NOVA Team Prepares for Summit Attempt
May 1, 1997
By Liesl Clark
The NOVA climbers—David Breashears, Jangbu Sherpa, Ed Viesturs, David Carter, and Pete
Athans—are all at Base Camp today, resting before they make an attempt on the summit.
Reports came in today that there will be high winds at the summit of Everest (29,028 feet)
for the next 6 days. These 50-70 mph winds would make a summit attempt very difficult, which
is why the climbers have a day to rest before leaving for their 5-6 day climb to the summit.
Ed Viesturs, who is guiding for a New Zealand Expedition, will be climbing with supplementary
oxygen because he is a guide. One of his clients is Tashi Tenzing, Tenzing Norgay's grandson.
Although Ed has summited Everest twice without oxygen and has proven to function well without
bottled oxygen, he believes that it is important to climb with supplementary oxygen when
guiding: "The theory is that when you're guiding with oxygen, you're more mentally alert,
you're warmer. Typically, when you're guiding you're going quite slowly simply because the
clients are going at a normal, average pace. To go at that speed, at that altitude you need
to stay warmer so oxygen provides you with the warmth, it provides you with a little bit more
mental acuity. It's a safety factor when you're guiding to be using oxygen."
Meanwhile, expedition Doctor Howard Donner arrived two days ago at Base Camp and has been
conducting more neuro-behavioral tests on the climbers before they begin their final ascent.
He has also listened to their lungs for any evidence of fluid, looked for signs of retinal
hemmorhage, and collected ongoing vital signs (pulse, respiratory rates) and arterial oxygen
saturation. "They all look like they're in great shape for the altitude," says Donner.
"In fact, they all look a little fatter and happier than I expected them to be at this
point. The ubiquitous Khumbu cough seems to be affecting all of them to some degree,
but their arterial saturations and lung auscultation (breathing sounds) show their
lungs to be in great shape."
Howard, who is from Telluride, Colorado, specializes in wilderness medicine and worked in
1995 at the Himalayan Rescue Association Clinic in Pheriche at 14,000 feet, two days walk
downhill from Base Camp. "At the HRA clinic we always see frequent cases of mild to severe
altitude illness," says Howard. "In 1995 I arrived following the biggest snow storm within
anyone's memory and unfortunately porters were caught all over the upper Khumbu without
adequate protective gear. The combination of high altitude and unexpected snow caused
literally hundreds of cases of UV photokeratitis (snow blindness). We also saw some of
the worst cold injury I had seen in the Himalayas related to trekking."
The NOVA film crew has been shooting with Howard at the Pheriche clinic and other locations while
interviewing trekkers, who all seem to be reporting classic responses to altitude: headaches,
nausea, vivid dreams, lassitude, and shortness of breath.