My climbing companion and friend and his dream...For the last several weeks now I have been checking the newsroom page on the Mountain Madness website, following the efforts of the 2007 Everest expedition because one of my favorite climbers and my friend and partner happens to be on that expedition. I have recieved emails from him as well and I can only say, it has been one hell of an ordeal for him.
This is a guy that summited Aconcagua back in December and followed that up with Pico De Orizaba. This is a guy that biked Trail Ridge Road from Granby, all the way to Loveland in a little over 7 hours of peddaling time. He is a triathlete and a great climber with about 30 ascents of Rainier with several of them being solo. He never ceases to impress me so in light of all that is going on in his life right now I had to make a tribute to him and the rest of his expedition team and here it is!
The pics that I will post will be hosted and should there be any contraversy for me posting them I will remove this article in respect of the staff at Mountain Madness and the people who took the photos. Thank you for the great pics guys!
My friend Brian Smith has been in Nepal since mid March and is now, as of the latest dispatch from mountainmadness.com with Willie Benegas and Tendi Sherpa and Jaime Laidlaw preparing for a summit push from Camp III in the next few hours or so. I am on the edge of my damn chair and checking the newsroom constantly! This will be the second summit for Willie and Tendi this season. That is just amazing that they are so strong!
This shot was taken by Brian from somewhere near the Khumbu Icefall. Thank you Brian.
My friend Brian and one of the amazing sherpas that made the Rocky Mountain News on 5/17/07 after a successful summit. CORRECTION!6/1/07 This Sherpa was not on the "Super Sherpa Expedition" for thoe of you readers who read the article. Sorry.
A shot of the climbers on the Lhotse Face.
In the first few weeks of the climb my friend developed the "Khumbu Cough" along with some others. This is due to the extremely dry air and the exertion they are put to while climbing so high. Also, the fact that there is very little oxygen up there is a huge factor. By the time he had reached Camp III at 23,200 feet and descended back down to Camp II in the acclimitization process he developed HAPE or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. He almost died in his tent that night. It took everthing he had just to get his boots on while he was violently coughing and his lungs were filling up with blood plasma. Luckily, his Sherpa(s) had found a bottle of oxygen in one of the other camps and an ancient looking mask and got him going on 3 litres a minute. Had that not happened, he probably would not have made it.
This self-portrait was taken after they had found the oxygen and it really puts things into perspective. The look in his eyes and the fact that they are as big as they are speaks for itself.
This was taken the next morning and you can see that the mask is still on to help him with the descent.
After returning to Basecamp and getting medical attention he was advised to descend lower and ended up spending a few days at around 11,000 feet. The oxygen-rich air helped him make a full recovery and he has since returned to Basecamp and is at Camp III this moment and possibly on the summit push.
I recieved this email from him on May 8th and he describes his ordeal with HAPE.
Since a lot of people wonder what it is like to have HAPE, and since few non climbers or non medical people even understand HAPE/HACE, I will write up what the experience was like.
I have read a few books on high altitude medicine as well as now have first hand experience of HAPE. HAPE kills more people at high altitude then any other altitude related sickness. Up to 15% of HAPE victims die within the first few hours.
HAPE is basically caused by the lungs straining so hard in thin air to pull oxygen out of the air that the blood vessels in the lung walls begin to leak blood plasma into the lungs. Once the lungs are filled with blood plasma the HAPE victim goes into cardiovascular collapse and dies. The person essentially drowns in their own blood plasma.
At camp III at 23,200 feet I was breathing 41% oxygen then at sea level. Back at camp II I was at 21,200 feet and still breathing less then 50% oxygen.
Drowning has to be one of the worst ways to die. Slowly drowning in your own blood plasma is far worse then drowning in water as the suffering lasts for hours rather then minutes. At one point I was begging God to either take my life or heal my lungs. I could not stand the suffering from suffocation, violent coughing spasms and constantly vomiting huge amounts of sputum out of my lungs any longer. It was at that point that I was able to get my boots and down puffy on and stumble out of the tent in search of an oxygen bottle.
