Nepal Relief and Annapurna - By Chris Burke

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The following article is written by our sponsored climber Chris Burke. When the earthquake hit Nepal a month ago she had just come off an attempt of Annapurna and was at its basecamp. Since then she, Lakpa and many of their team at Himalayan Ascent have spent weeks trying to help villages that have been missed by the big organisations. They continue to both work themselves and coordinate others in their team with getting supplies, aid and equipment to those villages. If you would like to make a donation to Chris in order to help out, or you simply want to find out more - please email web@mountainequipment.com or use our contacts page. Further information regarding Chris's work and her climbing can be found on her website here.

I’m not sure how to write about Nepal relief and to mention my ‘nearly forgotten’ Annapurna expedition in one post, but here goes.

Our mission to Bolgau nearly 4 days ago (20th) was wild in weird ways.  We set off at 5am for Bolgau in 2 x 4WD trucks heavily laden with supplies.  We were quickly on a ‘one and a bit lane road’ (part asphalt, part dirt) that I thought was kind of dodgy.  But, I’m used to similar roads here in Nepal.  That was for the first half of the journey.  Then, that first road turned out to be the good road and after that the second half of our journey was on a really dodgy 1 lane road (ie. 4WD dirt trail), which was sometimes mud!

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People have been identifying affected areas where no aid has yet reached. To a degree, I kind of now understand why this might be so, in some cases. Some areas are just so hard to get to in this mountainous little country and then you have the monsoon looming ready to ‘take out’ some of the roads that are just hanging in there! Even with helicopters, limited in number, there are many issues in trying to distribute aid.

Within the first 3 hours of our journey, but at different times, both of our trucks had tyre punctures. I’m surprised we did not get more. As is customary, we picked up extra loads on the way: villagers and their loads, and then we stopped to give help to drivers of broken down trucks on the dirt trail. Our driver even had spare parts with him ready for one truck.

We reached our stopping point at around 1.00pm. As planned, our village contacts had mobilized over 165 villagers to collect their loads. It was such an organised process. I tried to stay in the background but the villagers asked me to distribute some of the aid and they took photos. I was asked to say a few words so I said that I was very sorry that the earthquakes had hit Nepal and that the aid was from many friends of Nepal in different countries. Lakpa translated for me since my Nepali is still a work in progress. I find it hard to talk under pressure…in Nepali, that is.

 

We intended to walk with the villagers to their village but the truck drivers made it clear that we had to go back down the hill. They wanted to be down the worst part of the road before it got dark, and well before rain started. That meant we did not have time to go to Bolgau itself (4 hours return minimum) so we spent some time talking to the villagers before we were rushed off. Many had already left with their loads. If we stayed, Lakpa and I would have had a 5-day walk out to a road where we might have been able to catch a local bus.

20Kg of rations
20Kg of rations

We spoke to village leaders from 2 areas about options for solar power to their villages or to their now destroyed schools. Bolgau has generator power for a few hours in the morning and evening. They were more interested in getting solar units for their flattened schools! We will keep in touch with them to see if we can help in the not too distant future.

On the way back to Kathmandu, Lakpa and I pitched a tent as our truck was picking up more supplies in one village to take to another village, and we had to wait until morning for a local bus. We decided that the local buffalo would make good neighbours and pitched our tent beside them. They were quiet sleepers. It poured with rain overnight. We didn’t get too wet.

If we could have, we would have helped every village we passed, rubble after rubble. 20 more aid laden trucks might have made a dent on our route up and down the dirt trail. We are grateful for every penny donated to these causes because your donations go a long way here. Thank you again HUGELY to all donors. You have made these missions happen!

You just have to try and not let your heart break every time you pass more rubble or pass people picking through rubble to salvage what they can. A common Nepali saying is: ‘Ke garne’, which translates to ‘What to do?’. Well, what can you do when a disaster of this scale hits you and destroys everything around you. Yet, you did not have much to begin with? You just have to get on with things and that is what most people here in Nepal are doing. What choice do they have?

