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Mt. Everest Nepal Wedding Story, Beauty in the Brokenness

Please consider donating to help rebuild the lives and homes of the sherpas and villagers of Nepal:
www.gofundme.com/rebuildingnepal

The Story. I’m an adventure wedding photographer who photographs couples from all around the world. Last month, I traveled to Nepal to photograph a Mt. Everest wedding at base camp with a wonderful engaged couple from Colorado, Erik Tappenbeck and Jen Dudley. We had been planning this for a year. We found each other online when I had announced I was available to photograph weddings at Everest Base Camp.

everest base camp wedding photographer

While making our ascent through the Himalayas, a 7.8 earthquake rocked the region of Nepal, including the village where we were staying at that time, Namche Bazaar. We had just returned from an acclimatization hike up to Mt. Everest View lodge at 12,500 feet, where we couldn’t see anything. It was overcast nearly the entire time of our trip. We returned down to Namche Bazaar muddy, sweaty, and soaked from the rain. It was just before noon that we returned when the earthquake suddenly struck.

At that time, I was in my room changing when suddenly the room started shaking (I didn’t think anything of it, I just thought people were moving around in the building).  Then it intensified and the ground started rolling in some fashion, still can’t explain it, with an expanding sound which felt as if an explosion or eruption was to follow.  I leaped outside my room, and started to run towards open area flying past my building where some of the construction started to come undone.  I saw others running from all directions; screams could be heard throughout the village. Emergency sirens you only hear in world war II movies started resounding in the region. I saw a person jump out of a second story window.  Being that our group was on a slope with buildings above us and around us, with the possibility of landslides, I kept looking around me to see if any structures would topple our way.

After twenty or so seconds of shaking, the earthquake subsided. We were all in shock staring at each other, shaking, hearts racing, trying to figure what just happened or if it was coming again soon. Members in our group were in different attire, some in their underwear. Our bride Jen was in her bath towel, as she just jumped out of a solar shower. We had no expectations that something like this would ever happen specially on our trip.

At that time, Deanna and Stewart, the group leaders from Mountain Madness, did a head count to make sure we were all okay. We were all good and safe.  The building where we met and ate our meals in was damaged and so to be cautious, we ate outside on a tarp away from risk.  We organized our important items, passports, etc. and waited for the aftershocks that would soon follow.

Within that day we learned of the devastation in Kathmandu and the avalanche that triggered a wind blast through Everest south Base camp above us. As more news came in, much of the group grew afraid and wanted to return home. No doubt, I feared the aftershocks, and in our current location.  Some of us even organized our backpacks including me next to the door, sleeping in our hiking gear, hiking boots, headlamps on our heads, ready to jump out the door at any given shake, which we felt the next few nights. At the same time, I and some others wanted to continue up the mountain since I had been in earthquakes, and the trail was not that difficult with a fixed route.  While there was respect for the mountain, I’ve been up more difficult and colder mountains with crevasses. Still we were with a large trekking group at the time: 20 Trekkers, 35 Sherpas and porters, 26 yaks, and 2 leaders.  We had to make a decision based on the safety of the whole group.  The decision to cancel the trip to Mt. Everest base camp was given and we waited for word and preparations before returning down the mountain.

As we made our way down the trail, we passed many buildings and homes that had been destroyed by the earthquake. It was like visiting a historic landmark with ancient buildings that are no longer inhabitable. We sadly learned that many of our team Sherpas lost their homes in the lower villages and a handful of our twenty-six Yaks had died in Namche Bazaar.  Erik and Jen (our wedding couple) had a heart for the people and were hesitant to marry since there was so much loss.  And after discussing it later, they decided to get married before heading out to the Lukla airport to show that there is redemption in the rubble, beauty in the brokenness, and hope. (Part 2 of this blog).

While we didn’t get wedding photographs with Mt. Everest epically pronounced in the background, we managed to capture their intimate and beautiful wedding with the rest of the trekking group packed in an old Monastery up on the hill. There were smiles and tears of happiness.  Erik and Jen’s wedding changed the mood of the group and brought us in closer together.

And actually this trip turned into something else for us all.

Visiting the villages where our Sherpas lived was an eye opener. We were there to serve however way possible or to see if we could assist in any way.  Instead, we were served.  We were served by the families of the Sherpas with tea and a homemade meal cooked from underneath the tarp while it was raining. They served and fed us with a smile. It was humbling.

