Ken Chlouber, the former state senator and uber-athlete from Leadville, counts himself lucky for coming down with lung issues while climbing in Nepal last month.
Vying to be the oldest American to ever climb an 8,000-meter peak, critical breathing issues forced the 73-year-old off Nepal's 26,759-foot Mount Manaslu - the world's eighth highest peak - only two days before a devastating avalanche swept through a high camp on the mountain, killing 11 climbers in Nepal's most deadly mountaineering incident.
"I was headed up to that camp, Camp 3. I would have been there if not for the lung thing," said Chlouber of the camp that was decimated by a massive predawn avalanche that flattened tents at Camp 2 some 1,200 feet lower. "Maybe it was God talking to me to get my cowboy butt out of there. If I had been able to get higher, I would."
Chlouber was recovering in Katmandu when he heard news of the Sept. 23 avalanche near the summit of Manaslu that roared through Camp 3, catching more than 30 people asleep in their tents, killing 11, two of whom remain missing.
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Chlouber had spent a week in Camp 1, hoping his labored breathing would fade and he would eventually join his team in the push for the summit. It pounded snow during that week.
"I laid there and you could just hear those avalanches every night going off on either side of you. Camp 1 is really the last relatively safe place on that mountain to camp, which I guess the whole world discovered with that avalanche," said Chlouber, who is still being treated at National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver.
Dr. John Hill, a sports medicine doctor who works with University of Colorado and University of Denver athletes and is the medical director for the Leadville race series, helped Chlouber navigate his descent from Camp 1 to base camp, urging his longtime friend to seek help before it was too late.
"I could easily have ended up a permanent part of the landscape up there without John's care," Chlouber said. "When John said we had to get down before he would have to carry me down, I said, 'Let's do it.' I knew it was time."