Vail man among Everest’s dead |

Vail man among Everest’s dead

Long-time Vail resident Tom Taplin was among those killed when an earthquake-triggered avalanche blew through Mount Everest Base Camp. He was with Minturn-based filmmaker John "Woody" Woodruff working on a film about Base Camp.
John “Woody” Woodruff|The Woodruff Film Company |

To help Nepal

Local filmmaker John “Woody” Woodruff and Pemba Sherpa, who owns Sherpa Painting, launched The Sherpa Foundation and are providing relief for Nepal’s Khumbu region, which has been devastated by the ongoing earthquakes. People there are scrambling as the monsoon season sets in.

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VAIL — A Vail man is among those killed in Mount Everest Base Camp by earthquake-triggered avalanches.

Tom Taplin, 61, had been part of Vail since the 1960s, when his family built a house along Forest Road. Taplin and his wife, Cory Freyer, had lived in Los Angeles and had been listed as a California resident.

They had returned to Colorado and were living in Vail and Evergreen.

Woody Woodruff and Base Camp film

Taplin and Minturn-based filmmaker John “Woody” Woodruff were working on a film about Mount Everest Base Camp, tracing its evolution from a remote outpost to a tent city spanning about a mile, beginning with George Mallory’s unsuccessful attempt from Tibet, and Sir Edmund Hillary’s successful attempt from Nepal, Woodruff said.

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He and Woodruff had been at Everest’s Base Camp – 18,000 feet – since April 14 and had planned to stay until early June.

However, the weather was bad and they had all the footage they needed, so Woodruff headed down toward Namche Bazaar village. Taplin had planned to head down a few days later, but stuck around to collect some more material.

The earthquakes that devastated Nepal shook loose apartment building sized pieces of ice above Base Camp. When the ice hit that valley floor and broke into little pieces, it created an air blast that swept through Base Camp, causing most of the devastation, Woodruff explained.

It was that air blast that threw Taplin and killed him.

“I’m more affected by his death than I thought I would be. We were working on the project together a long time,” Woodruff said.

They were headed to Europe this summer to interview some Everest climbers for the film.

“Now he’s gone,” Woodruff said.

“He was going to piece together a sampler and try to raise some more money,” Woodruff said. “He had lots interviews with lots of climbers and Sherpas, and was looking forward to doing more,” Woodruff said.

Eric Poppleton, a cameraman working on a different project, helped bring down Taplin’s body.

“The night before we left we cremated his body in a ceremony,” Woodruff said.

Vail Valley native Jon Kedrowski was also in Base Camp when the earthquake avalanches hit, but escaped injury.

Adventuring to adventure travel

Among other projects, Taplin did TV commercials, music videos and several documentaries.

Their Base Camp film takes a hard look at how Everest expeditions have evolved from an exploring and adventuring to adventure travel, Woodruff said.

Every season, several climbers attempt Everest who have never climbed anything before, Woodruff said.

“They get in line behind one another. The Sherpas lay the lines and they charge up there,” Woodruff said. “There’s a growing consensus among mountaineers that you should have a resume of successful ascents before you’re allowed to attempt Everest.”

On the other hand, Woodruff said, the Nepali government decides who, and how many, attempt Everest.

Also, Everest climbers attempting to summit are standing in the Death Zone.

“They don’t call it the death zone for nothing,” Woodruff said. “You’re at almost 30,000 feet, and if you get caught up there you’ll die.”

Taplin had climbed many of the other Seven Summits – the tallest peaks on each of the seven continents – but he declined to climb Everest.

“He had no interest in climbing Everest because it’s such a zoo,” Woodruff said.

In the Andes, Taplin’s first attempt at Aconcagua — at 22,841 feet the highest mountain outside of Asia – almost killed him. He tumbled into a crevasse and broke his arm, but hauled himself out as other mountaineers came to his rescue.

In 1992, he wrote about it in, “Aconcagua, the Stone Sentinel: Perspectives of an Expedition.”

About Tom Taplin

Thomas Ely Taplin, Jr. was born July 10, 1953, in Denver. Thomas Ely Taplin Jr. He learned to climb as a teenager, and was an expert skier. In 1975, he graduated Lake Forest College in Illinois with an English degree, and earned a master’s degree in film from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia.

Taplin and Freyer have been together for almost three decades. They met in Los Angeles after being set up by their mothers, who were friends in Denver.

Woodruff went to high school with Freyer, and he and Taplin had become close friends. They were both in Los Angeles in the 1970s, attending different film schools.

Nepal still suffering

Vail Valley locals have organized to help Nepal, where earthquake and aftershocks have killed more than 6,000 people. The region is still suffering aftershocks, and the monsoon season is setting in.

Woodruff and local business owner Pemba Sherpa, a Nepal native who started Sherpa Painting, launched the Sherpa Foundation to create a sister city arrangement with the Khumbu region, where the earthquakes wreaked havoc.

“It’ll be tough to get relief in there. Everything has to be carried on people’s backs,” Woodruff said.

A landslide Saturday blocked the Kali Gandaki River in northwest Nepal, creating flash floods and threatening more devastation and flooding as the water backs up behind it.

People in the valley below are being evacuated to safety … where that might be in a country so devastated remains a mystery.

“With the monsoons coming in the next few weeks, lots of mudslides and rock slides will create even more trauma for these people. It’ll cause all kinds of devastation,” Woodruff said.

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Kedrowski, who’s from Vail, wrote about the devastation at Base Camp in his blog:

I was sitting in the dining tent right about 12 noon when the vibration of the glacier below me began. It was very subtle at first. And the sounds from outside made you think it was just another minor avalanche coming from one of the big walls in the amphitheater surrounding basecamp.

Then the shaking didn’t stop. The roar of the surrounding mountain grew stronger and stronger. I grabbed my small laptop computer which I was writing on, got outside quickly and watched others emerge from their tents. It was snowing lightly and the roar from the earthquake, the shaking of the ground, the movement of the glacier was intense. The shaking lasted for almost a minute. I have been in a small earthquake before but this was huge. I would estimate 7-8 magnitude on the Richter scale. Then the scary part is immediately after the earthquake stopped….the roar from a huge avalanche…..a few moments passed, we could hear but couldn’t see in the fog and the snow storm. I was just up on Pumori Yesterday … as we looked towards Pumori to the southwest, a HUGE snow avalanche cloud began to consume basecamp on that end. Snow dust engulfed the tents below us of Madison Mountaineering, Him Mex,, Jagged Globe, the SPCC, Henry Todd, and many others those lower camps really got dusted. IN fog the hillside which was brown before is completely white. It is too stormy foggy to see the Mountain of Pumori above, but the avalanche path is very near where I hiked yesterday and thank GOD I am not up there today. Anxious to see what the upper mountain looks like when the storm clears.

In another post, Kedrowski writes about the damage to the base camp: “The areas of the middle of Basecamp that I mentioned that got dusted were actually COMPLETELY DESTROYED. 40-50% of basecamp is gone. The bowl to the southwest of basecamp and to the west side of the Khumbu Glacier below the eastern faces of Pumori took an avalanche of seracs and ice chunks that fell from at least 3,500’ above.”

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