In 2015, I survived a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal that triggered an avalanche at Mt. Everest and claimed 9,000 lives. These events are depicted in the Netflix four-part series, Aftershock: Everest and the Nepal Earthquake. Eight minutes of my footage appear in the show.
When the tidal wave of snow and debris struck our Everest base camp, our only refuge was a yellow nylon tent. Short of options, we dove in and hoped for the best. Thankfully, a mound of rocks deflected the onslaught, and we survived. Tragically, others were less fortunate.
Following the impact, we were unaware of how severe the situation was. Only after I began filming did we realize the scale of destruction. Men with makeshift stretchers carried injured climbers to safety. Intact base camps, such as ours, were converted into places for the walking wounded to await care. Since the entrance of the base camp was unaffected, rescuers converted it into a field hospital. What was once a breathtaking location had quickly become a nightmare.
Dealing with tragedy
While the Netflix series does a good job telling the story, it doesn’t touch on the personal aftershock. I believe that’s something that each of us should consider in our daily lives. I learned a lot from this tragedy, and I hope that my experience can help you navigate difficult situations in your own life.
The tragedy unfolded, and I documented it with my camera. After all, that was my job. While filming, I promised myself I’d put the camera down and step in if needed. That’s precisely what I did when I learned we’d lost one of our own; my friend Dan Fredinburg tragically lost his life that afternoon.
Suddenly, everything became very real, and I could no longer watch through the emotional safety of the lens. Although I was unaware of it, my nervous system went into fight or flight mode, and I went numb. I know now that it was my brain’s way of protecting itself. The trouble is: despite how strong we think we are, there’s a limit to what our psyche and nervous system can handle. Finding my friend Dan that day was far past my limit.
These extreme circumstances happen, and it’s not uncommon to be unprepared. What many people are surprised by is the ripple effect. Traumatic events don’t just happen to us. They happen to those around us. At the time, I had a fiancée and a 12-year-old boy at home. How did they experience this event? What price were they forced to pay for choosing to love someone with a dangerous profession?
While everyday moments may not be this dramatic, the consequences of our actions certainly are. So, ask yourself:
- Are you dealing with a difficult situation? If so, how has it affected your physical/mental health?
- In a tragedy, is a moment of bravery worth the extended consequences?
- Are you mindful of how your choices impact your loved ones?
Recognizing signs and coming to terms
Whether big or small, unprocessed trauma will always creep back into our life. It can reveal itself in many ways, including unhealthy coping mechanisms and conflict. Sometimes it’s obvious, and other times it’s subtle. These unhealed indicators can appear in our relationships with others but often become internal struggles.
I carried survivor’s guilt for a long time. I also experienced a fractured psyche when coming to terms with the fact that I was terrified and unprepared for what I had experienced. Today, I’m far more careful about the situations I expose myself to and the risks I take. I’m also mindful of how my actions impact those closest to me. Complex situations come with steep price tags.
Everything can change in the blink of an eye, and it doesn’t need to be during a dangerous expedition. Unexpected things can happen as we go about our daily lives. My advice: consider your choices wisely because you and your family’s well-being and health may depend on them.