I am not sure what kicked off my HAPE, but I was tired from a long day climbing and rappelling the Lhotse Face as well as dehydrated. I had been coughing for almost a month. All of those factors probably kicked it off. Most people develop HAPE during the night as I did after a tiring day.
When I started this final climbing trip I was less then 100% of my normal strength and speed. At one point Willie told me that my mission was to survive this trip and then recover for my summit bid. I survived it but I am sure that was not what Willie had in mind...
Several days earlier I had climbed from base camp up to camp II. I was slow. It took me 8 hours to reach camp II. I climbed alone that day and was the last to leave base camp. The Norwegians Bjorn and Eirik left base camp around 5am. I didn't get going until about 7:30am. As usual Eric was a rocket. He waited for me at camp I where we had a snack together and then he shot up to camp II while I drug myself on alone. Willie stayed in base camp for another day recovering from his earlier trip to camp II to get Dawa Sherpa.
My trip through the ice fall was bad. Diarrhea hit me part way through. It is tiring enough climbing the ice fall, but having to undress, get out of your harness and do your business while other climbers pass you on the fixed ropes is no fun at all. That stop cost me about 25 minutes and a lot of energy undressing and re-dressing.
When I reached camp II later in the day I was hit again by diarrhea except it was about -10F the next time I had to do my biz on the side of the trail into a crevasse.
We rested the following day. I spent most of the day laying in my tent feeling really tired. I was having a lot of trouble eating anything and had no appetite at all. I dozed on and off during the day in my sleeping bag but did not sleep well at night.
On our third day we arose early and headed up the Lhotse Face. Eric and I roped together up to the Lhotse Face. Willie had arrived at camp II the day before and roped in with Eirik and Bjorn for a 3 man rope team. I was definitely slowing Eric down as he was constantly pulling on the rope that was attached to my harness. We reached the base of the Lhotse Face about 10 minutes after Willie and the Norwegians. They rested a minute and headed up the face. I told them to leave me. I would climb alone after taking a break and drinking a liter of warm sports drink and a GU before I started up the face.
I was the last climber to head up the Lhotse Face that day. I was behind a few other slow climbers on the ropes. One of the guys had a perfect slow pace so I stayed behind him. I actually passed a couple other climbers were were slower and more tired then I was before I reached the tents at lower camp III at just over 7000 meters in elevation.
Undi and Tindi were on their way down so I rappelled between them to the bottom. The Lhotse Face is a steep hard glacial ice face 5000 vertical feet high. The angle varies from 45-70 degrees in steepness. I slipped and fell on the face a couple times and slid down the rope a little ways. Each slip caused me to get stressed out and breathe rapidly. We trudged on down to camp II from the bottom of the Lhotse Face across the glacier arriving at camp II about 4pm.
I ate a big plate of DhalBhat at 4pm and was really happy about getting it down. I then retired to my tent where I coughed and dozed until 8pm when I got up and had a big bowl of Sherpa Stew and was again pleased with how much I had eaten.
I was to rest the next day and then the following day I would climb back up to camp III to sleep without oxygen before descending back to base camp.
I could not get to sleep and continued coughing pretty violently until about 11pm when I was suddenly totally suffocating. I sat up with a start and could then breathe in shallow breaths. I was totally exhausted at this point and could not hold myself up. I fell back down onto my back where I was suffocating once again. The suffocation is caused because I had so much blood plasma in my lungs at this point that when I was laying down in was all across my lungs, but when I sat up it pooled at the bottom of my lungs allowing me to breathe a little once again.
Once I sat up again I was gasping and coughing violently again. I am guessing that I was gasping with 60-70 breaths per minute. One per second or more. I was panting like a dog on a hot day. My coughing turned into violent vomiting. So much for my two big meals. It all went out the tent door into the -10F chilly night air. Then the sputum started. I would cough up huge amounts of sputum out of my lungs. Most of that landed back on my chest or sometimes it shot all the way out and landed on my knees.
