Denise witnesses aftermath of killer avalanche tragedy

editorial image

A Coleraine woman reached the Everest Base Camp in Nepal during an avalanche which killed 16 Sherpa guides.

Denise Brewster set off on an 18 day challenge to climb part of the world’s highest mountain last month, planning to reach Base Camp on Easter Saturday.

However devastation struck on Good Friday when a huge mass of snow suddenly gave way a few hundred metres above Everest Base Camp, injuring and killing local guides and devastating the local community.

Speaking exclusively to the Times, Denise, who travelled with Pat Falvey Adventures, explained: “The whole trip was physically tough and demanding, walking for eight to nine hours everyday is hard going. Sanitation and food was primitive. But, thankfully I’m an active person and had altered my training regime to cope with any hardships.

“However the day before the avalanche was a particularly hard but a spiritual day for me. I was hungry and tired but I told myself this is your personal pilgrim and they are not meant to be easy. It is Good Friday after all and I should be fasting. The notion of food soon left me. This belief and knowing that we were going to reach Base Camp the next day gave me the inner strength to carry on.

“Suddenly a man approached us in a distressed state. He said we were the first Westerners he had seen. He informed us that he had just left Base Camp and there had been an avalanche and a number of Sherpas had been killed and others were missing. This obviously upset the group and especially our guide, Sherpa Pemba, who had family and friends working up there and our leader Pat who had known many of these Sherpas for a number of years.

“We decided to continue our trek, but everyone was silent and deep in thought. The sombre mood continued when we got to our overnight stay in Gorakshep. Everyone was reflecting on the news and the devastation it had brought to the Sherpa community.

“The next morning we continued our journey to Base Camp. We crossed frozen lakes and glaciers and as we were approaching we saw the aftermath of the avalanche, this installed the realisation of the devastation that had taken place. We all thought and prayed silently for the Sherpas that had lost their lives and their families. I felt we shouldn’t be there, it just didn’t feel right.

“A rescue helicopter was searching for bodies. I kept walking and then saw a body being airlifted off the mountain, it wasn’t a pleasant sight and my heart just sank.

“When we got to Base Camp I didn’t feel like celebrating, the place looked angry. I quickly took photographs and left, I’d just reached my goal but wanted to get out of there as fast as possible.

“It was a profound experience on the way down. I prayed to those who had gone before me for the group’s safe return back to their loved ones, something those Sherpas wouldn’t do.”

The next day Denise decided to take the Kala Patthar challenge.

“For me the highlight was achieving Kala Patthar,” she added. “Only seven of our group decided to do it. At the top I felt I was finally being rewarded and found peace in what I had ultimately achieved. It was beautiful and Everest didn’t seemed angry anymore.”