Hanover Climber Uninjured in Earthquake

Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Hanover — A 1995 Hanover High School graduate who’s now an experienced mountain climber was at the Mount Everest base camp when the area was pummeled by a deadly avalanche on Saturday, but his group’s camp was untouched and he was not harmed, his mother said.

Mike Hamill, 37, author of Climbing the Seven Summits and a professional guide who has reached the peak of Everest five times, was part of a professional group leading another summit expedition when a magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck Nepal, killing thousands and triggering the avalanche that took at least 18 lives on the mountain.

His group’s dining tent became an infirmary for injured mountaineers, said his mother, Mert Hamill, of Hanover. She said her son used his company’s satellite phone to reach her and her husband.

“He called at 6 o’clock Saturday morning ... and said, ‘Before you see it on the news, I want you to know that I’m OK,’ ” Mert Hamill said on Monday.

Since then, the Hamills received another brief message from their son by email, “just confirming again that he was OK.”

“We’re thankful that he’s pretty good about calling whenever he thinks there’s something that we might be worried about,” Mert Hamill said. “I think he tends to sugar-coat things for his parents a bit, but his sister tends to hear more of the basic facts.”

In the moments after the phone call, she said, “it was frazzled nerves, but my husband said he saw him in a video on TV this morning, so all of that is reassuring, of course.”

In a brief email to the Valley News on Monday, Mike Hamill said he was still at Mount Everest’s base camp, but due to communication limitations, he could not write much more.

The magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck Nepal on Saturday night local time, with the death toll passing 4,700 people as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Associated Press. That number was expected to continue climbing, while the United Nations was estimating that at least 8 million people had been affected.

According to an online feed of posts about the Everest expedition from Hamill’s employer, Washington state-based International Mountain Guides, the company had several groups on the mountain at the time of the avalanche, including Hamill’s crew at Base Camp and two others at more elevated areas known as Camp 1 and Camp 2.

The routes from Camp 1 and Camp 2 back down to Base Camp were badly deteriorated, leading to a helicopter rescue to return all of the mountaineers to Base Camp.

“Down at Base Camp (Hamill and others) received the climbers and kept things running smoothly, with up to four helicopters flying at the same time, each making 6- to 10-minute roundtrip laps to Camp 1,” wrote International Mountain Guides partner Eric Simonson. “For the IMG team, it took 32 flights to get our 25 climbers and 33 Sherpas all flown down.”

While the avalanche bypassed Hamill’s camp at Base Camp, much of the area was destroyed, with online videos from mountaineers’ cameras showing the frantic moments leading up to the onslaught of snow, ice, boulders and other debris. Afterward, tents lay flattened and scattered as the survivors rushed to aid the injured.

Mert Hamill said last year’s huge avalanche that killed 16 Sherpas on the mountain also was a cause for concern for her family as they waited to hear from Mike, who is now based in Washington state but regularly travels for mountaineering expeditions.

This year, she said, Hamill told his family he was hoping that it would be a good climb because the ice falls seemed more stable.

According to the International Mountain Guides’ posts, the troupe of climbers is expected to make the trip back down to Kathmandu, Nepal, over the next few days.

“We are hoping that taking a few days to trek down the valley ... will allow some of the infrastructure to recover in Kathmandu, so things are not quite as chaotic when the team gets back there,” Simonson wrote.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.