Then the crackling rails started. Every time any air went in or out of my lungs it sounded like Rice Crispies were going to boil out of my throat. As the rails intensified, I knew that I had a bad case of HAPE going and was going to die within a few hours if I did not do something about it.
I began to yell "UNDI, TINDI, MYLA. ARE THERE ANY MOUNTAIN MADNESS SHERPA'S HERE TO HELP ME??? THIS IS BRIAN. I HAVE HAPE, CAN'T BREATHE AND NEED HELP!!!"
The Sherpa's must be deep sleepers. Nobody stirred in camp. I started to pass out and each time I fell over I would waken with a start with more violent coughing and suffocating. I was so tired. I gathered everything I could in the tent to build a wall around myself to keep myself upright. I had 3 packs, my down puffy and anything else miscellaneous that I could find but I kept falling over and couldn't breathe. I tried leaning against the tent wall but I just slid down the side and fell over once again and stopped breathing.
Since I was totally exhausted and had no energy I could no longer keep my sleeping bag on more then my legs as I coughed, vomited more and choked on my sputum. My down puffy was somewhere behind me but I could not find the energy to get it on. I sat up in just a light and heavy weight poly pro shirt with the temperature reading -10F inside the tent. I didn't care if I died from hypothermia or HAPE at that point, please just stop the suffering!!!!
It was now reading 1am on my watch. I felt like I had been choking for 10 years. The night had turned endless. I then knew that to survive I had to get up and find oxygen. There are 3 ways to stop HAPE. The first is descent of a couple thousand feet. I was in a bad place. Camp II is almost 4000 feet above base camp. It was the middle of the night with the treacherous Khumbu Ice fall between my descent and me. That was not going to work. I didn't think I could walk far anyway.
Then next option is the Gammow (pronounced Gammoff) bag. A hyperbaric chamber that tricks the lungs and body into thinking that it has descended a couple thousand feet. Since I could not lie down, the thought of crawling into a small inflatable tube on my back sent waves of panic through me. That was not going to happen.
The last option is to breathe oxygen. I had seen a dozen or so oxygen bottles sitting in the mess tent so I knew we had O2 at camp II.
I spent about 15 minutes struggling to get my boots on. The liners were at the bottom of my sleeping bag. It took a herculean effort to drag them out and stuff them into my hard outer boot shells. Finally I got the boots put together but I did not have the strength to actually stuff my feet inside. I kept working at it. Finally one boot on. Two sets of boot laces and my gator zipped up. Wow I did it. I am half way there. The second boot was an even bigger struggle. I had to take breaks for more coughing and vomiting fits as I worked on my boots. My hands were totally numb. Where are those gloves??? I gave up on finding them as I struggled to get my down parka on and crawl out of the tent. Once standing I stuffed my hands in my pockets and stumbled through camp in search of my Sherpa's.
After banging on a couple tents yelling for Undi, I finally found his tent. He poked his head out to see what was up. Undi does not speak a lot of English. I told him I had HAPE. He just stared back. I was not sure if he was just tired or didn't understand so I said "my lungs are full of water Undi. I can't breathe!!! I need oxygen now!!" I then stood there panting into the frozen night air as another violent coughing wave overtook me and I doubled over. Finally Undi said "oxygen yes but no mask." All of our masks and regulators were either at camp III or base, I am not sure which camp they were in. I re-emphasised that I needed oxygen one way or another right away. Undi told me to wait while he went to get Tindi up. I saw them disappear into the other camps so I knew they were hunting for a mask.
I stood in the sub zero air at 21,200 feet for probably 30 minutes swaying around, gasping for air and panting as I waited for Undi and Tindi. I looked around and realized it was a full moon and that I could see Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse perfectly from where I stood under the moonlight in their shadows. The view under any other circumstances would have been amazing. I tried to enjoy it between coughing spasms. My lungs were really crackling.
Finally Undi and Tindi came back and took me into the mess tent where they fitted an old mask they had come up with with and a bottle and then I drug myself back into my tent. Undi came in with me along with his mat and sleeping bag. They put the mask on me, turned it up to about 1 liter per minute and got me into my bag after helping me get my boot shells off. I was still in my down parka. Suddenly the oxygen took effect and I could breathe!!! Oh sweet oxygen, God's gift. My coughing stopped almost instantly, the blood plasma drained back into my system from my lungs, I could lay down on my back and then a couple hot water bottles were slid into my bag by Tindi. All of this was so great that I passed out almost immediately into a deep sleep. It was about 2 am at this point.
In the morning I got up around 8am to talk to Willie on the radio and give him and update. He wanted me to head down immediately. I got off O's for a few minutes to eat some breakfast and drink some tea. My system had nothing in it and I was badly dehydrated. I drank and ate some porridge before Tindi helped me pack up my gear. I knew my trip was probably over so we packed all my gear from camp II which filled my large pack. Tindi carried it while I carried my smaller pack with an my O2 bottle flowing at 3 liters per minute.
We made good time down to camp I in an hour and 14 minutes. O2 gave me tons of energy. Then we took a break at camp I before descending on down the ice fall. In all it took me about 5 hours to reach base from camp II. Not bad for a guy that was dying only 8 hours before that...
Willie and Eric caught up to us just below the soccer field about half way down the ice fall. I led the way with Undi bringing up the rear. Once at base camp I sat in the mess tent recovering with hot drinks for my trip to the ER. Willie carried my pack over. I was laid down in a cot, stuffed in my sleeping bag and had my vitals observed on and off O2 while the BBC filmed me. I was getting to know the Dr's Suzanne from Scotland and Ola from Canada quite well by this point after constantly visiting them looking for relief for my Khumbu cough over the past month. After a few hours in the ER tent and on my 3rd bottle of O2 they sent me back to camp where I was put into Willie's tent for the evening and night on my 4th bottle of O2. Willie slept in the mess tent so that he could check on me regularly throughout the night.
My treatment consisted of Viagra every 6 hours for about 3 days. This is fairly new I guess. The Viagra gave me the worst heartburn. I also took one 250 mg Diamox twice a day to boost my oxygen saturation as well as 4 puffs a day on an Advaire disk which is a lung steroid.
After a couple days of treatment I had recovered well enough to descend to Namche where I currently reside awaiting my hopeful hike back to base camp and bid for the summit.
I hope that I never experience HAPE again. It had to have been the worst night of my life.
Amazing story huh? I am really proud to have such an outstanding friend that is so strong that even after all of that, he will still go back for another attempt at 29,029 feet! I do believe he will summit in the next day and you can keep up with the news by going to the mountainmadness.com newsroom.
This is what it looks like on the Lhotse Face. STEEP!
Another amazing shot from high up on the mountain!
I almost forgot, this is a shot taken by Willie Benegas, the expedition leader and now 6 time and possibly soon-to-be 7 time Everest summiteer. Theis was coming straight down on them in the first couple weeks of the climb while they were in the Khumbu Icefall.
This is another shot taken seconds later from within. I cannot imagine what it feels like to survive this!
I just want to say thanks for the emails Brian. Thanks to Mountain Madness for the dispatches and thanks to all of the people that submitted pictures from the rootop of the world. Anyone interested in the success of my friend on his summit bid can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out my blog at http://blog.myspace.com/michaelprice1275
I just wanted to update here and let everyone know that my good friend set medical history by summiting 3 weeks after having High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. He summited along with Willie Benegas, a world-class climber. This was Willies second summit in the same season and, one week after his first!! He is tied with Pete Athans, the only other Westerner with seven summits of the worlds highest peak! That is amazing. The sherpa Tendi Sherpa also had a second summit on the same day. This is probably not that phenominal considering he is a sherpa and all. But, good work for sure.
They made the summit in only 5 hours and 45 minutes! Most climbers need around 12 and good climbers usually take 9! They made the trip from South Col and back in 8 hours and most climbers take 17!! Amazing! They tried to take a break to have possible daylight while on the summit but they got too cold in the snow feature they found after the Balcony and decided it was best to keep climbing to avoid frostbite and hypothermia. I have several amazing pics but I am not sure I am ready to share them yet! LOL