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Part 2

Day 24 / ABC
Back at abc after a carry to c2 and a couple of well needed rest days and getting ready to head back to c2 with another set of loads tomorrow early am. That will be a 2 day trip up providing good weather. Well it was quite a ride the last couple of days.. Its always the one that you don't expect that blind sides you. For the last 10 days or so, my appetite had been really bad and I've gotten very little food down. At every meal, I'll get 5-6 bites down and then simply gag on anything more. I tried to write this off to the altitude. One of the common side effects of acclimatization is loss of appetite, so it seemed reasonable. The only confusing part was the fact that I've been up here quite a while now and I really thought that I had seemed to be acclimatizing quite well. I had none of the other standard altitude sickness symptoms. Regardless, I figured I'd just deal with it, although I was getting a little worried because I was starting to exhibit some significant signs of lost weight and strength. What I didn't know was that the parasite that I had battled down at cbc and thought I had killed, wasn't really dead. It had certainly retreated and was keeping a low profile, but it was most definitely still inside me, replicating and gaining strength, preparing to mount a massive assault. On day 21, I packed a fairly large load to take the two day trip up to c2. The trip to c1 was fairly uneventful and I was moving fairly well, though maybe a little slower than previous carries. The next day, on the trip to c2, I had a really rough start, my worst yet of the trip. I felt extremely tired and weak. I couldn’t believe that the altitude would be effecting me this bad while showing none of the classic symptoms other than this crazy appetite problem I was having. I figured that the lack of food was starting to catch up with me and continued to move on. The trip from c1 to c2 offers some of the best and most technical climbing on the route. Its a steep exposed ridge with several vertical sections through ice and rock bands which were by now secured with fixed lines. As exciting as this section was, I was not looking forward to it the way I was feeling. All I knew is that if I didn't start eating soon, this trip would be over real fast. My previous trip to c1 from c2 took about 6 hours, a little less than what was becoming the average time from the team. This particular trip seemed to take an eternity, I think close to 10 hours. When I got in to camp, I was utterly trashed. I have never in my life felt as wasted as I did this day. Something wasn't right. There is no reason it should have taken this long to get there. Unknown to me, the predator in side me was beginning to show some signs of its existence, though I still just blamed the altitude. That night we brewed up some fluids and a little dinner. Much to my surprise, this was the first meal in some time that I had actually got down with out incident and except for being exhausted, I felt quite content. Maybe things were turning a little my way. This was my first night staying a c2, and most people on their first night at 24000ft, don't sleep at all....  its typically a fairly rough night of trying to breath. I was feeling pretty good though, no headache, no alt symptoms and quite relaxed, although exhausted. As I crawled in my -40 degree bag, I was  actually looking forward to a good nights sleep, completely unaware of the   horror that was about to be unleashed. It was about 7pm when we turned in for the night. A little before midnight, I woke to strong winds on the tent  and a developing storm as well as an extremely uncomfortable feeling  throughout my entire body. I lay there for maybe a minute or so trying to  diagnosis the nature of the discomfort when instantaneously it hit. The  beast had reared its ugly head and my body went into complete and utter  meltdown. I was barely able to escape my bag and tent luckily as my body began to literally explode from every orifice....simultaneously, the most explosive diarrhea, severe vomiting, total loss of bladder control... my nose was bleeding and my body was completely convulsing and panic began to set in. I had no idea what was happening and it came on so fast and violently that I simply could not comprehend it all. It was so unbelievable, you can't even begin to imagine. Now, were this to happen in the security of ones own home, other than being somewhat messy, it would be a rather scary thing, but you would indeed be in the safety of your own house and could certainly call a dr the next morning. Now, imagine yourself at over 24000 feet on a mountain in the middle of the Himalayas, hundreds of miles from absolutely nowhere, its pitch black and you are in a campsite, carved into the face of a snow cliff where one mis-step and you are looking at a several thousand food fall. Its extremely cold, probably 20 below, the winds are howling and a storm is quickly developing and you are in a pair of down booties and long underwear holding on for dear life while your body goes through meltdown in front of you. Many emotions come to mind at a time like this and fright does not even begin to describe the fear, desperation and isolation that I was beginning to feel. Not a lot of things scare me in life, but I was getting a little nervous here. Before long, round 1 had passed and I was able to make it slowly back to my tent, more than a little stirred. About 1am, BOOM, round 2 struck with just as much ferocity as the first, only this time, both the weather and myself were much colder, and I was much weaker. Before the sun rose  over the backside of the mtn, I would have 4 more bouts until there was absolutely nothing left for my body to purge and I was utterly trashed. I must have lost 10-15 lbs just through the course of the evening and dehydration does not even begin to describe the state I was in.

