Posting a video to Instagram, 26-year-old Brit Harry Shimmin described how his group of 10 was hiking through the Tian Shan mountains when they heard “the sound of deep ice cracking”, before looking up to see the wall of snow shooting towards them.
In a sobering caption, Shimmin details how he’d been slightly separated from the group when the avalanche started, and speculates that if they had walked five more minutes along the Central Asian trail, they would not have survived the experience.
“Nine Brits and one American on a guided tour of the Tian Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan. We’d just reached the highest point in the trek and I separated from the group to take pictures on top of a hill/cliff edge,” Shimmin writes alongside the video.
“While I was taking pictures I heard the sound of deep ice cracking behind me.”
He explains that he had spotted an area for shelter right next to him, but acknowledges that he “left it to the last second to move” when the avalanche started.
“Yes, I left it to the last second to move, and yes I know it would have been safer moving to the shelter straight away. I’m very aware that I took a big risk. I felt in control, but regardless, when the snow started coming over and it got dark/harder to breathe, I was bricking it and thought I might die,” he adds.
In the video, a thick layer of ice and snow can be seen hurtling over Shimmin’s head as he continues to film. He goes on to describe the feeling of being engulfed in an avalanche.
“Behind the rock it was like being inside a blizzard. Once it was over the adrenaline rush hit me hard. I was only covered in a small layer of snow, without a scratch.”
“I felt giddy. I knew the rest of the group was further away from the avalanche so should be okay. When I re-joined them I could see they were all safe, although one had cut her knee quite badly (she rode one of the horses to the nearest medical facility),” he said.
“Another had fallen off a horse and sustained some light bruising. The whole group was laughing and crying, happy to be alive (including the girl who cut her knee).”
But, he says, the euphoria was tinged by horror at how close the group had been to the deadly path of the avalanche.
“It was only later we realised just how lucky we’d been. If we had walked five minutes further on our trek, we would all be dead.”
He described how the pack of tourists examined the train ahead of them afterwards, taking in the scale of the danger and damage.
“If you look carefully in the video, you can see the faint grey trail winding through the grass. That was the path. We traversed it afterwards, walking among massive ice boulders and rocks that had been thrown much further than we could have run, even if we acted immediately.
“To make it worse, the path runs alongside a low ridge, hiding the mountain from view, so we would have only heard the roar before lights out,” he adds.
Harry’s video has already had 459,549 views on Instagram alone, as well as being shared widely on Twitter and other social media platforms.
In a follow-up post, Shimmin confirmed that everyone involved had able to leave the trail safely and that one group member – and American woman who had “cut her knee to the bone” was treated at a nearby hospital.
“After the avalanche she spent three hours on a horse to the medical centre of a nearby gold mine and got stitched by a doctor there. She was then in ER for a while in a local hospital. She’s since flown back to the US,” he explained.
He called the avalanche “one of the craziest experiences of my life”.
“I won’t lie, it was harrowing to walk through the aftermath of where we would have been if we were five minutes quicker,” reiterated Shimmin. “I stared at the roof of my tent for longer than I care to admit that night. Very, very glad everyone survived without super serious injuries.”