Henry and six other men (5 from Canada and 1 other South African) were in Kathmandu one week before the earth-shattering M7.8 quake which has wreaked so much havoc and destruction on the Nepalese people.
From Kathmandu, the men went on to Pokhara for the start of their Annapurna Circuit hiking adventure. Henry is an experienced trekker, having previously successfully climbed Mounts Kilimanjaro, Elbrus and Aconcagua. They were in Manang when the earth tore apart a week later.
I heard about the quake when I tuned into the CNN news channel on Saturday morning and could hardly believe what I saw. I called Nellie, Henry’s wife, and she’d also just seen the news. Being a very strong and resourceful lady, she immediately sprang into action to see what could be done to trace the men.
Although CNN has covered Kathmandu and Everest extensively, news of the remaining Nepal has been non-existent, mainly because the roads into those areas are no longer accessible. DIRCO (the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation) and the Canadian government have been supportive and helpful and Nellie was able to ascertain within 18 hours that the men were safe and unharmed. Henry was able to phone Nellie yesterday to say they are returning to the start of the Circuit.
Cut off from the outside world, they have not seen news feeds of the quake. Although we are relieved that their group is safe, there is tragedy too as the guides have been told that some of their family members have died. The return journey will be solemn and so, so worrying for their guides as they don’t know what they are returning to. They and their fellow Nepalese will have to rebuild their homes and lives.
Easier said than done in a country which relies heavily on tourism for its finances. Having lost revenue after the deadly Everest avalanche last year, this weekend’s earthquake, aftershocks and avalanches are catastrophic. The Nepalese have to rebuild their homes before they can rebuild hotels, guest houses and trek huts. Although it is spring in the northern hemisphere, Nepal will also be experiencing the monsoon rains in summer so much needs to be done in a short space of time.
The next challenges for the group are to first get from Pokhara to Kathmandu and then to get home. The Kathmandu airport has been closed to commercial flights in order to allow aid and Search & Rescue teams in. Many countries are rallying resources. One of these is “Gift of the Givers” which is based in South Africa. This amazing relief organisation – the largest on the African continent – arranges S&R and medical teams, food and water, and medical supplies to humanitarian disasters in Africa and the rest of the world. Nellie has offered to take leave and work as a volunteer if extra hands are needed.