Let me explain a little about dehydration at altitude. The standard for hi alt mountaineering is that you drink minimally 1 gallon and preferable 2 gallons of water per day with NO exceptions. The air is so unbelievably dry and cold, it literally sucks the moisture out of your body in the form of water vapor. Improper hydration will almost immediately lead to alt sickness, frost bite, pulmonary edema and eventually death. Other than avalanches and falling, there are few greater risks to a climber at hi alt than dehydration. By morning the state of my body was extreme dehydration and anything I tried to put in came right back out with the same ferocity of the previous evening. I felt that the death certificate was being drawn up and waiting for signature.

Now, believe it or not, climbing big mountains is not about summits.  Its really about not giving up. Even when every ounce of your body, mind and soul are begging you to throw in the towel, its about 10 more steps, 10 more feet, 5 more minutes, and if you can consistently repel the urge to quit, then every now and then you will stand on top, and there was no way I was throwing in the towel on this. Roger Babson, the founder of my alma mater used to say, "bite off more than you can chew and then chew it". This has been something that I have always tried to live my life by and I think that many who know me know that I have been fairly successful if not lucky with this strategy, even if some of those "bites" have been somewhat foolhardy, this climb perhaps not excluded. But I've always managed to get through it and win. This time I had a bad feeling that I might actually choke on my own ambition. I have always believed that no mountain is worth dying for...not even losing fingers and toes. You avoid the overly risky situations and turn around when the deck is stacked against you, and live to climb another day. But when a situation like this comes at you out of left field and hits you like a freight train on a part of the mountain that is very difficult to escape from, there is no avoiding.... there is only dealing. The risk has been realized and you are now playing by its rules and on its terms. Suddenly, the thought of a icy grave on the side of a very cold mountain is a very real possibility and you really begin to question your original motives and goals for climbing this crazy peak and what’s really important in life. Ambition is a very selfish thing. All I wanted in the world was to be somewhere else at that time....someplace warm....and healthy.  But I wasn't, I was at 24000 feet on the side of a very big mountain, with some very difficult terrain between me and the safety of base camp and a hell of a storm kicking up. My immediate need was to descend and right now it was not possible. The storm raged through out the day while I apparently (according to my team mates) slipped in and out of consciousness. Between exhaustion and dehydration I was pretty incoherent. They tried to get some fluids into me, but I refused, there was no way I was going back out into that storm for another bout, not in these conditions or in my condition.  Unfortunately, with all the various carries, one of the sherpas had mistakenly taken the med kit up to c3 already, so there was no Imodium. That would have at least allowed me to keep some fluids in.  It was late in the day and the storm was showing no signs of subsiding and I was beginning to realize that I would be graced with another night at c2. At an elevation of 24000 ft, my condition was deteriorating fast. I feared that if we were not able to get out the next morning, that I'd be making the same radio patch, sat phone call that Rob Hall made from the Hillary Step in Into Thin Air where he said his good-byes. I wasn't looking forward to this, but was beginning to think   that it could become a reality.

