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Kenwood climber recalls Mt. Everest's deadliest day (w/video)

  • Jon Reiter was on Mt. Everest at 19,000 feet between base camp and Camp 1, when the deadly high-altitude avalanche killed twelve sherpas on April 18th. Reiter is now back at home in Kenwood. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Ten minutes.

That's how long Jon Reiter of Kenwood was held up at the start of his fateful last day attempting to scale Mount Everest -- a day that would include the deadliest disaster in the history of the world's highest mountain and end the climbing season on Everest.

That 10-minute delay may have saved Reiter's life.

Reiter woke up at Base Camp at 3 a.m. April 18 and prepared for an acclimatizing hike to Camp 1 at 20,000 feet with seven other international climbers and their Nepalese Sherpa guides.

Their route would take them through the Khumbu Icefall, a notorious section of yawning crevasses spanned by precarious aluminum ladders and towering ice blocks, all of which are constantly shifting and crumbling.

Reiter's team was aiming to set off at 4 a.m. in order to make it through the most treacherous section before the sun's warmth can cause parts of the glacier to collapse.

"In the icefall, it's intense," said Reiter, 49. "You're hyper aware of your surroundings. Everyone's concerned because you know those blocks are creeping slowly downhill. And eventually they're all going to tip."

They were going to follow a team of 30 Sherpas carrying heavy loads of supplies up to stock the higher camps.

Mount Everest Avalanche

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At 4 a.m., though, one of Reiter's teammates was missing. He had overslept his alarm and was scrambling to get dressed and secure his climbing harness.

The group of Sherpas left on time. About three hours later, a powerful avalanche swept down the mountain killing 16 and injuring another nine.

Because of the missed alarm, Reiter and his group were 10 minutes behind and watched the disaster from a few hundred yards away.

"They left right at 4. We left a little late," Reiter said. "Isn't that wild? You think about that and you think about the timing of life. It was ironic."

In an interview a week after returning from Nepal, Reiter, who builds custom homes in the Sonoma Valley, spoke at length about witnessing the avalanche and its impact on the Sherpa community.

He was on his second attempt of the 29,035-foot mountain having turned back in the Khumbu Icefall last year. The mountain is the last in his goal of climbing the Seven Summits, the highest peak on each continent.

Reiter described the sound the avalanche made as being like a long, dull gun shot. Dawa Sherpa, his guide, helped him get to shelter behind some ice blocks.


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