May 12, 2014: Amber Kangas and Randy Ray, Sauk Rapids, Minn., talk about their adventure to Mount Everest. The couple were near the south base camp of Mount Everest in Nepal when an avalanche killed more than a dozen guides near another base camp on April 18, 2014.

St. Cloud Times, AP/Jason Wachter

Sauk Rapids couple safely home after exploring Mount Everest

  • Article by: FRANK LEE
  • Associated Press
  • May 19, 2014 - 1:01 AM

SAUK RAPIDS, Minn. — They were looking for an adventure of a lifetime but got more than they bargained for at Mount Everest.

Randy Ray and Amber Kangas were near the south base camp of the famed mountain in Nepal when an avalanche killed more than a dozen guides near another base camp on April 18.

"We did not actually know that it happened until we got back down," Kangas said of the deadly avalanche, which occurred about 2,000 feet higher than where they were. "The Sherpas were the only ones up there setting up camp."

The Sauk Rapids couple recently returned home from their travels abroad and say April's experience in the Himalayas will not deter them from returning to the world's highest mountain, which has an elevation of about 29,000 feet.

"It's very popular to hike up to the base camp ... because you get to see all the tents and people waiting to summit," she told the St. Cloud Times of the adventure with her longtime boyfriend to the tallest peak on Earth.

The hike to the south base camp took more than a week, according to Kangas. A base camp allows climbers to acclimate to their surroundings, and it reduces the risks and severity of altitude sickness.

"I was nervous, but on the other hand, I knew we had a great guide, and there were a lot of people there taking care of us," Ray said of their base camp adventure.

"We had never done anything like it. ... But we just wanted to do something challenging, and we figured this would be one of the most challenging things that we've ever accomplished."

Upon reaching the south base camp, they also visited Kala Patthar, a nearby mountain about 18,000 feet high and known for being the most accessible point — from base camp to peak — to view Mount Everest.

However, Kangas came down with altitude sickness, which occurs when a person cannot get enough oxygen from the air at high altitudes. Symptoms include headache, loss of appetite, nausea and trouble sleeping.

She was evacuated by a series of helicopters along with the injured Sherpas. Her first helicopter pilot dropped her off at a small village before rushing back to save the others.

"Unfortunately, we kind of had a front-row viewing to all of the people being helicoptered off," said Kangas, who felt guilt over her helicopter ride for altitude sickness.

"When I originally called for a helicopter, I had no knowledge of the avalanche; had I known about the avalanche, I would've tried to walk down the mountain."

Kangas said the trip to Mount Everest was their first long-distance trek. Their goal was to reach base camp, not summit the peak, according to the couple.

In 2002, the couple achieved their goal of visiting all seven continents together in seven years, including Antarctica, and last year, they went on an African safari.

They co-own the Sauk Rapids-based Azabar Inc., a subcontractor for FedEx, but in their spare time, the boyfriend and the girlfriend, who are in their mid-30s, travel the world.

"We are celebrating 10 years together this August, so we wanted to do something extra special this year," he said of Mount Everest.

She said, "We are just very passionate about traveling and always looking for a new adventure."

An AP Member Exchange Feature shared by St. Cloud Times

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