Connections: Team Bamboo

Traveling is a wonderful way to meet people! Unfortunately, often those connections are strong but only fleeting. Connections is our tag to recognize and remember some of the wonderful people we meet.

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

We’ve described our experiences during the Earthquake in Nepal and now we’d like to write something a little bit more hopeful. We’ve written about a lot of Connections that we’ve made with amazing people on our travels. As great as those relationships were, it’s probably safe to say that they aren’t nearly as intense an the connections that we made with the people who sheltered with us in Bamboo after the earthquake in Nepal.

A lot of people ask us about what the group dynamic was in this large collection of people in a survival situation. It could easily have been pretty bad, with people taking an “every person for themselves” approach, but from the start it was exactly the opposite. Everyone was making sure that everyone else was ok, and sharing food and water.

As the days went on, this team spirit continued. Projects that were done were for the good of the group, and never just for an individual or small group. In many ways it was hard to find something to do to make yourself useful, because so many other people were volunteering to do the same thing!

Beyond the practical matters though, it was a great experience just interacting with this group of people. Even though the group was from all around the world, they all spoke English (which we are always amazed by). It was easy to pass the time by just striking up a conversation with whomever happened to be sitting on the rock next to you. Everyone kept a positive attitude, and when some would start to get weighed down by disappointing events, others were right there to pick them back up.

We have also been inspired by the different efforts that members of the group have started to help Nepal in the aftermath of the earthquake. You can find links to support their causes on our earthquake relief resources page.

Even though we were thrown together by a random twist of fate, the diverse group at Bamboo quickly became a team, surviving and working together. We forged a bond that we hope will last a lifetime!

Team Bamboo plus the staff of the Chabad House

Team Bamboo plus the staff of the Chabad House

After the Earthquake Part 4: Rescue

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

On April 30, we were quick to rise from bed at dawn (5 AM). We had slept well, since there were extra blankets now that there were just 22 people left. The night’s chill was still in the air, but we didn’t dawdle getting going for the day because the Dutch man who was keeping control of the satellite messaging device announced to everyone that rescue was coming “soon.” It was a beautiful morning in the valley, so we figured weather concerns would not stop the helicopters.

In addition to making sure our personal bags were packed and ready to go, we also all worked on getting the camp cleaned up and things put away as if we weren’t spending another night. We folded all of the blankets and stuffed them into the small cave, put all the remaining bottled water in one big box near the rock, did all of the dishes, and got all the food in one location under the tarp.

We did have time for a special breakfast that morning. It was the woman from France’s birthday, and one of the Australian sisters figured out a way to make pancakes as a special treat. They even made a special pancake cake with chocolate sauce on it, and we all sang “Happy Birthday.” It was another of those moments where it felt for a little while like a fun camping trip with friends as opposed to a survival situation.

Two of the Dutch people decided that it would be a good idea to post people constantly at the beach helipad to wave down any helicopters, especially if it was a large helicopter that couldn’t land at the small helipads that the other helicopters had used. They volunteered for the first shift out there.

The big worry for the morning (besides whether the helicopter would come) was the battery for the satellite message device. It originally had been draining slowly, and we had plenty of personal power banks to charge it, but with the increased message traffic as we all contacted loved ones, the battery had gotten critically low. Luckily, one of the side projects people had worked on over the past few days was getting the solar power systems from the teahouses set back up. Some of the inverter technology was broken, but they finally found a device that would charge the phone. One of the Dutch sat by the charging phone and made sure no one bumped it and broke our connection to the outside world.

As the morning went on, we got more and more antsy. No one wanted to do too much work since we thought rescue was coming soon. The skies were crystal clear, but not a single helicopter had come down the valley. (As it turned out, the delay was due to bad weather in Kathmandu). We all just sat, staring at the skies and straining our ears for the sound of rotors.

Around 8:30, there was a fairly significant tremor that caused a small landslide down the trail. By this point we were much less tense about the sound of falling rocks (once we knew it was in the distance), but it still didn’t help with the anxiety.

Finally, around 9, we heard the sound of a helicopter (one we had all become very familiar with, along with landslides). It took a moment to spot it – and then we saw it was coming in low! Not as low as the others though and it passed by Bamboo. But then it circled in the air near the beach helipad where those waiting had been waving flags, and then landed.

There was then a huge flurry of activity. The group that was drawn to go first grabbed their things, and so did the two of us, in case it was a helicopter for just the Americans.

Under normal conditions, to get to the beach from our camp took about a 5 minute walk over rocky ground. We guessed that the helicopter wouldn’t wait that long for its load, so we all ran as fast as we could praying that we wouldn’t trip. The more fit members of the group did an excellent job of pushing us all to go faster.

When we got to the beach we could see that it was another small, private Nepali helicopter, so we scanned the landing area to see if there had been a coordinator on board who could explain what the situation was.

We spotted two tall men, both wearing baseball caps (one for the University of Alaska), so we figured it was a helicopter sent by the Americans! They quickly found us and their accents confirmed it. They were two members of the Special Forces who were helping with the rescue operations. They confirmed that we were the Americans on our list and told us to get in.

The mix of emotions at this point was very powerful. On one hand, we were extremely excited to be rescued, and were not going to pass up the helicopter that had been sent for us. On the other hand, the thought of being whisked away while the rest of what now felt like a family to us sat back on the beach was heartbreaking.

But then as we headed to the helicopter, one of the Special Forces guys assured us, “Don’t worry, everyone is getting out!” With huge relief in our hearts we got on board. It was a very small helicopter, with three seats up front (one for the pilot – a Nepali) and only a small cargo area behind. We crammed into the small cargo area (with our bags). Soon after, three members of the first group crammed in the back with us, and one up front along with one of the guides. The Special Forces guys stayed back at camp to coordinate the rest of the rescue (and to take pictures of the camp and surrounding area as documentation to the higher-ups as to why our rescue was worth paying for).

The mood on the helicopter was jubilant. We all couldn’t believe we were getting rescued. The helicopter took us down the Valley we had hiked up five days before, and we tried to look out and see its current conditions.

