Last night was an overly exciting adventure. Unfortunately I awoke at 1am with high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). We had an oximeter because we wanted to keep track of Dale’s status. My oxygen saturation on awakening was reading 40% – sitting up and deep breathing brought it to 70%. Barry had exchanged places with Pat and slept in my tent as I had not been feeling well after descending from the summit attempt. I was sick to my stomach and had very little for supper. He woke up, watched my breathing pattern and picked up the oximeter from Pat. “You must go down the mountain, NOW”. He gave me 250 diamox and 25 of Viagra. The camp was mobilized – Dale and Barry packed up one tent, their gear and my essential gear and at 3am we started out. At
this point the Viagra had started to work and my oxygen saturation had increased to 91, though I still felt very short of breath on exertion. We had to descend the headwall, and I had to walk it. Stalwart Barry shortroped me down the headwall with Dale leading the way – the patient became the rescuer.
We arrived at Camp 1 after about 4 hours. I crashed in an ALES tent (they’re the company that organizes Antarctic expeditions) and they had sent one of their guides up from base camp with oxygen. Despite some improvement early on my saturation started to drop again into the 70’s and Barry arranged for me to get down to base camp (more Viagra and diamox). Dave (an ALES guide) and Barry took me to corner camp, while Dale set up Camp 1 for the rest of the team that would be descending later. At Corner Camp I was met by another ALES guide (Alti) and strapped on some skis to make the final descent to Base Camp.
Along the way I met the team that originally went up Vinson 40 year’s ago – I was so exited to meet them, and they were more worried about my HAPE; information that had spread like wildfire through the different camps. In Base Camp I was able to immediately board a Twin Otter and came back to Patriot Hills. Dr. John Apps reviewed my case and I am happy to report that apart from some residual crackles and wheezes I am just fine.
Meanwhile the rest of the team is at Camp 1. They will be descending the remainder of the mountain tomorrow and weather permitting back here in Patriot Hills tomorrow evening.
This has really been an incredible journey both personally and professionally. The idea started 2 years ago and has involved a large number of people and I would like to take this opportunity to thank a few of them.
Mr. Ian Delaney, present since the beginning when the decision to come to Antarctica was made, who by the way was incredible on the mountain climbing to a personal best of 3800m at Summit Camp and giving a valiant effort to climb the last leg, funded this expedition and also was critical in the fundraising for the Heart Failure and Transplant Program at Toronto General Hospital. He climbed the headwall with a fully loaded pack negotiating crevasses (I am sure similar to what he does at work) and never complained or asked for special treatment.
Barry Blanchard, a legendary Canadian climber with numerous first ascents who was crucial for the team, but also for me personally during these last 24 hours.
Dave Stark, the safety expert with Yamnuska guiding company and I am happy to report we are all safely off the most difficult sections of the mountain.
Both Dave and Barry are wonderful, entertaining professionals who I would climb with again any time any place.
Pat Murphy, a rock on the mountain, always positive and upbeat and another woman to share some unique female aspects of mountaineering.
Yanick, for his delight in drama and ability to carry a camera anywhere.
The Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation who’s members have been willing at all times of day/night to assist in every way possible and I must thank all – but especially Stuart and Krista. Alex R has made all of our wishes come true with media exposure for the trip – Alex you rock!
Lina Chiodo for her fundraising and general support – bella with great thanks.
Gary Levy for his undaunting support.
But mostly I want to thank Dale for being the best ambassador a woman could ask for to raise awareness for organ donation and transplantation. As we stood so close to the top that Dale, who was feeling strong, could easily have made it, never suggested that he go on without the team he said he was so happy with what had already been accomplished – he is truly a team player. I enjoyed becoming close friends with Dale and seeing the look in his eyes as he helped in my rescue last night. He and all my many other
patients, who they are and what they do, are what I love about my job.
Thank you to all who read the blog and left us comments. Imagine if you will -30, in your tent with me calling out the blogs to everyone and all of us sharing and laughing, at the stories. It really helped us stay connected with home and also build our team spirit.
I do promise to update re: flights as there remains a diminishingly small chance we will be home for Christmas – but the official blog is now over. As Aaron Knox said – everyone out there please – “live life, test your limits, climb a mountain”.
Heather Ross (me) and Dale Shippam, near the summit of Mt. Vinson Massif.