Feeling uneasy at an unexpected snowfall, the Nepalese guide woke Ron and Deborah Plotkin in their tent in the dead of night and told them pack up.
Moments later, the mountain toppled with a rumble.
The avalanche just missed the Plotkins. For the next three days, they and their guide crawled and stumbled through thick banks of snow and waded across icy rivers, trying to reach safety.
At night, they dug caves in the snow for shelter, and thought of their three children in San Diego: Ian, 14, Rachel, 9, and Melia, 5.
“I prayed to God: ‘Don’t snatch me from them, please. They need us’,” said Deborah Plotkin, 41.
Forty-six people, including one of the Plotkins’ six Sherpa guides, were killed in avalanches and landslides this weekend in one of Nepal’s worst disasters in decades.
Another 517 people, including 238 foreigners, have been rescued. But hundreds of hikers and Nepalese villagers may still be trapped in the Himalayan mountains, including more than a dozen Americans. Helicopters rescued nearly 60 people on Wednesday, and were continuing the search.
The Gokyo Valley trails buried under the avalanches, along the ancient trading route between Tibet and Nepal, are popular with adventure tourists because they offer panoramic views of the world’s tallest mountains, including the 29,028-feet Mt. Everest.
On Friday, when the couple pitched their tents at 6 p.m., it started snowing.
“The little flakes seemed innocuous,” said Ron Plotkin, a 39-year-old psychologist.
But at 2.30 a.m., one guide woke them. As they came out of their tent, they heard a rumbling sound, and tons of snow crashed down near their camp site.
“Just after the sound, I looked back and saw four of our Nepalese staff gone,” apparently buried under the snow, said Deborah Plotkin.
Snow had piled up to nearly six feet. Even the yaks couldn’t move.
“And then the crawling started. We could move only 20 feet in one hour,” said Plotkin. Before dusk Saturday, they and their guide dug a cave in the snow to protect them overnight.
“I came out of the snow cave and looked at the sky and I saw one glittering star,” said Mrs. Plotkin, struggling to speak through tears.
After crawling and stumbling for another day, they spent the second night in a makeshift cave. Then on Monday, they found a path in the snow and followed it to the tiny hamlet of Chikoon.