We were taken to the army base at Dunche, the same town that we had passed through on our bus ride to get to the start of the trek. When we landed there was a flurry of activity as we had to be registered on the lists of a bunch of different uniformed men (probably from the same groups that were the checkpoints on the bus ride).

One stood out though – Tom, a US consular officer. He was the one coordinating the efforts of the Special Forces guys for the embassy. Della somehow heard him say he was the ambassador, which was later proved incorrect but made us feel pretty special at the time! He explained that the US had rented the Nepali helicopter for a block of time, which they would use to get all of the people from Bamboo out plus anyone else they could find in the valley.

The rest of his news wasn’t as great. They really only had authorization to get us out of the dangerous situation in the valley and to this town of Dhunche, which had been affected by the quake but was not still threatened by landslides since it was on top of a mountain. He said there was shelter in town, plus restaurants were open. Getting to Kathmandu was up in the air though; the road was (not surprisingly) broken, so we could try to walk for six hours down the road to Kalikasthan where there were buses. Or, there was a rumor that the Nepali Army would use big helicopters at some point to get the tourists out, so we could wait around in Dhunche for that. He did tell us to stay close though – the helicopter did have to go back to Kathmandu, and there might be some extra spots that we could squeeze into.

We left the army area to go see what the situation was. Up a small hill was a collection of big blue tents with bricks as the floor. There were some other trekkers there who we bombarded with questions to try and figure out what was going on. What we heard wasn’t great – it was pretty cold at night, and there wasn’t a clear way to get blankets. You basically just had to grab a tent and hope for the best. It was safer on paper than Bamboo, but actually seemed like it would be less comfortable.

As we evaluated the situation, we could see the other Bamboo people landing on their rescue helicopters. As they emerged from the army area and we saw that everyone was there, there were big hugs all around.

We had cell phone service, so we texted and eventually called our families. (A special thanks to T-Mobile, our cell provider, who after the earthquake established free calls and text to and from Nepal, so we and others in our group could get in touch). At first they didn’t even believe it was us, because their latest message had been that no rescue was possible due to the bad weather.

Someone suggested going into town for some food. We were torn, because we wanted to stick with our “family,” but Tom from the embassy had told us to stick close. We thought we might have time, so we headed towards the village with the rest of the group.

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On the way though, the group started talking to two other people who had been in Dhunche the previous night. Their accents sounded familiar – they were other Americans (from Alaska). Della told them that the US ambassador was on the helipad (again, not actually true but what we thought at the time) and they were very interested to hear what he had to say, since they had been having trouble getting in touch with the embassy.

We reluctantly split from the Bamboo group and headed back up to the gate of the army area with the other Americans. We tried to peer inside and see Tom, and we also asked the guard at the gate, but he wasn’t there. We couldn’t figure out where he had gone but stayed waiting outside the gate. Finally we saw him inside and called him over. Unfortunately, his news hadn’t changed, and our best bet was to wait until the next day or walk.

Some of the other Bamboo people were also waiting near the gate. There was a large group of French people who had been told by their embassy that they would be helicoptered out, and the Dutch (who still had the satellite device) had heard the same thing. It was interesting how quickly we shifted from “Team Bamboo” to allying ourselves by country. It was a little sad, but seemed to be the reality of how the next steps were being handled.

We were sitting in the gate area but with not much hope of anything happening. Then, Tom appeared again! He said they would have three spots on the helicopter taking them back to Kathmandu. At this point there were five Americans: us two, Corey from Bamboo, and the other American couple. The couples weren’t going to split, so it would be Corey and one of the couples. We offered to let the other couple go first, since they had been in Dhunche a night already, but they said they didn’t think that was necessary. They proposed a coin toss, with an American quarter. Eric called it in the air – “heads.” It was heads.

We gave hugs to the others, and headed back inside the army area with Corey, Tom and the Special Forces guys to wait for the helicopter, which was out doing something else. We ended up waiting for quite a while and having a nice conversation. Tom and the Special Forces guys were just the nicest people and so calm – it really helped in the situation.

We got word that the helicopter was delayed, so Eric and Corey went down to use the restroom behind an army truck. Just as they were finishing, one of the Special Forces guys came to find them – the helicopter was landing! They raced back up to the helipad and jumped on board with the rest.

We think they must have had to do some special convincing, because they crammed a huge number of people on board the aircraft. The two of us lucked out and got to sit up front with the pilot. In the back, they fit Corey, the two Special Forces guys (not small guys and with big bags), Tom, a Nepali woman with a broken arm, and a ground coordinator.

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The ride back to Kathmandu, which had taken over eight hours by bus, took about 20 minutes. We felt very lucky to be sitting up front and getting great views. (We also remarked on the irony of us getting a helicopter ride – we had only a couple of weeks earlier discussed that taking a helicopter ride would be fun some day). We looked out at the countryside as the ride went along. There were plenty of flattened buildings along the terraced hillsides.

We held our breath a bit as we crested the final hill and got our first look at the Kathmandu valley. At first glance, it seemed like the devastation was less than we had feared, as most buildings were still standing. Upon closer inspection though, we could see many distinctive patches of orange, which were the tarps that the residents were sleeping under, too afraid to move back into their cracked homes.

We landed at the Kathmandu airport, which was abuzz with activity. There were many planes from other countries, including big ones from the Chinese and Thai Air Forces. We rode on a pickup to the parking lot of the airport, where the commander of the Special Forces unit met us in a different pickup (which turned out to be armored) to give us a ride to the embassy.

Our eyes were wide open on the ride to the embassy, taking in the sights of Kathmandu and trying to ascertain its status. There was actually less damage than we expected, but we did still see many people living outside. The embassy itself was quite a sight to see – it looks like your average American office building, which stands out quite a bit among the traditional Kathmandu atmosphere.

After going through a security check and a registration with the front desk, we were taken into the consular area for a debriefing with those who had been working to get us rescued. We were asked for any information we could give about the large number of unaccounted for trekkers, but we had to say that unfortunately we hadn’t seen them, since we were just on our first day and had just trekked a short distance.

Someone went to go find Kathleen, the American woman who had gotten out on the Israeli helicopter. She had been staying in the embassy since her rescue and had been feverishly working to get the rest of us out as well. It was a very emotional reunion for all of us.

