Into Thick Air4/14/11 - Last time I wrote I was at basecamp and lying in my 80 degree tent wearing nothing but shorts trying to sweat out my cold. My massive headaches were almost too much to bear. I called JoAnna later that night and she mentioned the pics I posted on Facebook showed how swollen my forehead was. With that bit of info I was able to self-diagnose some symptoms of HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema). That’s where there is an increase in fluid in the brain causing swelling, weakness and headaches. If not treated you fall into a coma and die…not good. The only cure is to decrease altitude. I’m not 100% that’s what was going on but it’s not something to mess with. The next morning we packed and headed down to Dingboche (14,000’).
I left before the rest of the group and got down to Gorak Shep (17,000’) and waited to have tea with the rest. A mere 500’ of elevation loss didn’t have an effect on my headaches. I then took off for Loboche (16,000’) where we had lunch. I still wasn’t back to normal. I then made my way to Dingboche (14,000’) and I could tell a dramatic difference. It’s crazy to think that the same altitude as the summit of Mt. Rainier now feels like sea-level to me. I can physically tell the difference in the thickness of the air, which provides instant life. It’s a great feeling to move from a life threatening situation to being fully alive. In Dingboche, Naga Sherpa suggested I have some garlic soup. They swear by it for altitude living. Who am I to argue…I slammed down a bowl (I won’t be kissing anyone anyway). I was feeling better anyway so I figured it was just the icing on the cake. Cake sounds really good by the way.
So at this point I am a bit frustrated. It’s not fair that less physically fit and less driven people are in a better position to climb the highest peak on earth. With something like HACE there’s nothing I can do from a physiological standpoint. I’ve prepared so hard for this and even played it safe in becoming a vegetarian on my trek…maybe that’s where I went wrong. But with a life threatening issue where the choice is life or death, I’ll choose life. I called and confirmed with JoAnna as well…she prefers life.
So what do I do? I’m not checked out by any means. I’m sure if you asked my close friends, they would describe me as a strong climber, driven, good-looking and humble. I can see my wife rolling her eyes. J For now I just need more time on the mountain at lower elevations. I am at Dingboche (14,000’) today by myself. The rest of the group went up to Island Peak basecamp. I decided to stay an extra day at this altitude to replenish my body. Even though I feel great today it’s important to allow my body to rest. That’s why climbing in the Himalaya is such a mental game. Back home I could bang out any of the Cascade peaks in a day. Here I have to be patient, which is a trait I’ve never been accused of having. Tomorrow I will climb to Island Peak high camp (18,200’), bypassing basecamp and meet up with the group for a summit climb. This should be a good test of the results of my rest day. Either way Dennis and I’ll be heading back to Pheriche (14,000’) for a few days before heading back to Everest basecamp.
In the end I can only do what I can do. If after a week at lower altitude I’m still a risk to myself and others higher on the mountain then I’ll be cutting my expedition early. God has a plan and it may not be what I envisioned, but I’ll trust His judgment and direction. Stay tuned….