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It is not just foreign volunteers that are helping. A huge number of Nepalis are out daily - helping fellow Nepalis – I have friends here who have been volunteering non-stop. The efforts here are huge. Most, if not all, of our Nepali friends are doing the same thing as us – fundraising and then mobilizing trucks full of aid, getting on them and going along to see the aid get to where it needs to go.

You will recall there were supplies that we turned around on their way to Khare VDC (Sumna-Suri) - because the 12th May earthquake struck when we were en-route and landslides blocked the road. Well, on 21st May they were airlifted by 2 x army helicopters to Khare VDC (Sumna-Suri). This particular aid initiative was funded by donors from Australia, NZ and Norway and supported by the logistical efforts of our NGO affiliate here in Nepal, Classrooms In The Clouds, our friends at the Australian Himalayan Foundation (for their direction), and the UN’s World Food Programme, with co-ordination by Lakpa and with supplies then purchased by Rabin (for his village). It’s exciting to know the aid is now with the people of Sumna-Suri! I have not had visibility on official aid logistics this close up before and I have to say that, from what I have seen, it is very efficient and streamlined. The World Food Programme operatives here in Nepal have helped greatly.

Below is a table of what Lakpa and I have done with funds donated to us for use on behalf of donors for aid initiatives following the 25th April and 12th May earthquakes in Nepal – information is current to 23 May 2015. I’ll double check it again but I think I have it right!

 

The most important thing to note is that we could not have done this without you, the donors! The thanks lie squarely with YOU!

Once we complete our mission to take tarpaulins to Thulodunga, Basa VDC, Solukhumbu (see below) funds received to date from donors for these missions will be exhausted. So, then, for the immediate future Lakpa and I plan to focus on the solar initiative for villages and schools (see below) and my separate ongoing missions funded by the sales of my book ‘The Power In Girls’ to support initiatives for women and girls here in Nepal (details on my website).

Of course, if additional funds did come in, we would revisit our plans.

I will also separately continue my fundraising for the Australian Himalayan Foundation and NZ Himalayan Trust, including through those book sales – details also on my website.

 

Note: Currency conversions referred to below are approximate only.

(Annapurna expedition summary follows below table)

 

