Day 11 – Different mountain, Same outcome

the descent

Altitude – 4300m

Weather – ‘its raining again’ Supertramp

Well I must say I wasn’t expecting 36 hours of absolute misery, especially after an excellent amount of time trekking to improve acclimatization. But there you have it – my body was not meant to travel above 4000m. I started to get a headache at the 3600m camp, which progressed steadily through the day yesterday until when I arrived at the 4300m lodge I knew I was in deep trouble.

What is so fascinating though is that as part of the science [our program in collaboration with the Montreal Heart Institute led by Michel White] to better understand why some people acclimatize well and others don’t, we had used oximeters for almost 36 hours; through the night at 3600m and then through the day while climbing and again throughout the night at 4300m. I made for an excellent guinea pig. The most interesting part of all was that my oxygen saturations fell to the low 70’s overnight and for whatever reason my heart rate did not respond normally, it stayed in the 50’s and 60’s. Normally that degree of hypoxia should have stimulated a big increase in heart rate to try to improve oxygen delivery to my tissues. During exercise, during the climb, my oxygen saturations fell into the 60’s. The same low oxygen saturation and inappropriately low heart rate repeated itself overnight at 4300m. I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the oximeter reading a saturation of 74% and a heart rate 56 at rest. I mean really what’s up with that? So while I felt miserable, I provided great data to try to come to a better understanding of why, perhaps, some people do not do well with altitude.

Needless to say I came off the mountain. Even more amazing is yet again Dale was by my side. He once again turned away his opportunity to go higher and further to make sure I arrived in Lukla safely. We started a 7 hour trek – up 300m (that hurt) and then down 1700m to Lukla. We arrived safe and sound in Lukla and actually met up with Charles who was still waiting to get out of Lukla by plane [no flights because of the monsoon]. What can be said about Dale other than he is a most amazing individual. He is an inspiration to all transplant recipients and those waiting, I believe there is nothing he can’t accomplish and yet he continues to put other peoples safety (e.g. me) ahead of his own goals. He acclimatized very well and I have no doubt whatsoever that had the weather been reasonable, and I had not been present on the trek with Acute Mountain Sickness as an obstacle, he would have summited Mera.

On the way down from the pass we stopped off at the local Lukla hospital and donated all of our XS meds – including Viagra (happy Sherpa’s). I had met a young woman and her baby 3 days previously. The baby had a severe skin infection extending into her ear. We did not have the right meds to treat her so I gave her money and asked her to promise {on Buddha} to take her daughter to the Lukla hospital. Serendipitously there she was when we came through! I spoke to the staff at the hospital and explained why I had sent her in. They were also quite worried given the location/type of infection and the risk that it may have caused meningitis. A clinic visit costs 50 rupees about 80 cents. Her daughter will receive the care she needs. That in itself made the trip worthwhile.

All’s well in Lukla – we even managed to have the locals watch us play pool last night! We found a place that made fresh cut fries? Can you believe it? Perhaps it was just 2 weeks of camp food but man they were good. We went to the Lukla airport this morning in the hopes that our flight would come in. They use twin Otters and have to be able to see both the runway (sloped down at an alarming degree, very very short, with a 1000 foot fall off at the end) and the mountains (alarmingly close). Charles had spent the entire day before at the airport in the hopes of getting out but no such luck. We watched 8 flights come and go as the clouds slowly moved in, then finally our flight came in. They emptied the 18 seater of people and luggage and reloaded for takeoff in under 7 minutes (Air Canada – take that!). We arrived in Kathmandu to 34 degree weather and now must make the rest of the 5 flights to get home- it will take some time.

The Montreal Heart Institute team has decided to press on to Mera despite the weather which has been getting steadily and steadily worse. We spoke to some climbers who had come down off Lhotse (>8000m peak) who said that when you’re high in the mountains you are above the clouds, so we can only hope for good weather, success and most importantly the safe return of the MHI group…..but clearly things are getting tougher. In truth the weather is so bad now that you can’t even be sure you’re not hiking in Scotland. The MHI group has a satellite phone and email access and will provide updates directly to individuals/loved ones.

Thanks for following along and for all of your comments, which were wonderful to read while the tents surfed away in the storm. IWD thanks for the equipment and satellite phone to make the blog possible; PS you were right. I must also thank Hark for all his technical support. Jason Chiu with the foundation is the poor sod who got up early, weekends included, in order to get the blog loaded – thanks Jason!!!!!

Mom I promise I am done with high adventure. The next testyourlimits adventure will be much closer to earth – guaranteed!! Stay Tuned……..


Lukla airport
nightlife in Lukla

15 Replies to “Day 11 – Different mountain, Same outcome”

  1. Why did I mention that yesterday?? Why?? I made sure I have updated the whole team… So, come back soon! Weather is amazing here for running, biking, swimming.. Maybe you can do triathlon now.. Stop climibing 😛

    Peace xx

  2. Dr. Ross and team,
    We have followed your journey every day. What has been most inspring for me is the grace and kindness your team has reflected in the face of set-backs. Your amazing journey reminds me to look at our own day-to-day set-backs a little differently. Funny, how one never knows where inspriration will come from…sometimes it is in not climbing the highest mountain that we gain the greatest wisdom. Safe journey home to you and your colleagues.

  3. Did somebody say you should do a triathlon? Well, I have one for you!

    Can’t wait

    WAy to go–remember “be the person your dog thinks you are”

    love Suneet

  4. Heather I’m sad and sorry that this happened to you again. You can’t do more than push yourself to this limit. We want you around for a long time yet. Maybe the next adventure should be something easy and simple like kayaking the Nile River from end to end?! Have a safe trip home. Good luck to the rest of the team as they slog on in dreadful weather. A little more information for you. When we flew in and out of Lukla (1999), it was a dirt runway. Great pic you took as it is today. Thanks for this. When you have a bit of time I’d like the hear the whole story. Love and best wishes to all.

  5. I doubt you’re home yet; so the journey’s not over, but thanks for a great trip. Good luck to those carrying on, but I don’t think the blog goes with them.

  6. Hi Heather,
    Sorry you were not able to complete the full journey, but it seems you have many experiences to take home with you. Please let us know on this blog when you arrive home safely, and if you can, update us on how the rest of the journey went for the others, when you hear from them.

  7. Dale, Heather, Yannick and Team
    Happy to hear you are safe and sound. True success is living to tell the story. Good on Ya!!
    Dave Stark

  8. H,
    Better late than never.. I guess!!!!
    Haven’t been able to sign on the site… Just found out from my I/T department , an insecure something or other..
    Anyhow, just letting you know how proud I am of you and the team, and Dale just keeps on amazing everyone…
    I’m sure you will now embark on yet another journey… maybe not mountains but some other crazy high intensity adventure.. it’s in your DNA
    All for an amazing cause !
    Come home… you never cease to inspire!!
    Ciao bella.

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