Trekkers’ voyage of Everest survival
AS THE ground on Mount Everest began to move beneath their feet, the determination of three Coffs Coast trekkers turned to survival.
Lee-Ann Lloyd, Michelle McFadyen and Peter Weyling were among those hiking the world's tallest mountain when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, killing 9017 people and leaving thousands more injured.
Through strength and willpower, the Coffs Coast locals survived the country's worst disaster in 90 years, but said the tragic loss they witnessed will never be forgotten.
In March this year, friends Lee-Ann and Michelle were preparing for the journey of a lifetime.
The dream of reaching the world's tallest mountain was just weeks away.
"We had to be prepared physically - but the emotional challenge I think was something that was impossible to prepare for," Michelle recalled.
When Lee-Ann and Michelle arrived at the Nepali capital of Kathmandu, they met the group of 11 walkers and two Australian guides.
Among them was Peter Weyling, who said the challenge of Everest was coupled with the opportunity to commemorate the Anzac centenary from Base Camp.
Led by Sherpa guides, the group embarked on a hike that would take them from Lukla to Base Camp - a 5300m ascent.
"The plan was to reach Base Camp on April 24 and wake up early the next morning to have the dawn service," Lee-Ann recalled.
But on April 23, as the weather took a turn for the worse, their plans changed.
"Our guides said 'we don't like the look of this weather' so the decision was made to reach Base Camp a day ahead of schedule."
On Anzac Day, the group was making their descent when the mission to reach the bottom turned to a struggle for survival
About 250km west of Everest, an earthquake at Lamjung triggered the deadliest avalanche in the country's history.
Despite not knowing where the earthquake struck, and if aftershocks would occur, the trekkers knew they had to reach higher ground.
"The ground started to shake and our guides just started screaming at us to run," Michelle said.
"The path was falling away - where you thought you'd put your foot down everything went out from underneath it."
As the group pushed ahead, the magnitude of what they experienced became all too clear.
"The further we descended, the more damage there was - every village had been decimated," Lee-Anne said.
That night, the group heard reports from passing Sherpa guides that the avalanche had struck Base Camp.
The news loomed heavy over the group. Before the earthquake, the trekkers had discussed whether to stick to their itinerary.
"Had we been where we were supposed to be, that's where the avalanche went through and killed 19 people," Michelle said.
After experiencing a second aftershock, the trekkers continued south, pitching camp in small houses.
At night they remained ready to vault upright towards the nearest exit at a moment's notice.
"You were tense the whole time because you didn't know how badly damaged the building was or when the next aftershock was going to come," Peter said.
After days of descending through devastation and tragedy, the trekkers finally arrived at Lukla Airport and three days later were bound home for Australia.
They said their experience would never be forgotten, as their thoughts remain with the people of Nepal.
"There was devastation everywhere and they were still smiling and putting up tents to feed people for free," Lee-Ann said.
"It's the kindness and generosity of the people that will stay with me forever."