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Earthquake Day


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Earthquake Day

What will it take for you to wake up and realise that you are capable of doing far more than you imagine?

It’s Tuesday, 7.11am on the 25th April. I’m up early and looking out over the field at the back of my house enjoying the peace and tranquillity. This is my Earthquake Day. It’s the second anniversary of the Nepalese earthquake, something that I managed to get myself caught up in whilst trekking to Everest Base Camp. Since that day I have often thought about how the event focussed my thinking about how we approach challenges and cope in difficult situations; the difference between those who take up opportunities and believe in their capabilities, and those who falter and fall back.

Two years later the memory still gives me goose bumps, it’s not something you quickly forget, and I was one of the lucky ones. At the time of the quake, just four miles away from me, 21 people died at Base Camp and to the west in Langtang Valley an enormous landslide buried a whole village killing as estimated 250 people. Overall around 9,000 people died during that 50-second quake.

On that morning I was with my climbing party 5,000 metres up and four miles from Everest Base Camp, it was the fulfilment of a lifelong, ‘bucket list’ dream. I had survived the madness of Kathmandu, a roller coaster ride in a small plane, landing at Lukla Airport, a gruelling climb, acclimatised to the altitude and avoided the debilitating effects of altitude sickness. We had just completed the last exhausting climb above Dugla and had arrived on a broad rock strewn plateau next to the Khumbu Glacier. Only one hour from our overnight stop at Lebouche and it was on to Everest Base Camp in the morning. I was so excited.

As we walked across the plateau a Scottish colleague Colin pointed out a half buried rugby ball sized rock. Tapping it lightly he commented on the fossils glistening within, when he tapped it for a second time it seemed like the whole world started to move…

Earthquakes – strange things for the majority of us that live far from the edges of tectonic plates or the heaving ground of volcanic activity. Remember the tiny tremor we felt many years ago in England? The reality is somewhat different.

We all first thought we had succumbed to altitude sickness; I felt slightly disorientated, slightly dizzy and then we realised it wasn’t us. It was the ground that was moving. Earthquake!! My next instinct was to check left and right – was there anything falling towards me? Any rocks or snow? And then? Well, then we rode it out. When you believe you are not in danger you soak up the experience. I was surfing an earthquake!

So what does it feel like? I think this depends on the type of earthquake. Yes, there are different types – it’s amazing what you learn afterwards. This was a thrust type earthquake and is a good way to describe it. The ground moved in a thrusting motion, left and then right, so it was similar to surfing or snowboarding. I stood legs apart, absorbing each thrust in one leg and then transferring to the other, rocking back and forward. I looked around and saw one of our Nepalese guides on the ground hugging a rock; the other stood still praying. The sensation of such power, it’s an amazing and emotional few seconds. And then it was over. Fifty seconds of your life that you will never, ever forget, that and the terrifying rumbling noise that seemed to completely surround us.

That’s what you call power, the shifting of a mountain range! And we were lucky. On that broad plateau we could not possibly have been in a better place anywhere in Nepal at that moment to experience a 7.9 scale earthquake, and to be honest immediately afterwards we all thought it was hilarious. We had no comprehension of the earthquake’s scale; as far as we were concerned it happened to us, and us only. Shaken, as we were, we laughed and joked about how this couldn’t be beaten as an experience, so close to Everest Base Camp, how could anybody do it any better than this?

An hour later we arrived at Lebouche, a stop off with few buildings and we quickly realised that a number of them had been damaged. The sight of crumpled walls gave us an idea that the situation was a little more serious. Once inside our teahouse we were told that Kathmandu had been devastated and Everest Base Camp had sustained massive avalanche damage.

The rest of the day was a blur. We stayed in the teahouse the whole afternoon trying to get updates. A couple of hours later we saw Sherpas walking in from Everest Base Camp with broken arms and stories of the terrifying avalanche; about feeling the earthquake and hearing incredible cracking noises in the ice high above them. Twenty-four hours later and we too would have been at Base Camp.

The emotions took over as it all sank in. It was not one of concern for yourself but upset that your family and friends back at home will be seeing the news, seeing the result of the earthquake and having no idea whether you are dead or alive. I think I probably experienced shock for the first time in my life and nearly 24 hours where my emotions were in total turmoil.

The most frightening part for us were the aftershocks in the 12 hours following the main quake. A number of times during the night we had to rush out of the building into pitch black as the mountain shook and rumbled around us. You don’t forget the rumbling noise.

The next day all trekkers were ordered to descend from the Everest area in order for the authorities to rescue the injured and dig out the dead. I was so near to achieving my goal of reaching Base Camp, but in the end I might as well have be 50 miles away because I certainly didn’t get anywhere near it, and certainly didn’t see it. I felt a mix of relief, frustration and, if I’m honest, annoyance, then guilt that I could feel that way when people had lost their lives. A strange set of emotions.

I think the overall lesson I learnt from experiencing the earthquake is that life is all about if’s and but’s.

It is easy to say, “If this had happened… If we had been 24 hours later… If the earthquake had been later in the day…” but ultimately it wasn’t. An experience like this certainly made me look at what I have done, where I am and what I want out of life, as I reflected on how easily that life could be extinguished.

My experience, my Earthquake Day, has also made me even more determined to encourage people to push themselves as far as they can in both business and life. It’s about looking up and seeing the opportunities, being undaunted and knowing that we are all capable of doing far more than we imagine.

Business is a risk along with most things in life and I can support and encourage you to take the next step. When was the last time you were out of your comfort zone? To build a great business you’re going to have to adapt, react, fail, learn and succeed to reach your goals. It’s well worth getting away from the humdrum of daily life, so that you can find inspiration and perspective to support your ambition and determination. Yes, I was in an earthquake, and yes it was frightening but at the end of the day I was OK and amongst some of the most beautiful scenery that I had ever seen in my life. And I have got to be honest I will be going back – I’ll make it to my Base Camp yet, will you?

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“Why not?”
“Why not me?
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