Initiative Aid work done Total funds required / applied Mission status
Khare VDC (Sumna-Suri)60 households Rice: 60 x 30kg (1,800kg) Cooking oil: 300l Salt: 500kgTarpaulins: extra large size 60 pieces (300kg) Transport (bus) costs: $0 (see below). Kathmandu transport costs paid by Lakpa and Chris Total weight: 2,900kg(Note: to complete this mission, $AU1,000 supplied by Everest One (Sharon and Allan Cohrs) donors $US3,600 / $US2,800, plus $AU1,000 from Everest One COMPLETED – this aid qualified for airlift assistance for many reasons. Airlift completed by 2 x army helicopters on morning of 21 May 2015. Note: 50kg of salt was not able to be loaded on the helicopters due to weight restrictions. Costs of recovery of item outweigh costs of leaving it at airport facility for allocation to other aid.
Sukha (Dolakha district)54 households Rice: 31 x 30kg Cooking oil: 54 x 2l (108l) Salt: 31 x 30kg: Tarpaulins: extra large size 6 pieces Transport (bus) costs: $US300 $US TBC / $US TBC COMPLETED: on 12th May 2015, day of 2nd earthquake. Partial supplies for Khare VDC (Sumna- Suri) disbursed to Sukha, balance supplies for Khare VDC (Sumna-Suri) returned to KathmanduTransport costs for Khare VDC (Sumna-Suri) transferred to Sukha since aid not able to be delivered to Khare VDC (Sumna-Suri).
Himalayan Medics Donation of $AU1,000 ($US780) to disaster relief initiatives of Dr Nima Namgyal Sherpa and Raj Lama of Himalayan Medics www.himalayanmedics.com with updates on their Facebook page $US800 applied COMPLETED: delivery of pledge and transfer of funds on 19 May 2015
Bolgau, Guankharka, 165 households Rice: 165 x 30kg Cooking oil: 165 x 2l Salt: 165 x 2kg Total weight: 5,610kg $US2,900 / $US2,900 COMPLETED: Lakpa Sherpa and Chris Burke accompanied village representatives on 6-8 hour truck journey to Mayachhapr village, a 2 hour walk from Bolgau. Arrival date: 20th May 2015. If ‘road’ (4WD dirt trail) was not blocked due to landslides, walking distance would be one hour. 165+ villagers were mobilized to carry their own loads from Mayachhapr to Bolgau.
Chitre (Sisuwa Khola 9) and Ramite (Bala 8), Sankhuwasabha district11 & 7 households respectively Tarpaulins: 18 x extra large size Transport costs: $0 to third party donors. Paid partially by Lakpa Sherpa and Chris Burke (air freight), and by village representatives (land costs) $US540 / $US540 COMPLETED: delivered by HA staff member, Pemba Sherpa, and others by air freight of supplies from Kathmandu to Tumlingtar, then by jeep on dirt trail, then lengthy walk to villages.
Thulodunga, Basa VDC, Solukhumbu300 households (but 115 in need of tarpaulins) Tarpaulins required: 300 x small tarpaulins (12ft x 15ft). NGO representative to source 40. Donors have provided sufficient funds and pledges for this initiative to proceed. 260 x NPR1200 (approx. $US12 per tarpaulin) – purchased and delivered to NGO.2 x per household, and balance for school distribution (5-10 per school to enable temporary solution for classes to resume) $US3,320 /$US3,320 IN PROGRESS: Preparing transport logistics to Thulodunga – by land, it will be a 4-6 day mission to reach the village and return to Kathmandu. Supplier provided 15 additional tarpaulins in lieu of discount, therefore 315 available for distribution to village and schools in immediate area surrounding Thulodunga (schools selected by NGO). ($US3120 for tarpaulins, and $200 for land transport of supplies).
Solar power This initiative is in the planning stages for longer term assistance to limited number of affected villages without access to central power (main power source) $US TBC /$US 0 IN PROGRESS: Lakpa and Chris are currently sourcing appropriate units and considering best manner of implementation, either to villages or to schools within villages. We previously considered it as a ‘village by village’ initiative but after discussing with some villagers on 20th May 2015 we are now considering a village schools mission as well or instead of. To be confirmed. It is intended to use balance funds from existing donations (if any), but more so additional funds raised by sales of Chris’ book ‘The Power In Girls’ where those funds are not already allocated to projects assisting women and girls in Nepal.

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Annapurna expedition (March – April 2015)

Then, there is Annapurna. I have tried to put this expedition into context and to post my personal reflections about it and, well, there just does not seem to be a right time at the moment. The earthquakes and the devastating aftermath seem to overshadow the expedition to such a degree, the expedition becomes very hard to write about.

Except that, sadly, 2 good people died on Annapurna in March 2015 – Samuli Mansikka (Finland) and Pemba Sherpa (Nepal), climbing with a company, acronym DDT. Based on everything I know and experienced on the mountain, I’m pretty confident that they died in their unselfish attempts to try to find a route down the mountain for their team, since we know their team got lost in the dark on their descent. I feel very sad, especially, that these 2 much loved people, who were the most experienced members of the DDT team, died. The tragedy then broadened when many surviving members of the DDT team returned to base camp with, in many cases, severe frostbite. Not a successful expedition for them, but a very tragic one.

The Annapurna season has enough stories to fill a book, unfortunately. I will return to this mountain down the track and, if we can find the correct couloir that leads us to the true summit on that very long deceptive ridge (yes, a story or two in that too), hopefully if the mountain is willing, we can reach the true summit and descend safely.

But, for now, there are important things going on here in Nepal so I will keep my focus and, most importantly, will keep on keeping on.

Many people have asked me if I will be climbing here in Nepal this year. Well, if I don’t and others don’t then the consequences for the tourism industry here will only compound the current problems being faced. With unemployment running at around 45% and average annual income barely close to what a lot of people in Australia and NZ (and other western countries) earn in a week, it’s hard for me to walk away from my friends here. The tourism industry in Nepal needs travellers to experience Nepal, as soon as the time feels right for them… for me, that is sooner rather than later.

 

Apologies to those who received email errors on the recent newsletter – there is a glitch to be fixed so it is disabled for now.


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