The brave climbers who were stranded on Mount Everest after Saturday’s massive 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Nepal are finally making their way home.
Garrett Madison, expedition leader for Madison Mountaineering from Seattle, Washington, tells PEOPLE that many members of his team are now safe in the village of Namche Bazaar, while other members who were at base camp when the earthquake occurred are back in Kathmandu, where the rest of the team is headed before heading home.
It has been an intense few days for Madison, who was ascending to Camp 2 with his team when the earthquake occurred.
“We were climbing in a snowstorm, so we could’t see much, but we heard an awful noise – it was a thunderous roar – and we were really scared,” he says.
A few of his team members were knocked over by soft snow, but no one on the mountain was hurt.
“We felt the ground shake and that’s when we knew it was an earthquake, and we thought, ‘Wow, we’re really lucky,’ ” he says.
The group continued their climb to Camp 2 where they were able to get in touch with base camp. That’s when they learned of the terrible devastation that occurred, including the death of the group’s doctor, Eve Girawong, 28.
“The emotions were tough. We were all very close to her – she had taken great care of us throughout the expedition. She dedicated her life to helping others and brought so much light into the world. It was just unimaginable to lose somebody like that. Base camp is supposed to be a safe haven,” Madison says.
Over the next 48 hours, his team climbed back down to Camp 1 and were picked up by helicopter and taken back to base camp.
“We saw the complete devastation of our camp and many other camps that were just totally desolated. That was a very sobering moment – facing the reality of the situation and seeing the aftermath,” he says.
“While trekking out, we’ve just seen villages that have been hurt by the earthquake – buildings just reduced to rubble,” he adds. “It’s going to take this country a long time to rebuild from this earthquake. It’s just been a lot of devastation.”
The longtime mountain climber was also on Everest on April 18, 2014, when another deadly avalanche claimed the lives of 16 Nepalese Sherpas.
“Climbing mountains is inherently dangerous,” he says. “You can manage the risks, but this was not an accident on a mountain. This is a natural disaster that affected the base camps. Normally, when I encounter tragic situations, it’s been up on the mountain, but I was powerless to be able to help base camp. It was very hard not being able to help in any way.”
And after facing two tragedies on Mount Everest, would Madison consider making the climb again?
“Right now, I can t think about that. We’ve got to get through this first and get home, but I would like to climb the mountain again,” he says. “I think the toughest part would just be being in the base camp, because that’s where this horrible tragedy occurred. It happened to all those people who were just innocently in the base camp. It would be tough to go back there.”
Eve Girawong’s family has set up a Nepalese relief charity in her name.
“People should consider to donate in memory of Eve, who dedicated her life to helping others,” her family said in a statement to PEOPLE.