Ricardo Peña has just returned to Colorado from Nepal, where his journey up Mount Everest came to an abrupt end on April 18.
That's when an avalanche killed 16 men working on the mountain, all of them Sherpas. Peña, who lives in Broomfield, saw it happen. He says the avalanche sounded like a cross between thunder and a jet plane, as ice sheets fell down, instantly killing several men and trapping others.
Peña was less than a mile away from the accident, making his way up the same trail. He says if his group had left camp a little earlier, they would have been caught in the avalanche as well.
After the avalanche, Peña made his way back down to base camp, where he volunteered to help out in the medical tent.
“It was like a 'MASH' scene," Peña says, referring to the television show about an Army medical team during the Korean War. "It’s not really a hospital. There’s no running water. It’s just a medical tent and all these people started to arrive. The more seriously injured had broken femurs, internal damage. It was pretty bad.”
In the days after, Peña witnessed the escalating conflict between Sherpas and the government of Nepal over pay and working conditions. The Sherpas wanted better compensation and insurance from the government, which collects fees from people who climb Everest.
Peña says the Sherpas' demands were reasonable, but he thinks their decision to go on strike will hurt them by taking away an important source of income for many Sherpa families. He says other people who had scheduled climbs on Everest have already cancelled their reservations and tried to recoup some of the money they've spent.
When the Sherpas went on strike, Peña's trip was cancelled.
"I've been a mountaineer my entire adult life," Peña says. "I've always wanted to climb Everest."
He paid between $52,000 and $54,000 by crowdsourcing from his friends, family and clients.
"This was my chance," Peña says. "I lost my dream right there."
He says he's now in debt and it will take five to 10 years to pay it off.
"I would feel better if us leaving the mountain, somehow that would help the families of the dead," Peña says. “Then it would have meaning."