthquakes that are recorded, only a tiny portion of them have been recorded to register above a 7 or what’s considered capable of causing major damage on the Richter scale.
Svati: And I registered, I think it probably took me 10 seconds to register. Okay. What I am feeling here is a very large earthquake and I actually started typing in my email.
I said, “Hold on. I think we’re having an earthquake. I should get up and go look outside.” Some of our support staff was walking toward me, and I also thought, “Okay, this is probably a good opportunity to see an avalanche.”
Host: The basecamp of Mt. Everest sits in a large valley or bowl. Six miles to the west of Everest is Mt. Pumori.
Avalanches are common on Pumori and are audible from basecamp, but they happen far enough away that they’re not really a threat. They also were primarily happening at night, so Svati thought she would get to witness an avalanche on Mt. Pumori in the daylight from a safe distance away.
Svati: It came out, it was sunny, to the best of my memory, this is something that was disputed later, but I remember it being sunny. I remember having a very good view of all the mountains around us. I’m thinking, I was just gonna see a nice little billowing plume coming down one of the mountain faces. I also thought, “Okay, I don’t think I need to worry about danger from an earthquake because we’re in a tent city.”
Tents don’t fall down during an earthquake. It didn’t occur to me that the mountains were gonna fall down. Then of course I and these two guys that were with me, we are scanning around and then we see this mountain ridge, it was the ridge of Mt. Pumori, and it looked like the top of the mountain was just exploding.
It was really unlike anything. It was hard to comprehend because it was just so unlike any avalanche I’d ever seen on film before. This really, it looks like the whole mountain ridge was exploding. It almost was tsunami-like. If you think of a really fake tsunami, like the scene I always think of is like the scene in that movie Deep Impact where like Tea Leoni is standing on the beach and there’s a giant like fake tsunami coming and gonna envelop the whole east coast of the U.S. or whatever. It looked like it was really an apocalyptic tidal wave of snow and it took a second, I think, for all of us to register that it was actually gonna hit us.
Host: We’ll be right back.
Svati: At first I was like, “Okay, it’s far away. We’re not really close to this mountain.” But then, it was so big. It was so big, and the two guys turned, and they started to run and it was when they started running that I was like, “Oh, shit.” And so I turned on my heels and I started running and it was, I mean, a lot was going through my head.
It really didn’t look like something that could be outrun. When I say apocalyptic, it really did feel like that. It seemed like the type of situation that you only see in a Hollywood movie. It’s not real, but also it’s gonna wipe everything out. There’s no surviving it. I was running because the other guys were running.
I immediately tripped and fell flat on my face, and our government liaison officer. Very bravely and wonderfully knelt down and actually picked me up. Then we kept running and he could have very well saved my life in that moment, knowing what I know now about how people died very close to us in this event. We’re all able to run a few more steps, and then it hit us. It was like a cloud of snow and rocks and wind hit us, and it was very, very forceful. I think something you could compare it to probably is if you’ve ever been in the ocean, and a wave has hit you really hard and knocked you down. It was like that. I was fighting really hard to try to stay upright.
I was afraid of being buried upside down or something like that. What was flashing through my head was I had seen Discovery Channel TV shows about avalanche survivors, and I was convinced that a Labrador Avalanche rescue dog would be coming for us. That was what I saw in a lot of these TV shows, was avalanche rescue dogs.
So I had these visions of yellow labs who were gonna have to come sniff us out, and I remembered that in these shows. They talked about how people survived by creating air pockets for breathing. I put both of my hands over my face to try to create an air pocket, and I also tried as hard as I could to stay upright.
I did get knocked down, but I was knocked down to my knees, and then when I was on my knees. I thought I was getting buried and I thought I was gonna be knocked unconscious at any second. I was mentally preparing myself to either be knocked out and maybe never wake up again or have to be buried for 10, 15 hours until I was rescued.
It was really a strange mix of thoughts going through my head, and I don’t really know how long the snow swirled around us. I just remember it was probably less than a minute, but at a certain point I was like, “Okay, I’m still conscious. I’m awake, I’m not dead.” Some snow started to clear in front of me and then I realized, “I don’t think I’m buried.”
And then I put my hand in front of my face and I could see my hand and then things cleared. It was like all the dust settled, all the snow settled. I couldn’t see anybody else. I thought somehow all of basecamp had been wiped out and I was the only person left, which is a totally crazy thought and not rational at all.
But it was. I didn’t know what else to think. I couldn’t see anyone. Like I said, that cloud of snow had been so apocalyptic. I didn’t think anyone could have survived it. I was pretty shocked that I was not buried. I was pretty shocked that I was okay. I started screaming pretty hysterically.
