‘Run! Avalanche!’: Aus Singer Recounts Nail-biting Near-death Experience

9 June 2023 | 10:05 am | Luke Saunders

Eagle Eye Jones' Luke Saunders recounts a terrifying encounter with an avalanche, and by extension, his mortality. This story inspired a remarkable track from the band's debut album, New Growth.

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Eagle Eye Jones (Credit: Charlie Hardy)

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I travelled to Nepal in 2020 to do a solo trek through the Himalayas for a few weeks. Little did I know I would confront my mortality and make peace with it all near the base camp of Annapurna. 

On the fourth day of the trek, I met Ishaaq, a practising Muslim man from New York. We became close friends and constantly joked about returning to a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by Covid. Too close to the bone now. After day ten, we hiked uphill for eight hours through blizzards and snow and saw the lights of an outpost drenched in the dusk. I have never felt such flooding relief. It was salvation. It was safety. 

We entered the warm light of the hut with high hearts but the solemn mood within soon cooled our spirits. A group of Nepalese locals informed us that only two weeks prior, seven people were buried in an avalanche. It was the tail month of winter, you see. One of those buried was the Nepalese man’s brother and they were sending out search parties every morning at dawn to dig. 

My guide firmly announced we would be turning back. The next day’s weather was reported to be blue sky after nine days of snow. The warm sunlight melts the fresh snow at the mountain's peak, creating a perfect recipe for avalanches. 

After hours of deliberation and enough Khukri rum to lift our spirits, we decided we would set out at 6 am and put our lives in the hands of the mountains. 

That night I lay in bed and made peace with my life. I was happy with who I was and what I had done and if the mountain decided it was my time to go, then I was okay with it. Still, I was wracked with a deep, penetrating fear that I have never known. To confront my own mortality this intimately was a vast feeling of freedom mixed with dread. 

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At 6 am, we left to the sound of a man ringing a bell and reading a book of prayers. Ishaaq told me he cried the night before and his family prayed to every god they knew, meaning we had a host of divine powers on our side.

We were told it was an hour to Dole, the final outpost, before a two-and-a-half-hour trek through a deep mountainous gorge, the most dangerous section for avalanches to occur.

After only 15 minutes we saw our first avalanche and the mood became grim. Just around the next bend we encountered the wreckage of the avalanche that devastated the path two weeks earlier. There was a sign to beware of falling debris as a crew was below digging through the wreck. 

A deep silence hung in the air as we trudged on - this was meant to be the safe path before the treachery. Once we passed the outpost we encountered our first real snowfall. We were instructed to keep our eyes on the path while our guide scanned the peaks for any movement. No photos, no breaks, just two and a half hours of go, go, go.

Then we heard it. A deep crash up the valley like the mountains were shifting. A cloud of snow was rolling towards us from Machapuchare Base Camp. I thought surely we would turn back but we were instructed to keep climbing.

No one spoke as we walked. Only the crunching of crampons and heavy breathing hung in the fresh gully air, echoing in our skulls. It was so silent. Then we felt it. 

“Run! Avalanche! Run!” shouted our guide and we flew along the track. Panic ensued. I glimpsed up and saw a waterfall of snow rolling down directly above us. We stampeded towards a cave, hurtling along the ice. Sprinting for the safety of the cave I felt as if I had cheated death. 

We’d seen four avalanches in an hour! Perhaps some benevolent deity was smiling upon us after all. Manic laughter erupted among us. Hooting and hollering and hugging Ishaaq, adrenaline was tingling in our blood. As we rounded the next bend I beheld the most beautiful valley I have ever laid eyes on. Fresh snow glistened in every tree. The morning sun was like a new layer of clarity that had rippled the fabric of our reality. On old dirty window had been washed clean before my eyes. I was so struck by the serenity of it all that I wept. 

"Wounded with a wounder’s will, I’m reeling from the blow/The boulder is snowballing now, and Sisyphus is gone".

These were the first lyrics I penned to Alpine Meadows, a song inspired by this experience of life and death and the dagger dance we walk between these spaces every day. I was overwhelmed by it all, our collective indifference to suffering, our blindness and willingness to destroy, and the unfathomable, immovable beauty of nature. 

Sisyphus is a character in Greek mythology who was condemned by Hades to push a boulder up a hill for the rest of his life. Every time it would get to the top it would roll down and he would begin again. Philosopher Albert Camus took this myth and likened it to the plight of humanity. 

The snowballing boulder is climate change and a reference to the avalanches I witnessed. Sisyphus is gone, which means nobody will help us fix this. It’s our burden to bear, even when the sky is falling.

I dream of Alpine Meadows, No poison in the air

No silence in the waters, No empty words falling 

But my short-sightedness, Is it my failure to bear

My indifference to suffering, Is it my failure to bear

Well I hope you meet me there 

In the meadow

I hope you meet me there

In the meadow

With the speed of a glacier 

We learn from our mistakes

Like the hurricane we break

But I can’t hold up the sky forever

I can’t hold up the sky forever

As it falls upon the meadow

As it falls upon the meadow

Eagle Eye Jones’ debut album, New Growth, is out now. You can listen to the album here. This story was the inspiration for the track Alpine Meadows. You can catch Eagle Eye Jones on tour through June and July:

16 June – Wamberal Ocean View, Central Coast

17 June – Holy Pavlova Festival, Wollongong

23 June – The Basement, Canberra

24 June – John Curtin Hotel, Melbourne (NEW SHOW)

1 July – The Northern, Byron

8 July – Mary’s Underground, Sydney

 Tickets here.