Nepal is an adventurer’s dream. Raw beauty, an exotic culture and people that welcome you with open arms. Its famed mountain range is a magnet for climbers. Anyone who is serious about testing every ounce of their stamina, every sinew of their body wants to climb these mountains. However, while climbing the mountain is always seen as a risk on 25 April 2015 the people of Nepal were hit with another challenge altogether, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8.It was the worst natural disaster on the mountain since the Nepal-Bihar earthquake in 1934. Villages were flattened, century old buildings were destroyed, 19 people lost their lives on Everest and 250 people were reported missing.UK adventurer and Guinness World Record holder Adrian Hayes was on Makalu mountain when the earthquake hit. He had just descended to base camp with four friends from another team, having spent three days up the mountain at Camp 1 on his first rotation. They had not long descended the steep ice wall that lies below Camp 1 when the quake hit the fifth highest mountain in the world. “In the whiteout weather conditions there was a lot of confusion,” says Hayes. “There was an almighty sound of avalanches and my first thoughts were that it was one monster avalanche, but the fact that they seemed to be coming from everywhere around us gave us that confusion. It was only when we reached Base Camp that everyone confirmed there had been a huge earthquake in the country.”The former Gurkha officer was carrying a Thuraya satellite communication system so as soon as he got to the Base Camp he turned it on and let everyone know that all the members of the team were safe. It wasn’t until then that they fully started to understand what had happened. “It was the first time for me [experiencing an earthquake],” says Hayes. “Once I turned on the news on my comms system we quickly realised how serious it was.”
The next morning the eight teams of climbers gathered on the mountain and they decided not to make any rash decisions and wait to see what unfolded. However, at a second team meeting a few days later, Hayes’ team agreed to abort. “A lot of our Sherpas wanted to get back to their families; we were far behind schedule and needed a strong team to fix lines up the mountain; the danger of aftershocks, the possibility that Nepal would officially close all mountaineering in any case; the mixed feelings of the different teams and team members; and, above all, the ethics and morality of carrying on whilst the country was in turmoil,” says Hayes.But rather and leave immediately, Hayes decided to stay and help. Speaking Nepalese, being physically fit and acclimatised to 6000m, having an effective sat comms system and being a former paramedic he knew he could be of some help. So he stayed for another month to help the teams who were trying to get the country back on its feet. He trekked down from Makulu base camp through the Makalu Barun valley to investigate and report on the damage. “I lent my Thuraya systems to villagers to make calls and we assisted any lost foreigners we can across,” says Hayes. Then after 12 May when the second earthquake hit, he headed up to Sindhupalchok and Dolakha to provide first aid. “There had been many aftershocks in the interim period and people were much more wary – everyone rushed into the open, away from the buildings,” says Hayes. “The ground moved for about a minute. On the plus side, people were ready. On the negative side, resources were already highly stretched and this was yet more crisis.”Through his expeditions Hayes has attracted close to 70,000 followers on social media, so he launched a Just Giving page and encouraged people to donate.
Hayes worked tirelessly in the mountains, but after a month he decided that he needed to return to his own family in the UK. He continued with his fundraising and then in September 2015 returned to Nepal, with his friend Royston Polding, who is also a former paramedic, to try and help once again. Hayes wanted to check on the progress of some of the projects that he had been fundraising for including establishing a new water supply for a village in Chyasarpa, providing much-needed health education classes in remote villages and meeting with support agencies and partners.However, the scene that Hayes was greeted with in September was a vast improvement. “Almost all people are now out of living under tarpaulin and are in wooden or tin houses,” says Hayes. “Each household who experienced damage has had a government grant and the country is back on the road.”At first Hayes, was directing the money to help build a school in Seduwa in the Makalu region. However, as Korean NGO stepped in to help, Hayes was able to build on the water supply in Chyasarpa and reduce the chance of villagers becoming ill. He is also now trying to establish a MIRA project (medicine in remote areas) with Mission Himalaya to help villagers who have to walk for up to five-hours to get general medical help. But while the charities are doing their best to support the country, Hayes says that it’s important that the tourists return too: “It’s the biggest help anyone can give the country. Nepal needs tourists, trekkers and holiday makers to return. Thankfully they are.”While Hayes receives confirmation of his project he is now preparing to Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world, from April to May 2016.