SEATTLE — Several Washington state-based mountain-guiding companies reported that their teams had checked in OK after a massive earthquake in Nepal sent an avalanche sweeping into a mountaineering base camp on Mount Everest, but at least one said it has not accounted for all staff.
About a half-dozen Washington outfits — including Alpine Ascents, International Mountain Guides and Rainier Mountaineering Inc. — had expeditions on or near Mount Everest when the earthquake struck Saturday, killing about 1,500 people. The avalanche claimed at least 10 climbers and guides.
By Saturday afternoon, most reported everyone in their parties was safe. But Seattle-based Madison Mountaineering said that while it had contact with its group of about a dozen climbers in a camp high above the base camp, it had not heard from staff who stayed behind in the camp where the avalanche struck.
"We don't have everyone accounted for," said Madison co-founder Kurt Hunter, who was in Seattle on Saturday. "We have our fingers crossed."
He said he wasn't sure how many crew or staff members Madison had in base camp, but that it typically would have included a manager, a Sherpa crew and maybe a journalist.
The parties led by the Washington firms total dozens of climbers, Sherpas and porters. Guide Dave Hahn wrote on the website of Ashford-based Rainier Mountaineering that he was in a camp above the base camp when the avalanche struck, but others in his team, including guide Mark Tucker, were down below and had worked feverishly to help the injured.
"We got dusted" by the avalanche, Hahn wrote, but added: "We are hearing reports of some pretty destructive action down there, injuries and loss of life. ... We're hearing the strenuous efforts that our Sherpa team and Mark Tucker are going through down there trying to help with the injured and those who haven't fared so well."
Gordon Janow, director of programs for Alpine Ascents International, said from Seattle that his team had come through the avalanche unscathed. Their first goal was to deal with the devastation at base camp, he said, and they would then try to create new routes to help climbers stuck above the treacherous Khumbu Icefall. The icefall, which is just above base camp, is a key route up the lower part of Everest.
"Everybody's pretty much in rescue mode, but this is different from some independent climbing accident where people can be rescued and taken somewhere else," Janow said. Given the widespread damage in Kathmandu, he added, "I don't know where 'somewhere else' is."
Mountain Madness, another prominent Seattle guiding company, didn't have anybody at base camp, but they had a team of about 40 people — including 19 paying clients — in Namche Bazaar, a village at above 11,000 feet, on the way there. Two of the clients were to be married when they reached base camp, said Steve Guthrie, the company's international program director.
Damage in the village included fallen masonry and collapsed walls, but nobody in the team was injured, Guthrie said.
Some Sherpas and porters had family members who may have been injured in their own villages and planned to return: "We want them to be able to be with their families," Guthrie said.
The team moved into a one-story teahouse to spend the night and planned to re-evaluate in the morning as to whether they could be of any assistance. But Guthrie noted that the village is about four days by foot from base camp, and even if they were to go it's not clear how they could help.
Follow Johnson at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle