CB locals find themselves in Nepal during earthquake

“The ground was rolling like waves”

by Mark Reaman

There were several people with Crested Butte and Gunnison connections in Nepal last weekend when a magnitude 7.9 earthquake brought devastation to that mountain country. Through the miracle of the Internet and satellite phones, we have word from most of them that they survived the earthquake and are safe.

Erik and Avery Forsythe, Crystal Pistil Edmunds, Ben Ewing, Pemba and Neema Sherpa, and Talie Morrison have all checked in to report they are safe and sound. In fact, Erik and Avery should arrive back in Gunnison Saturday night.

Kandu Sherpa of the Sherpa Café said she had heard on Saturday that her mom and most of her relatives were safe but it wasn’t until Tuesday night that she received word that her dad Pemba and sister Neema were fine. Kandu said those were long, stressful days waiting to hear whether her dad and sister were okay after the earthquake.

They were on a trek at Makalu Base Camp which was an area that didn’t have much earthquake activity compared to the rest of the country. On Tuesday night, Kandu reported that she had “just heard from my mom that my dad and sister are safe in Tumlingtar. They are waiting for a plane to take off to Katmandu. They will be in Kathmandu either today or tomorrow. My dad sent message to one of his fellow friends who just landed in Kathmandu from Tumlingtar. Thank you everyone for love, support and pray.”

Former Crested Butte Mountain ski patroller Erik Forsythe is the EMS director for Gunnison Valley Hospital and has lived in Crested Butte since 1991. He is also a guide for Tusker Trail Adventures. Last weekend he was guiding a trek to the Everest Base Camp and included his 17-year-old daughter, Avery, on the trip. Normally a student at the Crested Butte Community School, Avery has done her junior year online in order to travel. It appears her latest sojourn included more adventure than most.

According to her mom and Erik’s wife, Shelley Read, the group was on the approach to the Everest Base Camp when the quake struck.

“After spending four days in Kathmandu, Erik, his co-guide Mel Kaida, Avery, and 12 clients flew to Lukla on April 16 and started trekking from there. Before the earthquake hit, they had enjoyed a great trek with good health and good weather most of the way up the 38-mile Khumbu Valley. On Saturday, April 25, they set out from Lobuche for Everest Base Camp,” Read relayed.

“The quake rocked them about a mile away from EBC. They said the earth shook for what seemed like a long time and then they were hit with the avalanche’s powder spray. They took refuge in the nearby village of Gorak Shep, which is located at 17,000 feet, and spent the night there. Tusker Trail owner Amy Frank said Erik provided medical care to the wounded Everest climbers who fled EBC for Gorak Shep,” Read said.

On Sunday, April 26, the tour group began descending the valley, not knowing what damage they would find since almost all communication was cut off and no new treks were coming up. The most recent word, posted on the Tusker Trail Facebook page, is that they had safely reached Namche Bazaar at 11,300 feet. They witnessed pockets of heartbreaking destruction through the valley.

“Erik and Avery were originally scheduled to return to Crested Butte on May 3,” Read said. Wednesday morning Shelley found out that she could see her husband and daughter this weekend.

“Erik and Avery and their whole group were evacuated via helicopter out of Syangboche last night,” she said. “They arrived safely to Kathmandu and are now enroute to New Delhi. They have a long and complicated route home, but they are scheduled to arrive in Gunnison on Saturday evening! Tusker worked night and day to make this happen. Amazing!”

Talie Morrison has spent the last several years using Crested Butte as a home base and figuring out how to hike the world. And she is succeeding. She was in Kathmandu the morning of the quake, catching a bus for a 12-hour ride to the small remote village of Tintale, where she helps sponsor a child and a school.

“I walked across the square (the one that was destroyed) at 5:15 a.m. the morning before the quake to catch a bus for an adventurous 12-hour bus ride to Tintale Village,” she wrote in an email. “The bus stopped at a little roadside restaurant and we ordered the standard Nepali rice and dahl meal. As we were waiting for the food, I thought my friend Ishor was shaking the table. And he thought I was. Then we realized it was an earthquake and ran outside. The bus was bouncing on its tires, the trees and power lines were shaking as if there was a strong wind. And the ground was rolling like waves, almost. Enough that you had to bend your knees to keep upright. It was scary but none of the buildings collapsed where we were. Once it stopped we returned and had our lunch. We caught an aftershock a little later and watched the people come streaming out of the buildings.”

Talie is now in Tintale Village (Udayapur District) and said any aftershocks in the village are very slight. “But I am sad to see that there are some small cracks in the school we have worked so hard to build. I am supposed to return to Kathmandu on Friday—but don’t know if or how that will happen,” Talie wrote Monday morning. “I have a trip planned with Pemba of the Sherpa Café—but I haven’t been able to reach him. I am hoping and praying that he is ok.”

Ben Ewing, who has lived in Crested Butte, was in Nepal that morning as well. A friend managed to reach him and posted this on his Facebook page: “He was outside of the city when the earthquake hit. The village he is in is without power. He has been having difficulty reaching anyone in Kathmandu. He is trying to figure out what he and Kristine should do next. No way to charge his computer or cell phone. They seem safe and in no pending danger.”

Crystal Pistil Edmunds is a HCCA Red Lady and is now in the Peace Corps in Nepal. Reached Saturday evening, she confirmed that she was safe. “I am at the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu,” she said. “I’m still in shock and it’s only the beginning. I’m ‘not allowed to talk to press’ right now since we’re affiliated with the government.”

In an email Tuesday she wrote, “We were told by Peace Corps staff in one of our first training sessions, about two months ago, that if there were ever to be an earthquake in Nepal, the worst hit would be Kathmandu — and the devastation would be enormous.  That’s where we all were — with many of us in Thamel, ‘the heart of tourism’ in Kathmandu.”

She said they were still feeling aftershocks and more than 100 with a magnitude of 4.0 have been reported since Saturday’s quake. “The hospitals are overwhelmed with hundreds of severely injured patients,” she said. “Most of the injured residents are getting treated outside in the overfilled street, where people are rushing looking for relatives. Traumatized residents are suffering severe shock, and are devastated from the disaster. The rain has also triggered additional landslides. This situation is only going to get worse as monsoon season arrives in a few weeks.”

Crystal reported that, “Peace Corps Nepal is on ‘administrative leave’ for four months as they assess the country, our homestays, and our projects. We’ll be flying to Thailand Monday for debriefing, then back to the States by the end of next week. I’ll be going to Ohio immediately but am hoping to find my way back to CB,” she said Wednesday.

There are local efforts to find ways to directly help those impacted by the quake.

Matt Smith and his wife, Dana, owners of Lil’s Sushi Bar and Grill, said one of their employees, Dawa Sherpa, was directly affected “by the earthquake when his family’s home was demolished in the incident and they have lost almost everything.”

They are providing a direct pipeline to help Dawa Sherpa and his family. They said if you want to help, checks can be made out to Dawa Sherpa and sent to Lil’s P.O Box 3626. He can then directly wire funds to his family in Nepal. Dana and Matt said they will likely plan a night at Lil’s to benefit the family as well. They’ll spread the word when that idea is more concrete.

There is also a donation box at the Sherpa Café in Gunnison. All the money collected there will go directly to organizations in Nepal working in the relief effort.

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