SHERIDAN — Darren Rogers was ahead of schedule. He was in the middle of the trip of a lifetime, and he was feeling good. As he lay in his tent around 11 a.m. on April 25, he figured he had enough time for a quick nap.
An hour was all he got.
“About noon, that’s when all hell broke loose,” Rogers said.
Rogers had spent the last few months rigorously preparing for his climb of Mount Everest. He’d prepared for years, even, as he’s been climbing for most of his life. It had all culminated in a specialized trip with International Mountain Guides to summit the world’s tallest peak.
Shortly after arriving in Kathmandu, Nepal, Rogers was off and running; and everything was off to the right crampon.
He met his Sherpa, Mingma, did a basic acclimation climb, then cruised to the summit of Lobuche. He and Mingma were the first group to reach the summit, despite leaving nearly an hour after the first group.
The good news was all of Rogers’ training and preparation was paying off. His skill on the mountain put him about a week ahead of schedule. The bad news was that the guides were behind schedule. This meant he had a few days to kill before Camp 3 was ready.
But rather than wait, Rogers did what he did best; he climbed.
He and Mingma went up through the icefall — across the horizontal ladders over crevasses, up the vertical ladders tied together with rope.
That’s when they reached Camp 1.
That’s when Rogers decided to get some shuteye.
That’s when the earthquake hit.
Rogers and his tent mate, IMG guide Emily Johnston, were tossed in the air like two human tennis balls that mother nature was about to serve into the mountain. Johnston grabbed her boots, and Rogers followed. But there was nowhere to run.
“It’s intense,” Rogers recalled. “It’s coming.”
There was an avalanche behind him. There was another in front of him. It sounded as if the entire earth was crumbling to dust. All Rogers could do was curl up in a ball and hope the snow would toss him into a roll rather than bury him.
“I just thought, we’re going to get buried,” he said. “This is it.”
Within seconds he was blasted by powder from both sides and coated with a layer of snow. There was panic in the camp as everyone quickly recounted what had just happened.
“Welcome to Everest.”
Those were the first words that came out of Rogers’ mouth.
That’s when the real work began. Radios were buzzing; reports came in from other camps. Everyone at Camp 1 was accounted for. Everyone at Camp 2 was accounted for.
The medical tents at Base Camp were wiped out, so they moved into the IMG tents. Rogers’ old dining tent became a hospital. Helicopters began making their way up the mountain to rescue the injured.
The climb was still set to continue before it all happened again the next day. A major tremor caused more avalanches, more powder blasts, more damage. Panic set in again, and the Sherpa became very agitated.
Rogers knew his trip was over.
Well, his summit was over. He still had a long way to go.
The only way out was via helicopter. The icefall became too dangerous to descend, so little by little, a couple people at a time climbed into a rickety old helicopter — a tin can with a pilot’s seat, Rogers called it — and flew into Base Camp.
By that point, it was an all-out effort to help. The IMG guides took control immediately. If you were a strong climber, IMG used your skills. Water bottles and sleeping bags were shared.
There was plenty of devastation. There were casualties. Emotions were high.
But Rogers was more impressed with the help than he was with the destruction. People didn’t care if you were a CEO or a chemical engineer. If you weren’t there to help, they made sure you were sent home first.
But getting people home was the biggest challenge. Everyone was stuck in Lukla. Around 1,500 people were trying to catch a plane that carried 17 people.
Rogers’ group took its time coming off the mountain. Many climbers helped repair some damaged walls and houses in Phortse, the home of most of the Sherpa, and Kathmandu before eventually hopping on planes back to the United States.
Rogers made it back to Billings, and eventually to his own bed in Sheridan.
It had been a grueling month.
As he sat at a table at Open Range Tuesday, he looked back on his trip and hypothetically mapped out a new one.
“Do I want to go back? Yes,” he said. “Ultimately, will I go back? More than likely.”
So while an array of emotions ran through him during those long days on Everest — joy, sadness, fear — he never panicked.
That’s why Rogers feels a little selfish not getting to summit the peak. That’s why he hopes to return.
“The mountain is intriguing,” he said. “People panicked; I didn’t. I viewed it as ‘This is the mountain,’ and that’s not because I have a death wish.
“It’s that accepting,” he added, speaking on overcoming the selfishness. “You have to accept it. The sooner you accept it, the better off you are.”
The good news for Rogers is he learned some things. He is confident he can shave even more time off of his already specialized trip. His training more than prepared him for the mountain, and he hopes the next time he goes back, he’ll reach the top.
But if he doesn’t?
He’ll just have to accept it.