With broken teeth, likely cracked ribs and an incapacitated arm, Glen Plake trudged his way to a small village nine hours away from the chaotic scene of the Manaslu base camp Monday night.
Plake had somehow miraculously just dodged death after an avalanche in the Nepal mountains swept him 1,000 feet downhill into a crevice and buried expedition partner Greg Costas, who was laying in the tent beside Plake when the slide hit Sunday at about 4 a.m.
The local skier, usually recognizable on the Heavenly slopes by his foot-long blond mohawk, was resting at basecamp with best friends Costas and Remy Lecluse after accomplishing a major life goal of climbing and skiing Manaslu, the world’s eighth-highest mountain. Lecluse was alone in a tent next to Plake and Costas. Both Lecluse and Costas are still among the missing.
Officials have declared eight dead, and as of Monday were in the process of recovering a ninth body, according to The Associated Press.
Despite injuries, Plake remained in basecamp until Monday to help search for survivors. At 22,960-feet elevation, however, rescue efforts are a slow process.
“It’s just like a war zone in the whole place and they’ve been doing a lot of medevacing to get people out of there,” Plake’s father Jim Plake said. “He couldn’t give me numbers but said there’s just a lot of chaos up there. He said ‘I probably could have got on a helicopter but there were people a lot worse than I was.’”
Less than 48 hours after the ordeal, Plake needed to get away from the chaos and started hiking out with a sherpa. He reached a small village as night descended on the Himalayan mountains and called his dad.
It was 7 a.m. on Tuesday when Jim Plake was finally able to speak to his son since early accounts of the ordeal had reached him. He knew his son was alive, but hearing his voice was still a comfort. That comfort swelled to overwhelming relief as he listened to his son recount the events.
Plake was in his sleeping bag beside Costa reading his devotional when the two heard what they thought was a huge gust of wind. Seconds later, right before they were hit, Costa realized they were hearing the sounds of an avalanche.
Plake still isn’t sure if it was the avalanche or its wind force that hit them.
“He doesn’t know, but he said they just accelerated,” Jim Plake said. “He said, ‘I don’t know if I was in the air or what was happening,’ and then he said ‘everything just got quiet and it was over.’”
Still in his sleeping bag, Plake tore his way out of the remaining tent material to find he landed on top of most of the slide in a small crevice.
Plake told his father, “I stood up and I was just in shock that I was there and that I was alive. It was unreal. I tried to get up to see if I could find my friends and I couldn’t see anything.”
It was still dark as Plake frantically searched for Costas and Lecluse. The men had all gone to bed with avalanche transceivers.
Plake quickly found most of the gear from their tent, including the down suit Costas was using as a pillow, but there was no sign of either. Plake searched for 10 minutes before realizing he was barefoot, according to EpicTV.
“Why am I here?” Jim Plake said his son asked him right before they lost connection. “It was just amazing that he was alive and OK.”
This isn’t the first time Plake has escaped death. It’s something that comes with the territory when you’re a professional skier, Plake’s childhood friends Darren Johnson said.
“It’s an accepted risk and you just have to swallow it,” Johnson said.
Johnson remembers when Plake was once caught in an avalanche in Chamonix, France, while skiing with Nathan Wallace. When the snow settled, Plake was sitting on top and was able to quickly dig Wallace out and both men were uninjured. -
“I don’t know if it’s luck or not. Who knows what it is?” Jim Plake said. “From a father’s point of view you hope he goes, ‘That’s good enough. I’m going to slow down a little.’”
Slowing down is not something Plake is likely to do, though, his wife Kimberly Plake said while waiting for her plane in Washington. She was on her way to meet Plake at the hospital in Kathmandu. -
“I’m doing OK. I’m hoping to be as solid as a rock by the time I get there. I’m just excited to be headed to him,” Kimberly Plake said.
As of Tuesday morning, Plake was waiting with other injured climbers to be helicoptered to the Kathmandu hospital. The extent of his injuries are still unclear, but family members said Plake has told them his ribs feel broken, he’s having a hard time lifting his arm and he took a couple knocks to the head in the tumble.
Plake will remain in Kathmandu for a day to fill out paperwork to square away his friends’ personal items that he brought down from the mountain. Following Kathmandu, he will head to Geneva and then on to Chamonix where he will recover for a few weeks.
“There were a number of climbers not necessarily with his group that were with other groups from France that were also killed in this avalanche,” Jim Plake said. “It’s going to be some pretty God dang sobering weeks in Chamonix.”