A Canadian mountain climber scaling one of the world’s tallest peaks has survived after being caught in an avalanche caused by a powerful earthquake in Nepal.
“You probably heard the news, we had a major, major earthquake today,” Al Hancock, a high-altitude climber, can be heard saying on a voicemail message sent hours after his team was buried by the snow.
‘We made a gallant effort … it just wasn’t meant to be.’– Al Hancock
“It shook here at base camp, we thought the whole mountain was covered in mist, it just went on and on. We’re so lucky.”
Hancock, a 55-year-old climber from Edmonton, has been in Nepal since March. He and a small team had been attempting to reach the summit of Annapurna, in the Himalayas, when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck the country Saturday.
The death toll continues to climb and travel remains impossible for many remote parts of Nepal.
In his voicemail, Hancock said the avalanche hit while the team slept, recovering from an unsuccessful attempt on the summit hours earlier.
“No summit. We made a gallant effort … it just wasn’t meant to be,” he said.
“An avalanche hit us, just about buried us in our tents. We had to use knives to cut our way out. It was a tragedy in itself.
“And then after that, two sherpas and I had to do a rescue of a teammate.”
The recording then cuts off,
Hancock’s spokeswoman, Olivia Pilip, says Hancock’s satellite phone likely lost signal during the call, a common occurrence on the mountain. Even so, she says she’s eagerly awaiting another call.
“We definitely do want to hear from him again, just that he is fine,” she said.
Two team members rescued
Hancock was on Annapurna, the tenth tallest peak in the world, as part of his attempt to climb 14 mountains across the globe — all higher than 8,000 metres.
An experienced climber, Hancock has already scaled the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents, and has twice reached the top of Everest.
Even before the earthquake, Pilip said the Annapurra climb has been a troubled one. Difficult weather has prevented them from reaching the summit. Following the avalanche, two of Hancock’s team members had to be rescued — a responsibility that fell on Hancock as the team’s leader, she said.
“They had to cut out of their tents, dig themselves out, check on everybody — obviously a lot of chaos.”
The danger of other avalanches triggered by aftershocks meant the team had to move quickly off the mountain.
At this point, Pilip said it is hard to tell if Hancock will make another attempt at the peak when the danger passes. She said his climbing equipment has likely been damaged or lost in the snow. Depending on the circumstances, she’s hoping he might be able to continue his challenge with aid from other climbers.
“It’s not as if they’re going out and racing towards the summit against each other,” she said.
“t’s a very inclusive community, everyone’s there to help each other.”