World's Top Motorcycle Dealer

World's Top Motorcycle Dealer
Prayer flags above Dingboche. Lhotse and Island Peak in the background.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Altitude problems

I've been a little busy lately with a lot of stuff happening very quickly. Our rotation to Camp 1 went well and I was able to move up through the icefall relatively easily, taking 5 1/2 hours. I spent a good night there and then moved to upper Camp 2 at about 21,300' the next morning. Again, I moved reasonably quickly and was able to eat a good lunch and dinner.

Unfortunately things then went downhill pretty fast. I crawled into my sleeping bag for a 13 hour sleep until breakfast and that's when my troubles started. I hallucinated all night long. I was seeing visions and hearing voices. And they weren't even interesting! Just lines of people in buildings and meaningless babbling that was supposed to be profound thoughts. I don't believe I ever actually fell asleep the whole night.

I also struggled to maintain an even body temperature moving from hot to cold every few minutes. I was moaning all night and in spite of my best efforts I couldn't stop. Finally the sun came up and the interminable night ended. I got up and found myself quite dizzy.

I mentioned all this at breakfast to Big Tendi, one of our guides, and he suggested that I might be having early symptoms from HACE, High Altitude Cerebral Edema. HACE is a potentially fatal result of being at high altitude. It is a swelling of the brain. This "blinding flash of the obvious", to quote an old friend, had me very concerned. After some quick consultation with the team leader it was agreed that I needed to descend quickly.

I dropped first to Camp 1 and then to base camp. I felt normal again at base camp and slept soundly that night. The following morning I consulted with the doctors in base camp at the HRA and they felt I would probably be okay in ascending again. I didn't like the word "probably". I had a series of long discussions with the team leader and two other guides and all said they would not go back up under these circumstances.

In spite of not wanting to hear this, I knew they were giving the correct advice. I have already personally experienced high altitude problems nearly becoming fatal and don't want to repeat it again. So I have abandoned my effort on Lhotse and caught a helicopter to Kathmandu. I feel quite disappointed with this turn of events but the risk/reward ratio just didn't make sense. No mountain is worth dying for.

I don't know what the future holds for me and 8,000 meter peaks. It is quite possible that I'm not really built for this extreme elevation and it's also possible that I over reacted and could have gone back up. I am committed to trying Ama Dablam with Altitude Junkies in the late fall and that will give me an idea. It is actually almost 1,000 feet higher than C2 on Everest/Lhotse but I won't be sleeping at this height. Honestly I am more concerned with whether I can handle the steep, technical and exposed nature of the climb more than I'm concerned with the elevation.

The photos are from within the Khumbu Icefall, the Western Cwm/Camp 1 and 2 and my Sherpa guide Furba who was assigned to climb with me. He was fantastic!

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