Nepal Outfitters Become First Responders After Earthquakes

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Last week, on Tuesday, May 12, a 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. It was a harsh blow for a country still reeling from the effects of another, even more massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake that had occurred just 17 days earlier, destroying entire villages and killing thousands.

Nepal’s Home Ministry released the most recent death toll numbers for both quakes this past Sunday: 8,583. That number is expected to rise.

Significant international aid has been slow to come. Even before the second quake, wealthy nations seemed unwilling to fund the relief effort in Nepal, having pledged only about 15 percent of the initial appeal for $423 million from the United Nations. The help that did arrive landed in Kathmandu, home to the country’s only international airport, and then got stuck. The areas hardest hit by the quakes proved to be largely inaccessible, having been blocked off by landslides, or located off the road system altogether, high in the mountains. To make matters worse, the notoriously corrupt Nepali government has been allegedly stalling the larger NGO’s relief efforts in bureaucratic red tape.

Much of the aid that has managed to reach the remote villages affected by the quakes has come from local, grassroots efforts; oftentimes fueled by nothing more than a Facebook page and a PayPal account. Nepal’s outdoor industry, including its paddling community, has been on the front lines of this guerrilla relief effort, sending supplies out with their guides in rafts, jeeps, and even dirt bikes to access areas no one else can get to.

In C&K’s last update on the situation in Nepal (after the first earthquake), we reported on paddler/outfitter Darren Clarkson-King’s relief efforts (seen above) through his Pokhara-based guiding company, Pure Land Expeditions. Since then, the Nepal Kayak Club (NKC) has also quickly assembled a team of international search & rescue personnel, medics and Nepali river and mountain guides. After the first quake, they brought shelter, food, medical supplies and support to areas that no one else had reached, or has been able to reach since.

“I was closer to epicenter this time, on an overnight mission to supply relief items and provide first aid,” Nepal Kayak Club’s Anup Gurung wrote to C&K last Friday following the second quake. “Paddlers’ community and the families are still unharmed in my knowledge so far. But, the last hit basically destroyed what survived the first one.

“We created a team mix of mountain heroes and river rats,” Gurung added. “We decided to help the unreached places and went more to the remote places. We have been collecting data of guides and kayakers who have lost what they had. We help them as much as we can to rebuild.”

In the last couple weeks, the focus of this “mix of mountain heroes and river rats” has been on an area south of the Langtang Mountains, which was almost completely destroyed by the first quake, evacuating entire villages due to the imminent risk of landslides in the coming monsoon, likely saving hundreds if not thousands of lives.

“For the first few weeks of the earthquake response, the majority of contribution of aid to remote areas came from grassroots organizations and Nepali outdoor industry leaders,” one of the NKC’s recent Facebook posts read. “This is indisputable. The government and international aid organizations did not reach remote villages quickly enough. By the time the NKC reached Bhotang, it was 11 days after the initial earthquake and no other aid, government or otherwise, had preceded them.” Recently, the NKC joined a larger, newly-created umbrella relief organization called the Himalayan Safety Organization (HSO), which is a collaboration of multiple Nepali outdoor industry members.

Though HSO doesn’t have a website yet, and NKC has yet to start its crowdfunded relief campaign, Gurung noted the club is accepting donations through the PayPal window on the NKC homepage, as is Clarkson-King (via PayPal to info@purelandexpeditions.com). The HSO and NKC stated in a recent Facebook post that, “We will immediately use your donations to provide lifesaving medical care, medicine and supplies to survivors of this catastrophic disaster.”

After the second earthquake, 2012 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year and owner of Pokhara’s Babu Adventure, Sano Babu Sunuwar, immediately drove a jeep loaded with tents, blankets and food to his home village of Rampur-6, located near the epicenter of the quake. His family’s home and most of the homes in his village had been completely destroyed. After distributing what limited supplies he had, he drove back to Pokhara, and with the help of his fellow guide companies, he went back with more. Their efforts are still the only thing supporting over 200 families in the village of Rampur-6, and even more in nearby villages.

Dozens of other villages are being supported by other localized relief efforts such as Sano Babu’s, who is currently rebuilding temporary homes out of donated corrugated sheet metal with the help of the Centerpoint Relief Initiative, a slightly more organized and “official” coalition between his own guiding service, Paddle Nepal, Sathi Nepal, Rapidrunner Expeditions and Karma Flights —all of which are working with the international Cloudbase Foundation, a paragliding nonprofit, to gather and distribute resources to those most affected by the recent earthquakes.

If you’d like to help, visit thecloudbasefoundation.org/site/donate/, and be sure to make a note stating you’d like your donation to go to the Nepal earthquake relief effort. Also, consider booking that paddling trip to Nepal you’ve always dreamed about. Tourism is the backbone of Nepal’s economy, and one of the best ways you can help at this point is to go pay a friendly visit.

— C&K Contributing Editor Dave Costello chronicled Sanu Babu Sunuwar and Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa’s 2011 paraglider flight from the summit of Mount Everest and subsequent 400-mile paddle out to the Bay of Bengal in 2014’s Flying off Everest.

 Read more about grassroots relief efforts involving Nepal’s paddling outfitters.