On Saturday, a huge earthquake hit Nepal, devastating the capital city, Kathmandu. As of Monday evening, over 4,000 people are known to have been killed, with at least 6,500 more injured. Rescue efforts are underway, with teams from around the world being sent in to help, but there are now shortages of food, water and electricity, and concern over the spread of disease.
The quake also triggered avalanches on Mount Everest, where at least 18 have died and dozens more have been seriously injured. Iestyn Richards-Rees, a 28-year-old from West Wales, was on Everest when the earthquake hit. He's aiming to scale the mountain to raise money for Headway – a British charity that supports people affected by brain injuries – after they helped his father deal with brain damage caused by a car crash in 2001.
I spoke to him about the experience over email, because he was finding it hard to get phone signal 5,000 metres up a mountain.
VICE: Hi Iestyn. How far up Everest were you when you felt the earthquake?
Iestyn Richards-Rees: I was at advanced base camp, which is just under 6,500 metres. We were having lunch in the communal tent when the tent started shaking. At first I thought an avalanche was coming down, but it soon transpired to be an earthquake when we rushed outside. The earthquake did subsequently trigger an avalanche on the south side.
What was the first thing that went through your mind?
Complete shock, especially when you see rocks and ice falling around you. On top of it all, our sherpas are all from the villages outside Kathmandu, and it was a tough 24 hours trying to contact them to make sure they are safe. Luckily they were all safe.
How did others around you react? People must have known an avalanche was imminent as soon as they felt the earth moving.
Most of the group felt pretty hopeless – there's nothing you can do, really, in that situation if mother nature turns on you. We were all very lucky that we were on the north side, though, as we have minimal damage compared to the south side expeditions, which have suffered deaths and numerous injuries.
How long did it take for news to reach you that base camp had been hit?
As we're in Chinese-controlled Tibet, our communication has been restricted and, at times, we have been left isolated. Our base camp on the north side wasn't damaged compared to the south side, but we started getting reports several hours after the big quake that it was in a bad way. We have a second team under the expedition on the south side that was stuck in Camp 1, as the infrastructure under them has been taken away by the quake and avalanche.
What were the instructions once the news had come through?
For us it was to remain calm and help our sherpas contact their families. A few of them wanted to go down that night to base camp, but the expedition leader, David O'Brien, decided it was best to stay up there and avoid risking a -20 walk down in the night. Good decision. The next day we heard that the Tibetan Mountain Association had closed down the mountain for five days, and we're still waiting to hear what will come of our future climbs on the north side.
What's the mood like there currently?
We are trying to remain positive at base camp, but it's difficult knowing how many people have lost their lives due to this tragedy. Most expeditions are hoping to continue climbing on the north side if we're allowed, and this tragedy has made me personally even more determined to go for the summit.
Has anyone left to help with rescue efforts?
Not that I know of from the north side.
So what now? Are you just waiting to hear what happens next?
I'm at base camp currently, at 5,200 metres, and we're just waiting to hear from the Tibetan Mountain Association on their next move – whether to allow climbers to continue their preparations for a summit attempt over the next few weeks. A very difficult waiting game. I'm trying to keep myself busy in the day by going for walks, visiting local tea houses, circuit training and watching DVDs, but I really want to be back on the mountain doing what I love.