Quake, avalanche “life changing” for Seattle man on Nepal Trek

A Seattle man walking near the epicenter of the Nepal earthquake describes the tragedy and how he survived.

When the earthquake erupted around noon on Saturday, Greg Davenport was hiking in a steep valley in Langtang National Park in Nepal, about 80 km from the epicenter of the quake.

“It was a massive shake,” said Davenport, 50, of Seattle. “All the walls began to tear apart. Boulders, rockfalls and debris slid down everywhere. … If you were in the wrong place, you would be hit by a boulder and knocked down instantly. “

Then, triggered by the quake, an avalanche roared down into the valley.

Still missing

Here are the five known residents of Washington who are not registered in Nepal:

Bailey Meola (19) and Sydney Schumacher (19): A fellow hiker last spotted the two Seattle women on Friday – 22 hours before the earthquake – around 2 p.m. when they were walking up the Kyangin Ri, a peak above the village of Kyanjin Gompa in Langtang National Park. Schumacher’s mother believes the missing women may have been stranded in the Buddhist village with dozens of others. The women travel the world after graduating from Garfield High School in 2014.

Jim Lane, 56, Doreen Richmond, 57, and Jeannie DeBari, 59: Whatcom County’s three residents began a two-month hike along the Great Himalayan Trail in Nepal in early April. According to Richmond’s sister, they were last seen on April 22nd between Mount Kanchenjunga and Mount Makalu. Lane, a retired Bellingham firefighter, and Richmond, a retired Bellingham school teacher, are a couple who live on Lummi Island. DeBari, a married mother of two grown children, is the former owner of Milano’s restaurant in Glacier, where she lives.

“We all looked up the valley. We saw this dark cloud come our way, ”Davenport said on Tuesday. “We were all scared; We thought that was the end. “

Davenport’s group – best friend Jim Watt, Watt’s brother Vance and a doorman – sought cover.

“And this cloud came. It was like a storm with snow and bits of rock. “

He thinks the avalanche only lasted a minute, maybe two.

It felt longer.

“Very threatening – almost timeless,” said Davenport.

“The dead zone where the avalanche hit… was probably a mile and a half, two kilometers above us. It decimated the village of Langtang. We believe everyone died. “

Davenport was covered in an inch of rubble and felt a moment of relief. Then, “You start thinking about what to do next to survive.”

As it was about “tea house trekking”, the group was easy on the way. Davenport wore light hiking boots, a waistcoat, and a North Face jacket. They had some snacks and water but weren’t prepared for disaster, he said.

As the aftershocks trembled underneath and the boulders tumbled further down the valley, they navigated to a military outpost where they had checked in earlier that day.

Covered in “snow-covered, dusty debris,” the “path was not easy to find,” said Davenport.

Nevertheless, about 60 foreign hikers and 150 Nepalis found their way to the outpost, where they all gathered.

“There were a lot of injuries. Many people who had come down left behind people who were dead and wandered up. The tragedy was incredible. “

Two women, believed by Davenport to have fled a tea house without shoes, arrived at the outpost with frozen feet.

About 15 soldiers stationed at the military outpost took in hikers and drove out Nepalis, but there was not enough space. The group had to create rudimentary shelters that were scattered across the hut. There was nowhere to go, Davenport said, because the route down was destroyed.

Aftershocks caused more boulders to tumble down the valley overnight. Rain and cold penetrated. Davenport’s fleece sleeping bag lining was already soaked, but he was able to get a new bag from the Nepalese army. Hypothermia, he said, was a real problem.

The crowd of people cared for one another as best they could, sharing what little they had.

“The collaboration between locals and foreigners has been incredible at most levels: making sure people got enough to eat and helping with medical problems was a nice thing.”

The Nepalese soldiers “were able to cook some strange rice products,” Davenport said. “Hot tea came around.” That was a godsend, he said, because “we froze our asses.”

The Nepalese army was overwhelmed by trying to meet everyone’s needs. There was no way to communicate, Davenport said. Cellular service was down and a solar-powered satellite phone at the outpost was not charging.

Rush for helicopters

The next morning two helicopters flew in.

Jim Watt, who had broken his leg, spotted it on one of the first flights.

But a desperate situation became tense.

“It was total chaos,” said Davenport. “The locals would force their way (to the auxiliary helicopters) and the army couldn’t or wouldn’t stop it.”

The next day, travelers stuck in the camp brokered a deal to prioritize evacuation of the sick and injured. Even so, almost every helicopter landing brought a rush and struggle to get on board.

In the meantime, Nepalis regularly climbed towards Langtang Village to check on friends and relatives.

“They didn’t want to believe it was destroyed,” said Davenport.

They came back crying, he said.

“I’ve cried more in those four days than I have since I was a kid,” said Davenport. “It’s a life changing event.”

Davenport managed to get into a helicopter on Monday evening. In half an hour he was back in Kathmandu, where he now lives in a guest house. Davenport said Jim Watt had been treated and should be recovering.

“I am very sleepless. The food was a little hard to find, ”he said. But “compared to where I am, this is paradise.”

Next step uncertain

The trip was Davenport’s 50th birthday gift to himself. He quit his job to take an “unauthorized eight-month sabbatical year” while his girlfriend was teaching sociology in Japan.

During the Nepal leg of the trip, Davenport planned a meditation retreat, Buddhist classes, and a yoga retreat. He won’t be back in Tokyo until this summer.

His plans were interrupted by a disaster. He said he could volunteer or continue the trip as planned.

“The (Buddhist) class I am supposed to do at the end of this trip deals with death and dying. I can’t help but feel like this course isn’t going to be a big deal. “

The information in this article, which was originally published on April 28, 2015, was corrected on the same day. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Davenport’s girlfriend was an English teacher in Japan. She teaches sociology. The story also incorrectly described the women whose feet were frozen to death. They weren’t Nepalese women.

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