But we didn’t have too long to sit and reminisce, because the PR woman at the embassy asked if we would be willing to immediately do an interview with Good Morning America. We were a little shocked that our story would be of that much interest to anybody, but she explained that we were one of the first feel-good stories that the embassy could promote. Before we even had a chance to shower, we were whisked away to a filming location outside of a fancy hotel for our interview, so if you watched it, you saw us as we looked on the mountain. We also discovered how the media can misinterpret things – for example, we were not living in an “ice cave” like the ABC news report said, and we had to correct a few people that we were not caught in an avalanche on Everest.

After the interviews, we returned to the embassy where Kathleen showed us around. The embassy had been doing a remarkable job of sheltering people in Kathmandu, both tourists and those who lived locally who were afraid to move back into their homes when aftershocks were still going on. Kathleen told us that maybe 200 people had been spending the night; this isn’t a normal thing, so people were having to sleep in hallways and share the one shower per gender. By the time we arrived though, many people had either left the country or moved back outside the embassy, so the PR woman found a nice conference room with air mattresses that we could stay in for as long as we needed to.

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One great thing the embassy had was a library with computers that had Internet that we could use. We opened up our email and Facebook for the first time since before the earthquake, and we were just blown away by the amount of activity we saw. One thing to understand is that we were living in a bubble out at Bamboo, with the only contact being Della’s father. We naively assumed that he was making a few phone calls and perhaps had let a few people know on Facebook that we were safe. We had NO IDEA how many people had mobilized to help, or were even just posting messages of support. If you were one of these people, and you are reading this, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We can’t say it enough.

Our glimpse at Facebook was overwhelming, but was interrupted by an in-person visit with a reporter from Time Magazine. He wanted to write an in-depth story, so he let the two of us and Corey tell the story of our time at Bamboo as we wanted to. This was the first time we had really gotten a chance to tell the whole story to an outsider, and we overloaded him with overlapping narratives, diagrams, and so on. We even had to finish the interview over the hot dinner being served by the embassy. The resulting piece was a really good representation of our story. (The dinner itself was also really good, even if it was just served out of cafeteria trays – we skipped the rice and went straight for the mashed potatoes and meat dishes).

While we were finishing up our interviews, one of the Special Forces guys came by and asked to talk with us when we got the chance. We were worried this meant we had done or said something wrong, so we were nervous as the conversation began. But as it turned out, we had nothing to worry about. He just wanted to make sure we were doing ok, since he was worried that he had rushed away after the rescue. He told us that after they got everyone out, they had taken the helicopter further up the valley to Langtang village and seen the devastation there. He seemed to be a bit shaken by this, and reiterated to us how happy he was to have been able to help us. He did ask us for one thing… a big hug.

Then, we finally, blissfully, got to take our first hot shower in days. The amount of dirt that came off was pretty gross. Luckily the two of us had saved an extra clean change of clothes that we could get into.

As night fell, the embassy got pretty quiet as most people headed home. It was hard for us to believe, as we sat in nice padded chairs, that just earlier that morning we had been sitting under a rock in Bamboo Village. After such a long day, we figured that we would crash, but we all felt still too full of energy. Eric and Corey worked on catching up the journals that they had been keeping throughout their respective trips, comparing notes and trying to remember the details. The PR lady hosted us in her office for a debriefing session with a secret stash of beer and wine. We did another brief check of email and Facebook, then went to sleep, not on top of rocky dirt under a tarp, but rather on top of an air mattress with the solid roof of the US Embassy overhead.

We will continue to tell the story of our earthquake experience in Nepal. We were extremely fortunate to survive and to be able to come home to the USA. Our stories are now over, but those in Nepal are not that fortunate. Huge numbers of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Please take some time to donate (any amount, large or small, can help) to help this beautiful country recover. We’ve collected list of organizations that you might consider here.

Use these links to read the rest of our Nepal Earthquake story:

After the Earthquake Part 3: The Politics and Money of Rescue

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

The morning of April 28th dawned clear and sunny. We had had another fairly comfortable night. We were really lucky throughout the whole ordeal with weather at night. It was cold, but not too cold; it never froze. We were able to use the blankets and mats from the village which helped tremendously.

We all got up, wondering what the day would bring. It was really a beautiful morning, and we tried to enjoy the lovely sun through the trees! There were not many other projects we could think of to do. The two of us ended up working on one of what was becoming a daily job: herding cattle. There were several cows who lived at Bamboo village who had started to become a nuisance. They became quite nosy and tried to steal the food from our kitchen area. While the villagers were still there, we had observed that the cows were driven up the trail toward the beach (on which we had built a helicopter pad) during the day and came back near the village in the evening, so to get them out of our space we tried to keep this pattern going.  To get them to move, we picked up the sticks and began  yelling at them and tapping their behinds.

We finally got the cows headed over the bridge toward the beach and headed back toward Bamboo. Suddenly we heard a noise. There had been many helicopters that had flown over camp in the prior days, but they were all high in the sky. We all hoped that if they weren’t stopping for us then at least they were heading up to rescue people who had been stranded higher on the trail where it was higher and colder. But this one sounded different. We came over the rise and were overjoyed at what we saw. A helicopter was flying up the valley towards us. It was low… it was going to land!

The first helicopter landed at about 8 am on April 28th

The first helicopter landed at about 8 am on April 28th

We broke into a run, simultaneously laughing and crying. We were going to be rescued!! The mood at camp was amazing, people laughing, calling out in joy, hugging, even jumping up and down. It was wonderful! We hurriedly helped Willem, the man with the broken arm, to collect his things and head down the hill. The other people we had all assumed would be in the first helicopter, including the Nepali guide with a head injury, a slightly older woman from Maine, and her guide and his 16 year old son, also collected their things. There was hugging and promises of messages to be taken away and a lot of tears.

But, most of that turned out to be unnecessary. Even as the people we assumed were going first had started moving down toward the smaller helipads, we noticed that the trekkers from Japan had quickly collected their already packed baggage, and raced down the hill with their guide. They crammed into the helicopter and it took off, leaving the rest of us completely confused.

