Darren Rogers wasn’t quite asleep in his tent when he heard the crack of breaking ice. The moving earth beneath him threw him in the air.
Avalanche, he thought immediately, grabbing his boots. He started to run but realized he was surrounded by crevasses. The roaring of moving ice and snow was coming at him from both sides. He hunched over, placed his elbows on his knees and focused on maintaining a pocket of air.
It was about noon on April 25. Rogers was at Camp 1 on Mount Everest at about 20,000 feet and a 7.8 magnitude earthquake had just rocked Nepal.
Rogers, 45, of Sheridan, isn’t one of those people who always dreamed of climbing Everest. He grew up in Alamosa, Colorado and spent his free time camping and climbing in the nearby mountains, always wanting to push a little harder and higher to see how his body performed. Altitude never bothered him, even as he scaled peaks above 14,000 feet.
A chemical engineer in the oil and gas industry, he moved to Sheridan in 2003. He fell in love with the little town and the nearby Bighorn Mountains. He kept pushing himself — always a little harder and higher on peaks around the world. In 2007, he trekked to the Everest base camp to see how his body handled the altitude. He felt great.
Last year he decided to test his stamina on one of the world’s tallest peaks and climbed Cho Oyu at 26,906 feet. Rogers acclimated easily and climbed quickly. That’s when he set his sights on Everest.
He figured out a way to cut what is often an eight-week expedition to climb Everest and nearby Lhotse, down to about 4.5 weeks using a guide service, but climbing with only one Sherpa instead of with the full group and using a helicopter to shorten his trek to base camp.
In the few months he had to train, he completed sets of 60 push-ups, 20 pull-ups and interval runs during the week. On the weekends, he loaded a pack with 50 pounds of water and snowshoed eight miles up more than 2,000-vertical feet without stopping. For weeks he slept in a tent-like structure that simulated high altitude.
He arrived in Nepal and successfully climbed the 20,075-foot Lobuche as a warmup. He arrived at Everest base camp on April 18. He spent the next few days hiking around base camp before setting out for Camp 1 at 3 a.m. April 25, a day earlier than he’d planned.
The scariest part of the day was supposed to be navigating the famously treacherous Khumbu icefall. He’d practiced walking in crampons across aluminum ladders stretched out over his backyard, but it didn’t compare to moving among the towering seracs and carefully placing his foot on each rung, the only thing separating him from a dark abyss.
On the first ladder he grabbed the rope, walked halfway across and stopped, staring down into the crevasse. He took in the moment. He was about to start climbing the tallest and most famous mountain in the world.
He arrived at Camp 1 at 21,000-feet faster than expected, feeling relaxed, happy and strong. He was resting in his tent when his body suddenly flung upward more than six inches off the ground. After bracing in the tent for a blast of snow and ice that didn’t hit, he got out and ran into an almost white-out. Thinking of the crevasses surrounding the camp, he stopped.
He hunched down unsure which slide would hit him first.
“There wasn’t a thing I felt you could do,” he said. “There was no place to run. You are just waiting for it.”
He tensed for impact as the roar grew louder and more furious. A blast of powder knocked him forward and coated him in snow. Another from the opposite direction hit a few moments later. Then it was quiet until a voice called from a tent. Is it over?
The climbers at Camp 1 soon realized what they’d experienced had been more than an avalanche. As the air cleared, Rogers saw dozens of avalanche paths and debris across the valley and mountain. Information started coming in over the radio. Base camp was almost gone. They needed help.
The cracks, booms and powder blasts again hit Camp 1 the next day with another major tremor. It was time to get off the mountain. The normal route down through the icefall was too dangerous with the earth still moving and the ladders gone.
After another sleepless night, helicopters shuttled the stranded climbers back to what was left of base camp. The injured had already been evacuated, but bodies still lay in camp.
It was surreal, Rogers said. He was still reeling from almost dying the day before and he simply accepted the death surrounding him.
“I was in a selfish state,” he said. “I felt very lucky.”
An avalanche leveled most of what had been a tent city. Food, clothing and gear were strewn across the snow. One tent had been ripped away, leaving only the sandals of its owner on the remnants of the floor.
The 7.8 magnitude April 25 earthquake in Nepal killed more than 8,000 people, 18 were on Everest.
“Climbing is a hazardous venture,” Rogers said.
He knew the risks when he arrived at Everest. He’d prepared to navigate crevasses, avoid falling ice, to endure the high altitude and inherent risk of the mountains. He never considered he’d have to survive an earthquake.
Rogers prepared himself mentally for the destruction he expected to see as he trekked back to Kathmandu. While some areas were devastated, other places seemed fine. Rogers was on a plane back to the U.S. by May 6.
Rogers needs time to process the earthquake and his experience on the mountain, as well as deal with the logistics, like his trip insurance and the more than $20,000 he has in permits that are still valid. But he knows he’ll go back.
“There’s no question about it,” he said.
“I am not afraid of that mountain. … I have a lot of respect for it.”