SF woman recounts Nepal earthquake that happened while climbing Mt. Everest 

click to enlarge Siobhan McFeeney is shown here during her climbing trip in Nepal, prior to the earthquake. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Siobhan McFeeney is shown here during her climbing trip in Nepal, prior to the earthquake.
When San Francisco resident Siobhan McFeeney began her second attempt at scaling Mount Everest last month, she was prepared for the first major challenge of the infamous climb: a giant glacier known as Khumbu Icefall.

What McFeeney, 43, did not expect was that while in icefall, everything – except the ladder she and her fellow climbers clung to – would crumble and cave in around her in what would be the worst earthquake to hit Nepal in more than eight decades.

“There was a moment where we were on that ladder and it was shaking, and everything was collapsing around us,” McFeeney recalled Monday after arriving home earlier that morning to her husband and four children.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake on April 25 is estimated to have killed more than 7,300 people, including at least 18 climbers on Mount Everest. The quake also triggered a massive avalanche that toppled onto much of Mount Everest’s base camp.

In the icefall, McFeeney, along with the five other climbers and two guides she was with as part of the Alpine Ascents climbing team, waited several minutes as smaller avalanches and aftershocks continued to rock the glacier.

“Over the next two minutes, all these ice blocks and towers, everything started to just collapse,” she said. “That went on for a couple minutes; then we climbed and got out of there.”

It took the group another two hours to scale the rest of the way to Camp 1, the first overnight section of Mount Everest. They moved forward quickly and didn’t look back, not knowing what avalanches or aftershocks were to come.

“Everything below us collapsed. We were the last team to get out of the icefall,” said McFeeney. “Nobody came behind us.”

The team spent that first night after the earthquake waking up every time the slightest tremor was felt, ready to dive for safety should another avalanche occur. The next day there was in fact an aftershock greater than magnitude-5.0 that triggered a massive avalanche in the icefall.

At that point, the some 100 climbers at Camp 1 and 60 climbers at Camp 2 knew they could not climb back to base camp through the icefall. Everyone was flown by helicopter to base camp, where McFeeney remained for several more days until she could catch a flight to Kathmandu.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, McFeeney’s husband Terry Trevino spent an agonizing several hours after the earthquake waiting to hear word from the mountain. He knew his wife was in the icefall at the time of the quake.

Then, about three hours after the quake, McFeeney was able send a text message to her husband upon reaching Camp 1.

“That’s when she told me she was in the icefall holding on for dear life,” Trevino said. The couple was able to speak by satellite phone several times after that, but each call was cut off after about 40 seconds.

McFeeney said she is grateful to have escaped the ordeal without injury, especially considering that entire towns in Nepal have been devastated by the earthquake. She had been climbing Mount Everest for the charity Water for Nepal, to raise money to help provide clean water, which she said Nepalese need now more than ever.

“People didn’t survive, and yet we did,” McFeeney said. “We got a lucky break. Someone was looking out for us.”

To donate to McFeeney’s charity, visit mycharitywater.org/Everestagain.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for Patch.com, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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