“What happened??” was the question on everyone’s lips, followed quickly by “Are they coming back?!”

One of the girls had been close enough to the helicopter to get a few details. Apparently the helicopter had been sent by the Japanese tour office and the pilot had been their guide’s brother, so they were only taking that group. She did say that they had said they would be back!

We all considered this and it seemed to make sense. We all believed that a helicopter would return for the rest of us. We seriously began to think about how we could be packed and ready to go should they arrive again. For us, that meant putting the most important of our possessions on our bodies (IDs, cameras, money, warm clothing, and our Steripen). We packed the next most important things in our small backpack (food, more warm clothing, etc.) and left what we judged to be least important in our large pack. This was all in case we were told that we couldn’t take our bags with us (hopefully we could fit more people if there were fewer bags?)

We waited for what seemed like forever. That first helicopter had come just before 8 am. Our hopes were again raised at about 10 am when another helicopter appeared. They were coming back for the rest of us!!

The second helicopter to arrive

The second helicopter to arrive

This time we were ready. All of the injured and the rest of whom we had deemed to be the first group were close to the helipads with their stuff. But, as we watched from above, they didn’t get in. There was some delay. What was happening?

Why aren't they getting in?

Why aren’t they getting in?

That’s when the message was passed up to those of us waiting above: the helicopter had been sent by an Israeli insurance company, so all the Israelis needed to come down and be ready to leave. Our hearts sank again.

While we were not there to hear it, we saw from afar that our group of Israelis had convinced their helicopter to take our two injured men out with their first group who left right away. There was a man, a coordinator, who worked for the Israeli insurance company who stayed on the ground after that first helicopter left. (At least we knew it would come back!)

He did come up to talk to the rest of us. However, the message was not really what we wanted to hear. He worked for a private insurance company, and his job was to evacuate all Israelis out of the valley. He had been further up the valley and the destruction there was absolute. We were all horrified to hear that there had been terrible avalanches at towns further up the trek at Kyanjin Gompa and Langtang. Tears sprang to our eyes as he explained that the town of Langtang was leveled, destroyed completely. It had been overrun by a massive sheet of mud and ice. There was little left there. He told us that the roads into the mountains were also destroyed. He did tell us that if we could make it to Dhunche (a two days walk), we could be evacuated from there. We all looked at him in disbelief… Walk? Through the constant landslides for two days?? Really?

When the helicopter came back, we were relieved that the coordinator had been convinced to take the woman from Maine and her two guides (a father and son) along with two Israelis. The next time it came back, there was only room for four, and there were six Israelis remaining, so Aviv and his trekking partner Yonatan agreed to wait until the next trip. Aviv had handed over control of the satellite messaging device to a few non-Israelis, but it still seemed like they had chosen to be the last since they felt a responsibility to the rest of us. But then the clouds and rain moved in for the rest of the day, and no more helicopters came… meaning their rescue along with ours was delayed until at least the next day.

Needless to say, we were all disappointed… terrified and heartbroken might be more apt. As a group, we realized that we needed to be more active on the sat device. If we were only going to be evacuated by country, we were all going to need a lot more help from home. It was at this time that Della sent a message to her dad… one that ended up being spread all across social media, which might have helped in our eventual rescue. It read:

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Della remembers being in tears when she wrote this message. In some ways, we hate to say this, but we still thought that the US would come get us. Not all of the trekkers felt this way about their own governments, and it was frankly hard to believe that a government would send a helicopter for only one of its citizens. We did have several people who were the only person from their country there.

It’s hard to accurately describe the roller coaster of feelings we felt this day. Our emotions were already very heightened by the anxiety and constant fear. Then we were at a miraculous high when the helicopters arrived which swooped to a super low when they left… without us.

We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to comfort each other and keep our spirits up.

Sara, from Italy, made a delicious lunch of pasta that day. One spark of hope arrived at that time. Sara had been trekking with friends and was planning on meeting her boyfriend in the town of Rimche the evening of the earthquake (Rimche had been our planned destination of the night as well). In the days following the earthquake, she had no idea whether her boyfriend was alive or dead, or where he might be. While she was cooking lunch that day, in the midst of a camp of depression, she got news via the sat device that he was alive and well in the town of Syabrubensi! (Check out the NGO that the couple has founded to help Nepal).

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The rain came in that afternoon, causing us all to retreat to the tarp (and causing the Israeli helicopter not to return). We were all quiet, still feeling quite down and hopeless. But, Sara got out her ukulele.

We’ll always be grateful to her for the sing-a-long she led as the clouds came in covering our camp in a gloomy mist. It built our spirits and our group strength quite a bit.

We were grateful to have Aviv and Yonatan there with us one more night. It allowed us all to get used to the idea that we were going to be without their leadership soon. In their decision to stay (and to help convince their helicopter to take our injured, old, and young) they became heroes at home. We found out that evening that the story in Israel was that they had “refused to be rescued.” In fact, the following day, they received a message via sat device to ask if they would be “willing to evacuate” if the chopper returned!

So that night, the group was down to 27 people. We thought it might be nice to get back under the big tarp for sleeping. The area we had been sleeping comfortably the last two nights was under a hole in the less good tarp and after the afternoon rain was quite wet. We attempted to squeeze in to the rows of people sleeping under the big tarp, but it turned out it was really just too tight. We couldn’t stand it. So, we stole one blanket and headed off by ourselves. We found a place where it wasn’t wet. It also wasn’t at all flat… or comfortable. Still we could breathe, so we were able to get a little bit of sleep.

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See that spot on the mat… on the hill between the rocks. Yup, we slept there.

The following morning, April 29, again dawned bright and beautiful. The group all awoke with a new purpose: contact the outside to our loved ones directly using the sat device and get ourselves help. The two of us specifically had one more reason to be optimistic, as we had received a message from Della’s dad. It said something to the effect of: no matter what you hear, be ready to get on a chopper at any moment. It will either be a small one from the US Embassy or a large one from the Nepali Army.

