During WPPI this past March, I spoke at length with California-based destination wedding photographer Charleton Churchill about an upcoming shoot he was super excited about. Talk about an extreme adventure wedding—Churchill was to photograph the wedding of Denver, Colorado, couple Jen Dudley and Erik Tappenbeck just above Basecamp on Mt. Everest.
"Not only is this a rare destination wedding, it is also an extraordinary opportunity full of majestic possibilities and powerful imagery where most photographers will not go," Churchill said in an interview posted on the Profoto blog on March 17 of the trip of a lifetime he'd be taking towards the end of April. "We will be gone three weeks on the cold mountain at higher altitude, hiking anywhere from 4-7 hours per day. We will be at Basecamp for only a few days before returning down the mountain, so we’re praying for good weather."
Never in his wildest dreams, then, could he have imagined being at Mt. Everest when a powerful earthquake, the country's worst in 80 years, hit Nepal on April 25.
"We had a major 7.9 earthquake here in the Himalayas, we definitely felt it," Churchill posted on his Facebook page. "Not just the shaking of this entire village but the rumbling sound that followed, people screaming, jumping out of windows, sirens going off, some of the building I'm staying in started to collapse 2 doors down, some of the buildings are not safe anymore, people running for open area, rocks are tumbling down..."
On Twitter he wrote, "Keep us in your prayers. We are in Nepal, in the Himalayas, the #NepalEarthquake hit hard, porters lost their homes, yaks and hikers died."
It's an absolute miracle that Churchill and his team survived. Each day they try to post on social media and send out messages to loved ones, and each post shows them keeping positive and being more concerned with helping everyone else. Today Churchill's wife, Kelly Kraft-Churchill, wrote on her husband's Facebook page that "Charleton is currently unable to post to Facebook in his current location so this is his update. It amazes me how many people truly care, love and admire my husband! I am so proud of him and what he and the team are now doing to reach out to all those in need!"
From Charleton: "We made it safely to Cheplung down the mountain on the trail, we are 1.5hrs hike from the Lukla airport. Weather is bad so getting out of Lukla has been delayed for the last few days for many people. We hope to catch a flight to Kathmandu in the next few days."
Amidst the chaos, tragic loss of life and utter despair in Nepal, Charleton and his team have set up a fundraising site. As bride-to-be Dudley wrote on her Facebook page yesterday: "As we head out of Namche Bazaar down to the lower villages where most of our Sherpas live and where their homes were destroyed, we are trying to help as much as we can. Our fundraising site is up to directly help these guys, their families and their villages. The money you donate goes DIRECTLY to them and the funds will be distributed by Dawa Sherpa (our head Sherpa) and Deanna, our guide who is extremely involved with the staff and has lived in Nepal on and off for 14 years. I appreciate all the support you all can give."
For more information or to donate money, visit www.gofundme.com/rebuildingnepal.