Saturday, May 25, 2013

Dizzy on the Lhotse Face.

Camp 3, carved into the Lhotse Face. 
Wave 2 left for camp three the morning of May 18. Some troublesome G.I. problems interrupted the first stages of my ascent up the Lhotse Wall but I thought little of it as such occurrences come and go with frequency at high altitude. Mingma and I settled into our regular aggressive pace as we carved out the first 2,000 feet of gain up the steep ice, then stopped on a small ledge to rest and hydrate. Gibby, one of the Air Force climbers, soon joined us on the ledge.  Trained as a “PJ”, Gibby’s job is to jump from airplanes and provide medical aid to wounded soldiers on the ground. He is a kind and generous man who again and again engaged his skills to help Classic Team members who fell injured or ill in the course of this expedition. Gibby and I were both clipped into anchored protection as we stood there looking out across the vastness of the Himalayas. Suddenly I began to feel dizzy. “Gibby, there’s something wrong with me,” I said as my vision narrowed.  I sat down and began breathing hard. Gibby asked questions as he held me steady on the ledge. He radioed one of our Guides, Aaron, who was ascending the wall not far below. Together they encouraged me to drink more liquids as Aaron radioed EBC leadership for medical consultation. HAPE and HACE were quickly ruled out.  A new bug had hit camp 2 a few days earlier and my symptoms matched.  A climber stricken the prior day confirmed experiencing dizziness which passed quickly, and said he was now back at 100%. I began to feel better as we rested there and talked things through. As descending would take more time than moving up to  a wider ledge, we agreed that I would continue higher to a flat shelf where I might lay down for a bit.  If I did not improve, I would have to go back down to camp 2, perhaps ending my Everest climb. 

We climbed for another 30 minutes to the shelf, where Mingma found a generous space for me to stretch out. Gibby sat next to me. A few other team members joined us for a rest as they ascended the face.  All had been monitoring our earlier radio transmissions and asked how I was doing. I ate most of my lunch and swallowed another liter of energy drink. By the time Ty joined us I was feeling much improved. Again Aaron consulted with EBC and received approval for me to continue up to camp 3 where my condition would be closely monitored. 

I felt strong as we resumed the climb, making good time the remaining 1,000 feet to where our tents sat, carved into the side of the Lohtse face.  Myself and another sick climber were quarantined in a tent by ourselves. As camp 3 is the point where all climbers begin breathing bottled oxygen, we too strapped on our masks and, flowing at 1 liter per minute, relaxed in the luxuriance of breathing. It occurred to me the tearing down process was now complete. When one can experience rapture by the simple act of breathing, life can only get better. 

That evening I was visited by our lead Guide, Max. He explained that certain risks to the heart are incurred when taking Azithromiacin at high altitude. So that medication was off the table.  Max gave me an initial dose of Cipro to take if my symptoms revisited during the night and also left a radio I could use to raise him or EBC if more urgent developments arose. Fortunately, neither were needed. I slept well with the aid of the oxygen and woke feeling better.