This was both a welcome and dreaded message for us. We were thrilled that the US might be sending some help our way. However, we couldn’t stand the thought of facing another issue of politics or money (only our own citizens or only those who paid would be rescued).

This day was spent with some silly projects as most of the important ones were done. We made a comfortable spot near the water fire that we called the cafe. And yes, signs were made to memorialize our different places. People enjoyed each others’ company under the tarp or chatted together in the sun. Journals were written in and naps were taken. At some point, people began to learn and practice acro-yoga! Della made an attempt to clean herself up a bit… after days of not showering. One of the highlights was a delicious dal baht made by the guides. It was the best we’ve ever had.

There were moments where it felt like we were just on a fun camping trip with friends… except that the ground would still shake occasionally and every now and then you’d hear rocks fall up or down the canyon. And helicopters were flying high over our heads almost constantly.

This made our next task seem clear… though daunting. We knew at this point that the Israeli chopper would be coming back once again sometime that day. We knew that Aviv and Yonatan would go, but that would leave two more spots on the chopper. We all agreed that an elderly French couple should be the ones to go with them. However, after that, there was no reason or order that seemed clear for the rest of us.

So, we decided to draw lots. We split ourselves into groups of four that seemed to make sense (our group comprised of the three Americans who were left, us and Corey, and Corey’s trekking partner Kees). After this was done, we numbered each group. Then we pulled numbers out of a hat (actually it was out of a hand… but still). Della ended up drawing the numbers. It’s hard to know what to feel as this happened, hoping that your group will be first, but also dreading the feeling of potentially leaving everyone else behind. Della managed to pull our group last…

Because of the message we had received from Della’s dad earlier, we knew that if the US sent the helicopter, that there was also a chance we’d be the first… or the only. So, there it was. We’d be first or last to leave. It was a little hard to sit with.

Finally, about 5 pm on the 29th, the Israeli chopper arrived to pick up its last load. It went smoothly; they agreed to take our two remaining Israelis as well as the French couple. Apparently, that meant that the coordinator had to stay. We had a brief moment of hope thinking that they would have to take more people with them when they came back to pick him up. However, the coordinator told us that they actually had to head up the valley to continue the rescue in Langtang and Kyanjin Gompa. We were glad that the people up there were going to continue to get rescued… until we realized he was lying. The helicopter returned, he got in, and they headed down (not up) the valley, with at least two open seats.

We were angry and frustrated yet again. But, we were slightly comforted by some of the beautiful views of the mountains that evening afforded.

Beautiful

Beautiful

Perhaps we will be rescued tomorrow, we thought, as we settled into another night.

We will continue to tell the story of our earthquake experience in Nepal. We were extremely fortunate to survive and to be able to come home to the USA. Our stories are now over, but those in Nepal are not that fortunate. Huge numbers of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Please take some time to donate (any amount, large or small, can help) to help this beautiful country recover. We’ve collected list of organizations that you might consider here.

Use these links to read the rest of our Nepal Earthquake story:

After the Earthquake Part 2: Decisions and Projects

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

We woke up in our makeshift camp above Bamboo Village on the morning of April 27, two days after the large earthquake that rattled Nepal, with mixed emotions. On one hand, we had a solid night of sleep and were feeling refreshed. On the other, the messages coming through the satellite messaging device were still pessimistic about a rescue being sent for us any time soon.

One thing we saw firsthand during our experience was how easy it is for fear and even panic to spread through a group in a survival situation. It was clear on this morning that the locals were still not feeling safe in our shelter area. They would motion up towards rocks higher up both sides of the canyon walls, and indicate that they thought that a landslide could reach what we considered to be our safe space. This sense of dread spread through the rest of us and we all began to wonder if it made sense to stay or whether we should go somewhere else.

We talked it out and try to think about it scientifically, and it seemed like logically we were in a good situation. It looked like landslides would be funneled away from our shelter. Also, we had plenty of food and shelter from the elements, and we didn’t know what it would be like elsewhere. So our initial reaction was to stay.

But then it came out that the villagers thought it was safest to head to higher ground, improvising a path up the canyon wall to head to the village of Thulo Syabru. Again we questioned whether we should follow our instinct to stay or follow theirs to go up (especially since they had been almost right about the aftershock the previous day). A few of the guides thought that the locals were right, and headed up with them along with their clients. The two of us though decided to stay with the larger group. We felt our decision was somewhat vindicated when after an hour or so the guides and trekkers returned; the scramble over the rocks to get up the canyon seemed too tough. (We did later hear that those who continued on made it safely).

Around the same time a smaller contingent – one guide and two brothers from Lithuania – decided to head down the trail back to Syabrubesi. This was a bit more appealing, because we knew that Syabrubesi was a sizable town with a road link back to Kathmandu (although we didn’t know the condition of the road). We might have been more tempted by this option, but many of the landslides that we had seen during our time sheltering had hit sections of the trail that we would have had to hike through. It seemed like an unnecessary gamble given that we had our necessities taken care of at Bamboo.

Still, it was quite tough to make the decision to stand still when we had no clue how long we would have to wait for helicopter rescue. The main group stayed, including the Israelis with the satellite messaging device, so we stayed too. (We did later learn that those who walked down made it safely, but ended up having to walk two more days until being able to catch a bus to Kathmandu).

A guide and the Lithuanian brothers heading down the trail

A guide and the Lithuanian brothers heading down the trail

After all of the departures, we had a full group meeting to discuss our updated situation. During this meeting we discussed what projects needed to be done around camp, and made sure everyone was updated on what messages from the outside world had been received. We briefly brought up whether we should establish a priority order for evacuation, but it seemed the consensus was the wounded and older first and we didn’t go much beyond that. We also went around the group and introduced ourselves – even though we all felt like a team already, we had missed some introductions in the heat of the moment and it was nice to get a chance to hear everyone’s names again. We also counted off – we were 47 people.

Again, it felt like we had been through a full day and it was still the middle of the morning. We still had a big chunk of the day to get through, so many of us started to work on projects that had been identified in the group meeting.