I was screaming for help, I was screaming, “Is anybody there?” And then the two guys I had been with, our government liaison officer and our cook, both popped up in front of me. They popped up out of the snow. The snow was really only up to our knees or our thighs, and we were like, “Okay, you’re okay. You’re okay. Okay. Are we okay?” And then our eyes went to the north and we saw the remains of the Everest ER tent still standing. We didn’t see anything else. The tent that I had been in was gone. Our dining tent was gone. Everything was gone.
Host: The force that shook Nepal that day was a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake, and even climbers at the highest camp in the world were not immune from the destruction.
News Clip: Everest is more than 200 kilometers from the earthquake epicenter. Still, the tremor has caused the worst disaster ever on the mountain.
Host: The avalanche that came from Pumori hit a gully below the camp, so the basecamp was not buried, but hurricane forced winds ricocheted up the slope, hurling snow and rocks with deadly force.
News Clip: The ground is shaking. Even on the world’s tallest peak Saturday, they could feel the ground rumble beneath their feet. Whoa. Then the avalanche.
Svati: The Everest ER tent, it looked like it had been blown somewhat, but it was still standing. We were like, “Okay, we’re gonna walk there. We’re gonna go check on Rachel and Meg and Aditia and see if they’re okay. If they’re in there.”
And the Everest ER tent had been blocked from what happened by a little hill. I think that’s what protected it. Then that wind carried with it obviously a lot of snow, but also a lot of debris. A lot of rocks hit people.
People who didn’t have the benefit of seeing what was coming and having a chance to run. People who were just in tents, they were just blown into rocks. It was less of an avalanche and more of a wind blast that did the damage. We trudged over to the Everest ER and we got into that tent.
The tent had been shredded and there was a lot of snow in it, but Rachel was okay. Meg was okay. The Sherpa who was in there had a bloody IV needle sticking out of his arm. I just remember I went over to Aditia, and we both started crying. We took each other’s hands and we said, “We’re alive. We’re alive.”
But we were crying and Meg came over and she said, “You need to get warm, get under these blankets.” There were these blankets that the Everest ER had that were on a bench. Everything was coated in snow. I think shock was setting in and we were trying to pick up these blankets that were coated in snow and there was snow everywhere in me, like there was snow in my bra, there was snow in my underwear.
I was freezing. I couldn’t move, and Aditia and I were trying to pick up this blanket under inches of snow and sit down next to it. We sat down. We cried, I think I pulled out my cell phone cause I really wanted to call my mom and there was no service. People who were up at Camp One, they were radioing down to us at the Everest ER saying, “We just had an avalanche. We’re all really freaking out. We’re in danger.” Then us down there, we were like, “Yeah, tell me about it buddy. We know this happened to us too.” And then meanwhile people down at the other HRA post in Pheriche also had their own emergencies. It was chaos, I guess. People started coming into the ER tent, and there was a lot of blood.
I remember some man tried to help me because I had a lot of snow on my hat in my head, and he took my hat off, and there was all this blood, and I thought I was gonna faint. I was really freaking out. It turned out it was just a small injury on my head. It was from a rock that had hit my head and there was some blood and it was not a big deal.
But just seeing the blood really freaked me out and seeing the IV needle sticking out of this patient’s arm really freaked me out. Rachel and Meg had sprung into action, and I know that’s what I think we all expect from people who are trained in wilderness medicine, but they were put in a crazy situation here to have to manage this chaos and manage a massive amount of casualties and traumatic injuries. Meanwhile, we were still hearing smaller avalanches on different mountains in the vicinity. I had a sharp pain in my chest. I started to wonder if maybe I had a punctured lung or something. By this point, a bunch of doctors from other teams had all shown up.
So now the Everest ER was just full of doctors, full of guides. Everyone was helping. I felt really helpless. I had this pain in my chest. I was afraid that I might be one of those stories of people who, they survived the incident, but then five hours later they have an injury that no one knew about and then they die after.
I really didn’t know. I was so panicked, so a doctor ended up putting a sleeping bag over me to keep me warm, because they could tell I was in shock. She put some gauze on my head where I was bleeding and I sat there, and then I saw a couple of people with really bad injuries who were in sleeping bags as well, and then the guides and the doctors started zipping the sleeping bags over their heads, which I took to mean that they were dead. It was really just so surreal to be sitting there and seeing sleeping bags that have been turned into body bags. I eventually said to Meg, the doctor, I said, “Meg, I have this pain in my chest and I’m concerned.”
And she was like, “Okay, why don’t you walk down to IMT?”
Host: IMT and Himex are large guiding companies in different parts of the camp that had not been damaged by the blast of the avalanche. Both IMT and Himex had their own doctors, and through radio communications, the doctors at their camps were preparing for the incoming wounded from Everest ER.
