One man’s extraordinary tale of survival against the odds—in more ways than one.
In 2007, businessman Jules mountain nearly died of cancer. Eight years later, he set off to climb Mount Everest.
For some books, this would be a remarkable-enough story on its own. Here, though, it’s perhaps the least of the author’s triumphs over the odds—because what took place at the Base Camp transforms Aftershock from a richly vivid account of a modern Everest expedition into something else entirely.
Actually, “Base Camp” is a rather misleading name for a place that’s higher than Mont Blanc. To reach it requires a ten-day trek through a string of small Nepalese villages, which combine a centuries-old way of life with lots of shops selling upmarket mountaineering equipment.
The same odd mix of ancient and modern also applies to the Camp itself—whose impressive range of facilities, from booze to televisions, have been transported by either helicopter or yak. Once you’re there, your main jobs are to acclimatise to the altitude and to hang about until it’s your expedition’s turn to head for the summit.
Which was exactly what Jules Mountain (his real name, apparently) did for five weeks—until, after a night of partying had helped to pass a bit more time, this happened...
"I'm lying in my minute tent at Everest Base Camp. It's –2°C. My breath rises from my mouth like plumes of smoke as I try to catch a midday nap.
Suddenly and without warning, the ground I’m lying on moves half a metre to the left.
I open my eyes with a start. Did that really happen? Did the entire earth just shift beneath me? Or was it last night’s whisky?
Again, I feel the earth move. The ground lifts me up half a metre, as if something is pushing into my back, before suddenly shunting to the right. What the hell’s happening? I am lying on a glacier of 100 tons of ice—nothing could move that!
I heave myself up out of my sleeping bag; rip the tent zip open. The snow in front of me, calm and serene, blissfully unaware of the plans the mountain has in store for it, clings to me as I half-crawl out and stand upright.
"The entire sky is filled with a giant, cascading wall of white. A beautiful and deadly collision of debris—rocks, ice and white dust—and all of it heading straight for me"
I see Donat and Iwan [fellow climbers], staring up at Pumori as if hypnotised. Usually, with Everest looming so majestically overhead, there’s little reason to look at the Goliath’s smaller sister, but right now...Careering down Mount Pumori is the biggest avalanche I have ever seen. Coming right at us...
The entire sky is filled with a giant, cascading wall of white. A beautiful and deadly collision of debris—rocks, ice and white dust—and all of it heading straight for me.
It rolls, turns, tumbles every which way, as it surges invincibly on down the mountain. From ground to sky there is nothing else; just this wall of whiteness thundering towards us, oblivious of all in its path, full of heartless violence.
Nothing exists in the world, but this... This is it—I’m dead! There’s nothing I can do but accept that I’m about to be swept away by an avalanche. After all the near misses of my life, after all the lucky escapes from hospital, I must exit here, thousands of miles from my loved ones.
My daughters, my girlfriend, my family in England drift into my mind; time seems to be slowing infinitely to allow me to think about them all, one last time. It feels as if 15 minutes have passed since I emerged from my tent, but it’s actually only a few seconds.
I look down. I’m not even wearing boots; just socks on my half-frozen feet. Could I run? I glance over my shoulder.
Running is out of the question. The avalanche is hurtling towards me at 150 kilometres an hour, and the ground is an obstacle course of rocks, guide ropes and ice. I am sure to trip. And anyway, where to run?
I have to get down. Now. I dive headfirst into my tent, and hit the floor, burrowing my head into the ground.
The avalanche is on me, all around and on top of me. I am being buried alive in snow."
This was the 2015 Nepalese earthquake, which killed nearly 9,000 people—including 22 at the Base Camp, making it the deadliest day in Everest’s history.
Having dug himself out, Jules discovered he was miraculously unhurt. But then comes an extraordinary section when, amid the chaos, he sets up a medical tent for the injured (some of them seriously).
And after his patients have been helicoptered down, the question—amazingly enough—becomes whether he and his fellow survivors should try and reach the summit of Everest anyway...
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