One of the biggest projects was water. Among the group we had a sizable amount of purification supplies, but we had made the decision that we should conserve those for later and boil water while we could. We had realized that with as many people as we had, we needed a large volume, and it was hard to boil that much water when having to share the fire with meal preparation. Therefore, the first task was to construct a second fire that would be constantly boiling water. They ended up making two small fires just big enough to accommodate the large kettles we were using.

The boiled water was safe to drink, but it still looked pretty murky. The clear mountain rivers had turned a muddy brown after the landslides, and it resulted in a pretty gritty drink. A few people came up with a way to filter the water by using gauze stuffed into the tops of water bottles with the bottoms cut off. Running water through these filters would remove many of the particulates. They even came up with a great system where four filters could run at once.

The next issue with the water was that the boiled water was too hot to put into the plastic water bottles for storage, as they would just melt. Someone had the idea to cool the water by running it inside a hose that was in cold water – we think we heard this was based on a beer cooling system! A rubber hose was found, and then a system to run it downhill through a bucket of cold water was set up.

This was a cool system, but then another limitation became apparent: it could only fill one bottle at a time. With 47 of us, that seemed pretty tedious. Then, one of the Israelis, Yonathan, began to construct a “bottling” station. At first we were confused, but the end result was quite impressive. He set up a platform that the hose would run over horizontally, and then poked small holes in the hose for water to drain out into bottles. He even fashioned small straws out of bamboo to direct the drips.

With this water system up and running, there was a need to go get water to boil more frequently. The whole group was pretty good about jumping up and helping, and we took a few turns ourselves. It was actually easier to get the water from a side river just up the trail rather than from the big Langtang River.

Marta and Eric getting some water from the side river

Marta and Eric getting some water from the side river

We were still concerned with making contact with the outside world. The holders of the satellite messaging device had figured out how we could send an email to any address, so some of us started sending messages to our loved ones to see if they could work a rescue from a different angle than the Israelis. The two of us were able to get a message out to our families with insurance information in case that helped. The messages had to be 160 characters or less so we worked hard to squeeze as much as we could in.

Della working on our message with Kathleen's encouragement

Della working on our message with Kathleen’s encouragement

A few of the guides also decided that our helipad on the beach might not be enough, so they cleared some of the nearby eating terraces and created two new helipads – giving us three in all! They marked the “H” on these with flour – which seemed like a good idea until the cows that also lived in the village started to eat it.

Another group formed and moved the location of the latrine. The original latrine had been nice but was in a location beneath the area of one of the original rockslides, so it was always a bit scary to use it. They moved it to a location in the flat area above our rock that had so far been untouched.

You can see the sheets that made up the latrine privacy walls hidden among the trees

You can see the sheets that made up the latrine privacy walls hidden among the trees

Even with all of these projects, there is so much time in the day that we had to find ways to fill. There were a few diversions like playing cards, singing songs, and reading, although we personally found it a little hard to focus on things for too long. Most of the time was filled just sitting around and chatting with one another about the situation we had found ourselves in.

We were graced with another sunny late afternoon, and again it helped to lift our spirits. The group of Israelis volunteered to cook dinner, and they made an excellent shakshuka.

As the sun set, we were able to get our old sleeping spaces back and snuggled back in with our same “roommates” from the previous night. It had been a good day with a lot accomplished, but we were still anxious about just how long our camp improvements would have to last us. Was rescue coming soon, or would we have to walk out like the others had?

Sun sets over Bamboo

Sun sets over Bamboo

We will continue to tell the story of our earthquake experience in Nepal. We were extremely fortunate to survive and to be able to come home to the USA. Our stories are now over, but those in Nepal are not that fortunate. Huge numbers of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Please take some time to donate (any amount, large or small, can help) to help this beautiful country recover. We’ve collected list of organizations that you might consider here.

Use these links to read the rest of our Nepal Earthquake story:

After the Earthquake Part 1: Sheltering at Bamboo/Survival

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

We sat with our backs pressed up against a house-sized boulder, shivering, trying to process what had just happened…

After we survived the big earthquake and the initial landslides, we followed the villagers and other tourists through the remains of Bamboo village and up the trail a bit. They were heading to two large boulders, both the size of buildings. They came together in the shape of a V, with a small cave between them. The rocks seemed solid, buried deep in the ground. The area directly behind them was relatively flat, as far as canyons go. They were not directly next to a steep slope. They created at least the illusion of safety from any further falling rocks.

This photo was taken by fellow trekker Corey: http://www.gofundme.com/tjssd5h9

This photo was taken by fellow trekker Corey: http://www.gofundme.com/tjssd5h9

We sat there, mostly quiet, shivering. Shivering, not so much from cold, but from shock…

Our thought process had been slow. We realized gradually that our long-planned trek was probably not going to continue. Going up after such devastation seemed silly. But, we realized, going down wasn’t much of an option either. Our only option, then, seemed to be to stay. So, we stayed, sitting against that boulder, shivering.

One of the other trekkers, or guides, we’re not really sure, went down to the village and began to collect supplies from one of the ruined teahouses. He brought blankets and water. While his intentions were great, the act of entering the villagers’ homes without permission would cause problems later.

The ground continued to shift and sway. We constantly felt betrayed by this: the ground isn’t supposed to move. It felt a bit like being on an airplane… a steady sense of movement, slight, but always there. This was punctuated by bigger shakes. These bigger shakes would send all of us racing to press our bodies against our solid house rock. This was the only way we felt even remotely safe. And truly, it wasn’t that safe. While we were semi-protected from further falling rocks, we were a bit panicked. We’re amazed that no one got further hurt by the pressing of bodies against that rock.

Eric's expression: Can you believe this happened?!? WTF

Eric’s expression: Can you believe this happened?!? WTF

As the afternoon went on, we had to take stock of what had happened. We refocused, realizing that yes, we were not going to be moving on with the trek. We evaluated our position and decided that, yes, it was one of the safest places we could be at the moment. More tourists and guides began to join us at our rock. We were thrilled to see a group from our bus ride the day before (2 Aussies, 2 South Africans, 1 Brit, and 1 Italian) come down the trail from above. Their story of sheltering on the trail as rocks fell around them terrified us. They had to cross a semi broken bridge and climb over recent landslides for an hour before they reached Bamboo. They had left almost all of their supplies behind. People came up from below the village as well. One man had a broken arm and had somehow climbed over the landslides to reach us.

