Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Maggie's Blog on the last full day at Base Camp

Corrections column: I am told we can still see Dhaulagiri mountain – it is a small, insignificant looking, rounded summit in the distance, looking tiny in comparison to Tachoochi, our nearest  real peak.

Also, Doug says his blood cell centrifuge is NOT power hungry; it is another research project which uses most of the power.

Final day at Hidden Valley Base Camp: Researchers are now rounding up the few volunteers who have yet to complete the programme, including people who were too exhausted on arrival to complete even the so-called ‘sub-maximal’ step test. It’s another bright sunny day and we are sharing binoculars to watch the large party attempting the summit of Damphus. They were woken at 3.30am, with breakfast at 4pm, because the previous day’s party returned dangerously near to sunset, and the sherpas are keen to avoid walking in the dark, which slows everything and increases the risk of hypothermia. A couple of today’s party returned at 5am, having become so breathless that they realised they would not make it. We are existing here on half the amount of oxygen we have at sea level, and many people find themselves taking an involuntary gasp every so often, a phenomenon known as periodic breathing – something that Chris Wolff is investigating.

 James Anholm and Bhavini, from Santa Barbara, USA, are coping admirably with the low temperatures, investigating with Doppler echo equipment what happens to the blood supply to the lung at altitude. Volunteers are given either a drug called Iloprost, or a placebo, and then measured on a sort of exercise bicycle called an ergometer, which has been carried here by our incredibly strong and dextrous porters.

 We have been fraternising with Slovenian mountaineers nearby, thanks to our Slovenian member Petra, from Bovec near the Julian Alps. Doug’s helpers Sven and Jenny also made contact with a nearby German and Austrian group attempting Tachoochi.

 They were involved in our latest medical drama, in which we provided emergency help for one of their cooks suffering the life-threatening condition High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (Hape). He was put into our Gamow bag, with someone pumping oxygen to stabilise him. He was carried over Damphus pass and down towards our final destination, Jomsom, where we hope he has recovered. Sadly, this is a common problem, with some trekking agencies supplying cooks and porters from low-level regions who are asked to climb too high too quickly.

 Tomorrow we will ascend 250m to Damphus pass and descend rapidly to Yak Kharka, so-called because it is summer grazing ground for yaks. We hope it will be warmer and that we will get a big buzz from the extra oxygen.

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