Svati: It was a really, really scary walk. There were some aftershocks. The trail from one end of basecamp to the other is already icy and slow going. Everything was just covered by debris at this point. I mean, whole toilet tents had been blown over. There was poop everywhere. There was toilet paper everywhere. There were packaged foods and books, just all sorts of things that you would find in basecamp were just scattered around. I was trying to gingerly walk and not trip. Then there were aftershocks, and it was really scary and I saw a man who was lying face down at the bottom of a hill at one point. This whole place is pretty hilly. I thought, “Okay, that’s probably another dead body.”
But then I remembered, because I’ve read all these books, I remembered the story of Beck Weathers who was left for dead when he was on Everest in the 90s.
Host: Svati is referring to an event during the 1996 blizzard that killed eight climbers. During the storm, climber Beck Weathers was left for dead twice by members of his climbing party who deemed him beyond help, but miraculously 24 hours later, he woke up on the mountain from his hypothermic coma and self-rescued.
Svati: So I thought maybe this person isn’t dead. Maybe they’re just really injured, and maybe I’ll be the person who helps them and I, in order to be a good person, I have to go check them out. It was a really hard moment because I was so scared and getting down to him wasn’t really easy. He wasn’t really on the path I was on, so I had to scramble, but I was like, “I gotta do it. It’s the right thing to do. You gotta go check this person out, you gotta check for a pulse.” I was scrambling down toward him and then I saw his skull, and it looked like his skull was broken, and I was pretty sure what I was seeing was a fatal injury. At that point it was a very, very strange feeling of relief that I knew I needed to just keep going where I was going.
But also I don’t know, nothing prepares you for seeing a scene like that. I, to this day, don’t know who that was. I’ve never attempted to match up the list of people who died at basecamp with that person I saw. I continued and I went to IMT. They had some doctors evaluating people.
I showed up, and I immediately started crying. I was like, “I need to be checked out by a doctor. I came from Everest ER.” I was just inconsolable, crying and they were like, “Okay, come. Come here.” So it was the dining tent for the Himex climbing team, and I was in there, and there were five other injured people.
I think they were all Sherpas. Then there was one other guy who I had met before who was an English climber, and he had come in, he said he had some broken ribs. He said that one of his teammates was dead. He was also in shock. The Sherpas weren’t really saying anything. Then there was this doctor who, I don’t know if he was the Himex team doctor or a doctor from another team, but he was taking turns evaluating all of us. We were all in the tent together when there was a really big aftershock, and we heard a really big avalanche, and we were in the tent so we couldn’t see where it was coming from. The English climber I mentioned, he just muttered, “We’re fucked,” and I was like, “Oh my God, are we all just gonna be dead by different avalanches by the end of this?”
I can’t emphasize enough just how scared we were and how uncertain everything seemed. I think there was also at the same time, as I was sitting in this tent and seeing this doctor evaluate people, and giving people medicine, I was like, “We have a lot of advantages here. We have a lot of technical clothing, we have a lot of food that can be used as emergency rations. We have a lot of doctors.” There’s a high concentration of doctors at Mt. Everest basecamp, and a lot of tents and sleeping bags and first aid kits, and just so much stuff to survive an earthquake.
In the back of my mind at least, and in the back of a lot of other people’s minds was the fact that the rest of Nepal was in really big trouble.
Host: The aftermath of the avalanche was devastating. 19 people were killed at base camp by the blast, and around 50 others were injured, although that number varies depending on what report you read. Things were much worse for Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. The earthquake and its aftershocks killed an estimated 9,000 people, injured many thousands more and damaged or destroyed over 600,000 structures in Kathmandu and nearby towns.
Svati: There’s no safe place to go, really. I mean, I think sometimes when you’re in a survival situation in the wilderness, getting back to civilization is the goal, but here, the civilization in Nepal, getting back to that was not necessarily going to be great. After this doctor checked me out in this tent and told me I was fine; he was like, “You sprained something, you’re fine.”
There was one tent for the walking wounded, one tent for the critically injured where I think Rachel and Meg spent all night working on people who had really, really severe injuries. The tent for the walking wounded was the time where I spent the night. Rachel had asked me and Aditia to look over these two particular Sherpas there. Then trying to sleep that night was hard because there were no sleeping bags.
My sleeping bag was gone. There was one that I found that was leaking feathers everywhere. It had some blood on it. I tried to sleep in that night. It was just weird.
The next morning, helicopter evacuations began with the most critical patients leaving first and so on.
News Clip: Towns and villages, there’s a major rescue mission underway on Mt. Everest to save so many people trapped thousands of feet up.
Host: After some disputes among various climbing guides and their clients about whether or not to keep climbing, the Nepal Tourism Ministry announced that the mountain would be closed and everyone was forced to leave.