As the afternoon dragged on, a nervous chatter began to develop. People began to talk, to let out their anxiety. They shared their stories of the quake, where they had been, what they had felt and seen, and also their fears for the future. What should we do?

But people did begin to organize. Several guides figured out how to get supplies from the village to make coffee for the entire group. Trekkers began to share their water and food (and cigarettes) to help calm others. Two medical students checked the man’s broken arm the best they could. As a group, we were able to come up with a large enough collection of pain medication to keep him somewhat comfortable. We were glad we had some oxycodone left over from when Della’s back went out. A group of guys organized to go down to the worst hit part of the village to see if there was any way to help the man who we all knew had been hit by rocks. Unfortunately, there was nothing they could do – he was already cold.

An Israeli girl who had been with us on the bus the prior night and whom we had leapfrogged with all day, had a satellite messaging device. She had rented it for the trek and we were all so grateful, it’s hard to put into words. She spent the afternoon figuring out how to make it work and sending messages to an emergency contact in Kathmandu. By that evening, we knew that the earthquake was a nationwide disaster. We heard that Kathmandu was in shambles. So, we knew that help would not be quick in coming. She also was able to get a message out to her mom in Israel. We were able to send email addresses to her mother so that she could contact all of our families to let them know that we were alright.

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The sat messaging device in the hands of our fearless leader Aviv. Standing nearby, Shani, the one person who thought to bring a satellite device on our trek. Thank goodness.

One of the Israeli men (who had been on our bus and who we had leapfrogged with all day) stepped naturally into the role of leader of our ragtag group. He was calm and prepared and had a presence that lent itself to leadership. He suggested that we figure out how to make ourselves comfortable for the night. Several others went with him to collect a tarp that had covered the outdoor seating area below and then strung it up above our rock for shelter. The villagers also (reluctantly) allowed us to use some of the carpets from their lodges to cover the rocky ground.

The tarp was a great idea as that night, it rained and rained. We hadn’t organized how we would sleep for the night so all of us just crowded under the tarp in a haphazard fashion. It was one big jumble of people and bags. Dark fell about 7:30 and there was nothing to do but try to sleep. Our group was close to 80 people that night. The villagers slept in the cave and the tourists and guides crowded under the tarp and a few of the large table umbrellas we had brought up from below.

Della was able to share a sleeping bag with two others, though she mostly slept with legs over or under other bodies, or curled up in a ball, just barely fitting in a crook of a tree trunk. Eric started in the jumble, but found a spot later in the night stretched out on the edge on top of many bags. He was able to stretch out, but lacked the warmth of the shared body heat. He wished for a blanket and then miraculously found one underneath the bag he was on top of… in the morning he discovered it was the large shawl of one of the fellow trekkers. Not much but enough to keep him warm through the night.

The earth continued to tremble and shake all night, effectively keeping everyone awake. It was punctuated by bigger shakes, or by the noise or cracking of falling rocks in other areas of the canyon. When this happened, the entire group would leap up and press against our rock for safety. We were lucky, no more rock slides came down on us. But, needless to say, no one got much sleep. We think we might have gotten 30 min…. maybe.

At one point during the night, we were woken by our leader. A message had come through on the sat device from the American Embassy! It was clearly a generic message, but it asked for names and situations of American citizens of those of us who needed assistance. We wrote a response, but never heard back.

Dawn came at 5. We all awoke with a new purpose. The only messages that had come in overnight from the sat device told us that help would be coming, but it was unlikely to be soon. We had to make our rocky shelter a sustainable home.

It was truly amazing to witness how people worked together. If a job presented itself, there were many people ready to make it work. The two of us helped to construct a helipad in an open beach area next to the river about 5 minutes up the trail from our house rock. Others worked on making fire, and then collecting water and boiling it for purification. Still others worked on building a comfortable latrine away from our sleeping and kitchen areas.

There was friction with the villagers. They had just witnessed their lives falling apart. They had lost their homes and their livelihoods. They had lost a person… Understandably, they were unhappy with the thought of sharing their supplies with a group of tourists who were likely to be gone in a week. It took a lot of people working together and a wonderful middleman guide for us to make an arrangement. We agreed to pay for a certain amount of food/drinks and the use of rugs, carpets, and blankets for a few nights.

hearty breakfast

hearty breakfast

The day wore on. Della remembers it as one of the longest days of her life. We had done most of the tasks listed above, gotten to know each other, eaten a meal, washed dishes, started to build a life for ourselves on that mountain… And when we looked at our watch it was all of 9 am.

With not much to do, rumors and theories floated around like crazy. For example, the villagers were convinced that there would be a second big quake 24 hours after the first. Most of us dismissed this as a silly superstitious idea. But then at 1 PM, 25 hours after the first quake, a large aftershock hit. A few people had been collecting supplies in the village and had to race back up. Luckily no one was hurt. We later found out that this aftershock registered 6.8, so quite large. This set off a few rockslides but none near us. The most visible damage was that the nearest teahouse had even more cracks in its walls as a result. It served as a visible reminder not to be lulled into a sense of complacency.

At the end of the day, there were some moments of happiness as the sun poked its way out of the clouds. A beautiful, warming light filled the whole valley. This was a brief period when we could forget the constant fear of the moving earth and falling rocks and enjoy the beauty of our locale.

We had continued communication with contacts in Israel via the sat phone. We were assured that rescue would be on its way within the next few days.

The second night, we were much more organized about our sleeping arrangements. More tarps were strung up. The two of us found a nice cozy spot where we could lay ourselves out. We shared our spot with two fun, wonderful people (an American man from Chicago and a woman from Spain) and slept well. The fear was still there and we woke several times in the night ready to sprint to our rock as we heard the rumbling of aftershocks and further landslides. But luck was still with us, and no rocks fell near or on the village. We were renewed with a night of hours of real sleep.