I was taken away from our group by a Sherpa father to view the rest of the village, all around it and inside some of the broken homes.  He showed me where families lived and many of them offered me tea as I walked around their damaged homes. I couldn’t understand most of what this father said, but I did sense what he was saying. Most times he would just point and say “all gone” or “no more” and take me to the next destroyed household.

In Kathmandu, there were buildings that were destroyed and people that were hurting or had passed where assistance could physically reach them quickly, but in the villages where we visited (and many others around Nepal), you could only get there by foot.  This village, the families, and the Sherpas needed our help and still need our help today, which is why we set up fund to help restore to these people what they lost. You can go here to donate: www.gofundme.com/rebuildingnepal

This is just part of the story, and I will show you some of the photographs below of what happened on the mountain and in Kathmandu, some taken with my Nikon cameras (I brought along a Nikon D750 and a Nikon D810 camera) and other photos were with my iphone 6plus. If you feel inspired to give a donation to these Sherpa families, I’m sure they would surely appreciate it. Our goal is to raise $150,000.  Each home costs around 5-10,000 to rebuild.  All the funds will go directly to them.  Our team leader Deanna from our trekking outfit Mountain Madness has been involved with humanitarian efforts in Nepal for a long time, and she has a heart for these people and their culture.  You can go to www.gofundme.com/rebuildingnepal to read more about it, and to give your donation. Thank you kindly!

Thank you to our sponsors who supported this trip:
NIKON  (Cameras and Lenses)
BHLDN.COM  (Wedding Dress)
PROFOTO  (B2 LIGHTING GEAR)
BLACKRAPID (STRAPS)
MANFROTTO GEAR

Below are some images from our trip.

path flown to china and kathmandu

My Flight path to China from LAX. Photo of a personal video screen on China Southern Airlines. Taken with my iPhone

the river through Kathandu

We arrived in Kathmandu to prepare for the trip, meet team members, tour the area, and last minute backpack/pack checks before heading to the mountain. The photo above is downtown Kathmandu, which has a river running through it where much religious and traditional activity take place.

monkey resting on a wall

Monkeys are everywhere in Kathmandu just like cats and dogs are everywhere in America. They have a monkey temple also.

sadhus man hinduism of kathmandu

Sadhus man of Kathmandu sitting near the temples downtown.

holy men in nepal called sadhus

aged nepal man national geographic magazine

hinduism candles lit in nepal

lady burns incense around stupa

A woman burning incense near the large Stupa downtown Kathmandu is typical. Burning incense in their religion is a sign of keeping evil spirits away.

kathmandu cows are worshipped

Our driver told us just as we passed cows laying in the middle of the road, that they worship cows as the goddess of wealth.  This beast was right in front of me, so I just stayed to the side hoping for a quick pass.

organizing our north face bags for mt everest trek

Packed and weighed at the Yak and Yeti Hotel, Kathmandu. Preparing near 5a.m. for a flight to Lukla airport, named the most dangerous airport in the world.

high fives getting ready to take off to the himalayas. (Nikon D750). Charleton Churchill.

view of the himalayas while flying to Lukla airport

The Himalayas are beautiful! A gorgeous region to photograph a wedding.

lukla landing strip

You can see why Lukla Airport is the most dangerous. I’m photographing the whole strip within the front window!

a plane landing at Lukla aiport

start of everest trek at lukla dangerous airport

The view from above the airport of Lukla village where you can buy necessities before heading up to Mt. Everest Base camp, even a fake Starbucks cup of coffee.  It doesn’t taste anything like the real one. Still, it’s great to buy a Lukla Starbucks mug from there because it’s rare indeed? There aren’t any Starbucks locations in Kathmandu, not even sure they have one in Nepal.

starbucks coffee lukla airport in Nepal

Fake Starbucks at least had wifi, comfortable couches, and a huge TV for news.

backpack trekking overview everest base camp

Our team Leader Deana from Mountain Madness leading us in preparations before hiking up to Mt. Everest Base camp, or at least planning for it.

mountain madness trekking group hiking downtown lukla

walking across everest suspension bridges

Many bridges exist along the trail with a little swinging back and forth, but they are stable.

mountain men hiking to base camp

everest sherpa walking across bridge

Sherpas, porters, and yaks carry so much weight. The courtesy is to pull over and let them pass.  I have a video of a man carrying 220 pounds of weight.

phakdang trekking lodge for hikers

We stayed in this small village called Phakdang for a night.

high bridges along everest base camp trail

everest trek high bridges

prayer flags on high suspended bridges on everest trek

Most of the bridges you see along the path have prayer flags tied up all over.

all for adventure wedding photography

the village of namche bazaar panorama

Village of Namche Bazaar.

acclimatization hike to everest lodge

Here we are on a acclimatization hike to Mt. Everest View Lodge at around 12,500 feet, but because of the clouds moving in, we couldn’t see jack squat. This is the highest we went before the earthquake happened a few hours later near noon.

charleton photo with sherpas on everest view lodge

Me with some of our Sherpa friends with Mountain Madness.  They work their butts off plus they are kind.

emergency on mt everest during earthquake

The Earthquake hit and helicopters were flying in and out! Many of them were on rescue missions from Mt. Everest Camp 1 down to lower Base camp. Many climbers were stuck on Camp 1 because the avalanche wiped out the ropes and path to get down.

rubble from namche bazaar earthquake

This is one of our buildings in Namche Bazaar that was damaged.  This building is connected to the place where we slept. iPhone 6plus.

team members making phone calls after the earthquake

The Roen Family, father and two sons.  This family was on our trekking team. Not only that, I photographed their sister’s/daughter’s wedding last year in my area of northern California. They live only near 5 miles from my home. Crazy right? Out of all the trekkers in the world who decide to be on a 20 person trekking team with this specific outfit, Mountain Madness, somehow the world seems smaller when the father of the bride, whom you photographed last year, is on your team. Small world.

emergency helicopters to rescue everest injured climbers woman of nepal praying

evening photos at namche bazaar

leaving namche bazaar after the earthquake

After 4 days in Namche bazaar, we have word that it’s safe to go down to lower elevations.  Many trekkers and Everest climbers are making their way down quickly too.

man washing hair outside

rest stop during the hike

everest base camp trail earthquake rubble

Here are some of the buildings you can view along the trail that are damaged by the earthquake.

a commercial building along everest trail destroyed

the road to nepal village

We were taken to a village where our Sherpas live and to see the destruction. This is the path to their village (there are many villages in Nepal).

nepal sherpa carrying load

sherpa family who lost their home

Here is one of our Sherpas who lost his home here with his wife. So sad!

earthquake-destruction

Here is a father who lost his home and is showing me around the village where many homes have been damaged. Many of the Sherpas from our team lost their home here.

broken homes crushed home in nepal everest base camp village dog pet in village sherpa homes ruined rock and rubble in lukla village earthquake destruction lady who lost her home

woman who lost her home

home made of tarp in nepal

Many families are currently under tarps eating and living even now as we speak, which is why we are trying to raise awareness and funds. The building behind this tarp is demolished, and I tried to go inside, but it had collapsed, unlike the image below.

crushed-village-home

women of nepal cooking outside

sherpa family feeding us food

This is the family who cooked us a delicious meal, called momos from scratch, served us 100 of them. The Sherpa on the left serves on Mountain Madness and lives here with a destroyed home. This is their tarp, it’s raining hard while they are cooking for us.

celebrating life under tarps

Under the tarp being served with drinks and delicious food. So humbling truly.

sherpa boy in village of nepal sherpa girl carrying load

charleton churchill helping rebuild nepal

A photo of me which bride Jen captured.  I didn’t do very much, but I saw these guys trying to rebuild their wall and figured I would lend a hand.

night photo downtown lukla

Downtown Lukla before flying off to Kathmandu and heading home.

lukla aiport taking off after quake

kathmandu old city

Kathmandu was destroyed in many areas and preserved in others.  Here are some photos below of Kathmandu where there was damage. They lost many people and buildings.

nepal quake rocks oldest building in nepal

This was the oldest building in Kathmandu, now gone!

kathmandu nepal quake ruins military in kathmandu cleanup kathmandu rocked by earthquake old rubble and bodies downtown kathmandu walking downtown kathmandu burned and rubble from earthquake old buildings and wires nepal quake rocks nepal

motorcycles and mopeds downtown kathmandu

Downtown Kathmandu where there was destruction, but for the most part, was organized for traffic by the time we arrived. Bodies were removed, and the streets were cleaned up.

china southern airlines back to LAX

 My flight from Kathmandu back to Los Angeles, and eventually back to Sacramento, home. However, the work continues.  With all the villages destroyed and families still under tarps without homes, we are hoping to meet our goal of $150,000 to help rebuild their lives and their homes. If you have already donated, thank you kindly. Every gift big or small is appreciated!  If you haven’t already donated, please consider giving a token of your generosity.  Thank you.

www.gofundme.com/rebuildingnepal

mount everest wedding couple

The redemption of this story: PART II – ERIK AND JEN GET MARRIED can be read HERE:

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