Basecamp went from a small tent city of 800-1,000 people, to just one to 200 people over the course of a week.
Svati’s boss David Breashears was determined that they would stay and help clean up. The Indian Army also arrived to support the evacuation and cleanup efforts.
Svati: David had a close friend who was running another expedition. He had his own company called Adventure Consultants. That’s Guy Cotter, and David was like, “We have to help the Guy clean up his camp.”
So I and the Indian Army spent a full day cleaning up Guy Cotter’s camp, where unfortunately six people had died and there was just all sorts of debris to clean up and put into trash bags. We managed to get two tents set up that we could sleep in and stay in for the next week. At night, the Indian army would have someone stationed on watch, and every time an avalanche happened, he would yell and be like, “Avalanche!”
And then, everyone in the Indian army would mobilize, get out of their tents, and I don’t know if they looked at it or if they ran or whatever, but it was a big commotion. I had my boots on all night because I was afraid I was gonna have to run for my life again. David was in the tent next to me being like, “Svati, it’s fine. None of the avalanches are gonna hit us. Just go back to sleep.” Every time I was like, “You weren’t here. You weren’t here. We might have to run.” So we didn’t get a lot of sleep that week. It had been about a week, and David was like, “Okay, you should head down now.”
Host: Svati, still in shock from all that had happened, was reluctant to make the trek alone, having no idea what kind of destruction the earthquake might have caused in the towns she would need to pass through.
A doctor from the Indian Army kindly agreed to travel with her part of the way, and she serendipitously ran into two friends from basecamp who offered her a spot in their helicopter. Back to Kathmandu. After a week in a hotel surrounded by international journalists who had flown in to cover the earthquake, David made arrangements for Svati to leave Nepal for good.
Svati: And it was a very jarring thing to go from the hustle and bustle of the Yak and Yeti and being surrounded by all these journalists who wanted to know this story.
And me, like having this story inside of all that I had seen, which still was so surreal, it felt like something out of a movie. It felt like it couldn’t, It just was so unbelievable that I thought that I was gonna be replaying the images in my head for the rest of my life.
And then I was home. I had my cell phone and I had unlimited showers and I had a roof over my head and I spent three weeks just really wanting to go back to basecamp, and I just wanted to sleep in the tent.
I couldn’t really reconcile all that had happened with the reality of life at home in my mom’s house in Maryland, so that was tough. I do feel like there’s a little bit of a bond that I share with Meg and Rachel and Aditia, and Meg in particular has been very good about messaging all of us, every April 25, I think we always have that bond.
They were all doctors and they were all, I think, legitimate heroes that day. The other thing that was really tough was knowing that a lot of the people I had been at basecamp with had accepted a certain level of risk when they went there. Especially the people who were there to climb out Everest, you are prepared for things to happen that could potentially be really bad.
So I think mentally those people were able to bounce back from what happened a little bit better than I was because they had already gone there thinking “I might die, I might get injured, I might see someone die.” I had gone there thinking I was gonna be safe the whole time.
And I thought the most dangerous thing I would face was altitude sickness and being unprepared for that I think was what really hurt me mentally and made it really hard for me to recover from what happened. I think what this event did to me was show me that really, really unexpected things can happen, and I know that sounds trite to say, but I’m a more fearful person now. I always think that the worst-case scenario can happen, and probably terrible things that you’ve never even imagined can happen. I’m very afraid of mass shootings, very afraid of terrorist attacks, very afraid of getting struck by lightning.
All sorts of things that are very statistically improbable, but I think it was so unexpected, the idea of a major earthquake happening and then being at Everest basecamp and having a major avalanche come down and wipe out basecamp and kill 19 or 20 people. I’ve read about the opposite of this, which is post-traumatic growth and how people get stronger after traumatic experiences.
I hate to think that I’m not one of those people, but I don’t think I’m one of those people. After it happened, I was so impacted by it and so traumatized that I really thought the memories were gonna stay burned into my brain forever. I thought every day of my life I was gonna be replaying these memories in my head.
That turned out to not be true. Seven years on, a lot of stuff actually has gotten fuzzy. I don’t think of it every day. It really has changed me profoundly. I think I’m a very different person because of it.
Host: This episode of Out Alive was produced and written by me, Louisa Albanese, along with Zoe Gates.
Editing was by Zoe Gates. Scoring and Sound Design was by Jason Patton. Thank you to Svati Narula for sharing your story with us. Thanks for listening to Out Alive. If you have a backcountry survival story and you’re interested in sharing, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Out Alive is made possible by the members of Outside+.
Learn more about all the benefits of membership, like access to Gaia GPA and expert-led online classes at outsideonline.com/pod. Plus, you can get 50% off your membership by using the code OutAlive50. This season of Out Alive is brought to you by Ricola.