Life at the top of the mountain

High altitude climber, skier and adventurer Greg Hill shares his attempt to ski two million vertical feet and the Mt. Manaslu disaster.

Outdoors enthusiast Greg Hill was on Mt. Manaslu when a deadly avalanche took 11 lives and inflicted many injuries.

On Sept. 23, a massive avalanche roared down Mt. Manaslu in northern Nepal, killing 11 people and injuring dozens more.

Greg Hill, a high altitude climber, skier and adventurer was on the mountain that day, filming a trek.

He will share his amazing footage of the mountain and the aftermath of the avalanche Tuesday, Nov. 27 at the Salmar Classic.

“My video-intensive presentation takes us through the expedition, from the cultural side of Nepal, to the day of the avalanche,” he says. “Since that tragic day, I have had lots of thoughts and a better understanding of the decisions and errors made on that day. And I firmly believe that through talks I can help people understand what happened and perhaps help prevent another such catastrophe.”

Hill has written a blog about the tragedy and events leading up to it.

He and his group arrived on the mountain Sept. 6 and watched base camp grow with more than 300 climbers and 200 sherpas – “more climbers than this place has ever seen in a season,” he notes. “It seemed ripe for a catastrophe of sorts.”

Members of his group were getting acclimatized and moving quickly up to around 7,000 metres. As they moved higher, they heard “loud whummfing sounds,” an indication the snowpack was settling on a weak bottom layer, he says.

Over the next 10 days, Hill experienced amazing high-altitude skiing.

Those on the mountain also weathered day after day of rain and snow.

“When it finally cleared, it was obvious that most of the mountain had gone through many avalanche cycles,” writes Hill in his blog. “There were crown lines, and avalanche debris everywhere. We waited a few more days for the snow to stabilize some more before venturing onto them.”

Climbing higher on Sept. 22, Hill saw a lineup of climbers on fixed ropes, something he describes as a traffic jam moving slowly through the seracs (a block or column of ice) – easily more than 100 people on their way up to a second base camp.

“When I first saw the traditional Camp 2 placement, I knew there was no way I would camp there,” he writes, noting he spied many tents clustered together at 6,800 metres, right in the centre of the slope. “I would never be able to sleep knowing how much avalanche terrain was above me.”

Hill’s group searched for another site, choosing an ice shelf, a small, elevated bit of terrain away from the main flow on the face.

“We went to bed thinking we may try for the summit the next day, depending on how the snow had stabilized,” he writes. “At 4:45 a.m., the cold temperatures created some brittle seracs, which broke off from the glacier at 7,400 m and landed on the wind- slabbed snow, giving it enough of a trigger to crack approximately 300 metres across the slope.”

Hill describes how the avalanche swept through the camp catching everyone sleeping in their tents. At least 16 tents were swept off their platforms and sent careening down the mountainside.

“The blast of wind from the avalanche sent our tents flapping and soon enough we could hear people yelling for each other,” he says. “Lights from headlamps accompanied many voices and we knew that disaster had struck.”

Hill describes the aftermath of the avalanche – the frantic efforts to rescue the living, the astounding variety of injuries.

“We spent five hours helping people, mourning with people as they watched their friends pass away beside them, digging a helicopter platform and moving the injured people close enough to fly them away once the helicopters got there,” he writes.  “At one point, I sat and openly cried for those that had died.”

While he understands adventure is accompanied by risk, Hill wonders how many people on Mt. Manaslu fully understood the personal risk they were taking.

Like intrepid mountain climber Sir Edmund Hilary, who was outspoken following the avalanche, Hill says he was blown away by the number of people he saw on the mountain.

He believes there needs to be some controls on who is permitted to climb the difficult mountains and that overall fitness levels need to be much higher.

And while the Mt. Manaslu tragedy was a sober reminder of the risks of adventuring, the 36-year-old father of two, will continue to explore the world and his own abilities.

On Tuesday, Hill will also present Two Million Reasons, a film of his attempt to climb and ski over two million vertical feet in under 365 days.

This remarkable journey of strength and determination took place in some of the wildest places on Earth and earned Hill many accolades – including being among the top 25 fittest guys on the planet.

“This movie takes the viewer to the top of Canada’s five highest mountains as well as those in and Chile and Argentina,” says Hill. “First descents, wild footage and exciting days – the challenges were physical emotional and mental as I battled towards an almost unattainable goal.”

Hill occasionally guides ski tours, or heli skiing groups in the mountains in winter and  works in the forest industry in summer.

In 2006, he realized how lucky he was to be living his dreams and decided to share them by starting a blog in 2006 that features stories, still photos and videos.

Hill’s motto is a Dr. Seuss nugget – “You’re off to great places, today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So get on your way.”

Join him at the Salmar Classic Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 at the door.


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