That night was brutal....it was cold, and I was even colder with little in me to generate heat. Even in a -40 degree bag, my entire body was shivering.  Sleep seemed non existent that night, merely praying for the morning and sun to arrive. The winds pounded the tent pretty much until sunrise, when, amazingly, the storm cleared. With the clearing, came ever colder temps, but that was ok, because the storm had been mostly hi winds and not dropped that much snow luckily (especially because c2 is in an avalanche zone). Although I hadn't eaten or taken fluids now in nearly 2 days, I actually felt a little more coherent. I think the brain had taken over and said we're getting the hell out of dodge. The day was long and extremely arduous. The technical sections which I had been flashing earlier, were now substantial obstacles, but I was able to rappel the more difficult ones while very carefully down climbing others. By late afternoon, we were in c1, for a temp stop to rest and by late that night back in abc....thank God. You can't even begin to imagine how empty I felt.   There was absolutely nothing left either in or of me. Three weeks of hard pushing in a environment of deterioration, not eating for nearly 10 days and finally the ultimate bodily meltdown. I was an empty shell of my former self. This mtn was definitely taking its toll in flesh. When I left Chicago, I was 186 lbs. After a day back in abc, we used one of the scales used to measure loads for the yak herders to weigh my self.....I was down to 150 lbs: 30+ lbs in a matter of weeks. If I could figure out a way to market this diet, I would be a millionaire (although I don't think anyone would like the side effects). Anyway, once down, I visited the team dr and we tried a new antibiotic. I asked for alot of it and began to take it like candy.   There was now way I was going to let a parasite kill my chances on this mtn. I would plan to take 3-4 days rest pumping as much fluids as I could hold and trying to eat at much as I could to get some strength back, and then re-ascend. As traumatic as this was, assuming that I could regain some strength, I wouldn't be that far behind the rest of the team. They might have a few more days at alt, and a few more carries high, but now that I know that what I was suffering was not alt symptoms, I'm thinking that I have actually been acclimatizing fairly well. Climbing siege style is about time, and I think I still have enough. Now, granted, if you had asked me my intentions back at c2, I was probably pretty close to tossing it all in, but back here at lower altitude, its pretty easy to rationalize away the severity of the situation above. But like I said, its not about summits, its about not giving up, and that becomes the standard by which all else is measured.

Several days of rest and I was ready to head back to the upper flanks of the mtn, the situation now behind me. My team had moved higher the day before me (I took on extra rest day) and I headed for c1 with a lg load. What I did not know, but was about to find out was that antibiotics do now work well at hi alt. There is not enough o2 for them to do their job. I made good time to c1, but felt a little tired the next day. Deciding that it was probably not too prudent to push it, I took a rest day at c1 planning to go to c2 the next day, which I did. Made decent time, certainly better than the day before the bout, but felt quite tired still. Had a bit of a rough night sleeping there, breathing was very stressed, but just before sunrise, BOOM, round 2.  It hit again....unbelievable. This thing inside of me just wouldn’t die. The bout wasn't nearly as bad as the previous sets, but there was no way in hell I was going to stay around to see if they got worse. I had some strength right now and there was now way I was going back down the technical sections in the same state I was in before, so I packed up and immediately headed down. Next day, back to the meds.  This was beginning to get a little ridiculous and we needed to end it.  I saw the dr and we tried something called tinabar or tinzabar which is illegal in the states and in Europe, but is supposed to kill literally everything in the body, parasites, amoebas, ghiardia, everything including even the good stuff. At this point I didn't care. Get rid of it all. Two more days rest here in abc and I will be ready, hopefully, for another push higher on the mountain. Right now my immediate goal is c3. I know I have enough strength to get there, and I will make a decision about the summit after we hit that goal. As with everything else in life, setting and reaching interim goals is vital. You don't enter a sales cycle working on a close (unless you're Chris Powell or Bill Bowen) and you don't step on a big mountain trying for the summit the first day. You set intermediate goals and you hit them.  No exceptions. 

The first team on the mtn made the summit yesterday in a 15 hour round trip push from c3, and it apparently took quite a bit out of them.  Personally, I am not sure how much I have left to give having lost 30+ lbs already, but we're gonna give it a hell of a shot.

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End Part 2

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