THE death of 13 Sherpas on Mount Everest last week made painfully clear to Raj Samrai of Woodford that getting on to the world’s highest mountain remains a life-threatening venture.
Mr Samrai was part of a group of 10 men, most of whom were from the south-west, who this month undertook a 12-day trek to Everest base camp.
Others in the group included Warrnambool orthopaedic surgeon Alasdair Sutherland and Hamilton and Alexandra College principal Bruce Simons.
The group got to Everest base camp two days before an avalanche struck above the camp, killing at least 13 Sherpas with another three still missing — the deadliest accident in Mount Everest’s history.
The group was safely descending when the avalanche hit but witnessed the grim sight of helicopters bringing bodies back down the mountains.
The deaths made the group acutely aware of their vulnerability in the mountains where “anything can happen anytime,” Mr Samrai said.
The group itself had suffered a setback with one member, Peter Musson of Macarthur, coming down with altitude sickness and having to be escorted down the mountains on the fifth day of the 12-day trek.
Group leader Bruce Simons escorted Mr Musson to be picked up by helicopter and taken to hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, where he made a full recovery.
It meant Mr Simons forfeited his chance to get to Everest Base Camp, leaving the party of eight to continue its ascent, assisted by five Sherpas.
Mr Samrai is an ultra marathon runner but said even with his high level of fitness, the trek was still arduous.
All of the group lost weight from the strenuous daily exercise in the oxygen-depleted air, Mr Samrai himself losing seven kilograms.
The rarified air, down to 52 per cent oxygen at base camp’s height of 5364 metres, meant climbing 250 metres took three hours, he said.
For Mr Samrai, getting to the base camp was something of an anti-climax.
“It was bitterly cold with a temperature of about minus 15 degrees, and poor visibility with sideways snow,” he said.
The highlight came the next day when the group made an early-morning climb to the top of the nearby 5550-metre Mount Kala Patthar to see the sun rise above Mount Everest.
Mr Samrai said while it was great to have made it to Everest base camp and to Mount Kala Patthar, he also enjoyed the camaraderie and friendships formed with the other trek members.
The trek also raised $3000 for a Kathmandu school, while Mr Samrai raised more than $500 for the Peter’s Project south-west radiotherapy centre campaign.
People can still make a donation to his fund-raising at www.mycause.com.au/page/climbforpetersproject
The group also acted further on its aim to give as well as gain something from the experience by agreeing to sponsor the tertiary education of an assistant Sherpa on the trek, Pushpa.