Our version of the picture that made it out early... We're alive, we're safe, and the sun is out =)

Our version of the picture that made it out early… We’re alive, we’re safe, and the sun is out =)

We will continue to tell the story of our earthquake experience in Nepal. We were extremely fortunate to survive and to be able to come home to the USA. Our stories are now over, but those in Nepal are not that fortunate. Huge numbers of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Please take some time to donate (any amount, large or small, can help) to help this beautiful country recover. We’ve collected list of organizations that you might consider here.

Use these links to read the rest of our Nepal Earthquake story:

During the Nepal Earthquake: Our Experience

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

At 11:56 AM on Saturday, April 25, 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. The epicenter was 80 km northwest of Kathmandu.

At this time, we were sitting on an outdoor terrace for a teahouse in the village of Bamboo on the Langtang trek, located approximately 70 km north of Kathmandu and 80 km east of the epicenter.

The actions that happened next are a bit muddled to us, so the timeline of the events below may not be entirely accurate.

We definitely felt the ground start shaking, which was surreal for us since neither of us had been in an earthquake. We were not used to the sensation of the entire ground moving beneath our feet. Della recalls asking Eric “What’s happening?,” and he said “I think it’s an earthquake.”

We then wondered what to do and where to head to have the most safety. Eric’s instinct was to head for the teahouse, since he had heard that a doorframe was a good place to be in an earthquake. He stood up to go in that direction, but then we saw the server running out of the house with his arms up in the air as if he was telling everyone to come to where we were. We decided to stay put.

This was a good decision, because moments later there was a giant cracking sound as the walls on both side of the canyon started to break apart and boulders started to rain down.

At first we just watched, because our spot in the middle of the canyon was not in the direct path of any of the rocks and also because we were in complete shock. Rocks from the north side of the canyon were falling into the river, and those from the south side were falling onto the teahouses themselves. We watched in horror as a car-sized boulder crushed the teahouse that our server had just exited from. Other buildings were also smashed or toppled by debris falling from the hillside above.

Smaller rocks, bouncing from both sides of the river started to fly through the air as well. It seemed like there was a chance that some of these rocks from either side could make it up to where we were standing. We ran as far to the edge of the terrace as we could go and still felt unsafe. We saw some wooden tables and benches and huddled underneath them with some of the other people who had been eating there, covering our heads with our hands to protect them as best we could. We were really lucky because those flying rocks would injure two badly and kill one.

The shaking and landslides settled down, so we got up to take in the situation. But then rocks started to rain down again (we can’t remember if this was due to another shake of the earth or not), so we jumped back under our wooden barriers. The slides subsided again, and we came out to see what was going on.

You can see what our view was like from our friend Corey’s video. (Make sure to check out his GoFundMe project linked with the video)

We didn’t really know what to do, but then we saw some of the villagers and  the other groups heading up the trail. We didn’t have any better idea, so we followed them.

This went through an area that had clearly been impacted by falling rocks, so we jogged quickly up the hill. The group headed for an area protected by two large boulders with a cave in between. There was already a large collection of people settled here that we would join.

We stayed in this area of safety for five nights.

We will continue to tell the story of our earthquake experience in Nepal. We were extremely fortunate to survive and to be able to come home to the USA. Our stories are now over, but those in Nepal are not that fortunate. Huge numbers of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Please take some time to donate (any amount, large or small, can help) to help this beautiful country recover. We’ve collected list of organizations that you might consider here

Use these links to read the rest of our Nepal Earthquake story:

Our Langtang Trek (Before the Quake)

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

We set out on our Langtang Trek at 7:30 AM on April 25, 2015.

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After another registration check, we headed off onto the trail. We took the large bridge over the Trisuli River, walked through Old Syabrubesi, and then followed the trail upstream along the Langtang River.

There are two ways to start your Langtang trek: the “high way” and the “low way.” The “high way” provides better views, but requires more climbing. Our guidebook suggested that the “low way” would be a more gentle introduction, so as novice trekkers we decided to choose that.

Even the “gentle” route involved mostly climbing up, as the river is descending rapidly through the entire valley. We enjoyed the wide variety of plant life – it was quite green, as we had not yet reached the elevation of the snow-capped peaks that you think of when you hear about the Himalayas. The terrain actually looked quite a bit like the mountains back home in Colorado.

As we walked, we encountered a few different groups of hikers heading up the trail, some of whom we had seen on the bus the previous day. Our pace was a bit slower than the others, so we would end up being passed by them. But, we tended not to take the longer breaks at villages along the way, so we would pass them there and then get passed 15 minutes later again. It became somewhat of a running joke with a group of three Israelis and their guide (who had been on our bus the previous day as well).

An hour into the trek, we crossed another large suspension bridge over the Langtang River to the south bank, then continued trekking up. There was one more small suspension bridge over a side stream near the small village of Domen. At the village of Pairo (also known as Landslide), the Israeli’s guide had clued us into a hot springs on the north bank, which we walked over and checked out but didn’t get in.

After Pairo, it was a semi-steep climb to the next village of Bamboo. It was almost lunchtime, but we weren’t feeling too hungry. Rimche was not too much further along the trail, so we considered pushing through to our final destination. But, as we approached Bamboo we saw many of our trail-mates had stopped for lunch, and there was a waiter ready to promote his outdoor terrace as the best right at the first place, so we decided that a small rest wouldn’t hurt us.

Approaching Bamboo village. We would take a seat under the yellow/orange tarps just barely visible in this picture

Approaching Bamboo village. We would take a seat under the yellow/orange tarps just barely visible in this picture

We sat down at the outdoor eating area on the terrace of the first teahouse and ordered a cup of tea each and some chapati. The tea came out pretty fast so we took our first few sips as we rested our feet. The seating area was in a nice location in the center of the valley, right out over the river.

The view from our table at the teahouse

The view from our table at the teahouse

The time was 11:55 AM.

We will continue to tell the story of our earthquake experience in Nepal. We were extremely fortunate to survive and to be able to come home to the USA. Our stories are now over, but those in Nepal are not that fortunate. Huge numbers of people have lost their homes and their livelihoods. Please take some time to donate (any amount, large or small, can help) to help this beautiful country recover. We’ve collected list of organizations that you might consider here

Use these links to read the rest of our Nepal Earthquake story: