The violent earthquake shaking Mount Everest had stopped. Converging avalanches had sputtered out before they could overrun us at Camp 1. Everything went momentarily still. Then, people scrambled back to their tents to check on each other. My tentmate Bart and I were both unhurt, but we remained anxious and alert. My skin tingled as fear and danger danced around us.
As a geologist I knew aftershocks were inevitable. We talked in hushed tones, listening for the telltale sound of new avalanches. My gloved hand pressed against the nylon tent floor, straining to feel if the giant glacier beneath us began moving again.
About ten minutes after the initial earthquake hit Everest, the first aftershock arrived. Here’s the tense scene in our tent:
As the glacier twitched beneath us, we didn’t move, but our minds raced. We worried about more avalanches falling and about new crevasses opening up. My geologic mind pondered whether the fragile matrix of the glacier might entirely collapse, taking us down with it. I had been trapped deep inside a glacier before, and I sure didn’t want to wind up in that icy hell again.
On the video, you can hear the apprehension in our voices. Worry and fear are natural during a crisis. They’re beneficial human responses designed to heighten your senses, and to prepare you for fight or flight. But, with crevasses surrounding our campsite at 19,900 feet, we could do neither. We had to stay there, hope for the best, and try to think it through.
Though I was worried and scared, I worked to keep my voice controlled. Doing so helps you stay calm during an emergency.
During moments of crisis, pure emotional responses like yelling, crying, or screaming aren’t usually helpful. (There’ll be time for that later.) You may feel the urge to let loose, but for now, resist. The high emotions will temporarily disengage you from the unfolding emergency and make you less effective. Also, the outburst can distract or upset other teammates who may already be struggling to keep it together.
Instead redirect that emotional intensity into focus and alertness. Find a way to stay calm and then commit that emotional power to doing whatever is necessary to solve the problem.
Staying calm leads to courage, and courage creates resilience.
Speaking of Adventure
Note: This is the third video in a gripping series that I shot on Mount Everest immediately after the earthquake on April 25, 2015. Watch this space for another video next week.