A Day in the Life at Camp III7:30 am—The radio crackles with an unintelligible voice.
I grab the small walkie-talkie thrown into a dark corner of my tent: "Is that
Camp III? Please come again."
"Camp III to Base Camp, over."
"Good morning David, how are you?"
"Pete and I had a very fitful night. We're paying the price for climbing to
Camp III and then not descending to Camp II for the night. Because we've just
come up to Camp III and have slept here, Pete had an altitude headache last
night and my vision is blurred this morning. That would be the case for two
climbers that came up and occupied Camp III on their first visit. It breaks the
cardinal rule of high altitude mountaineering, which is 'climb high, sleep
low.' Most people come up here for a visit, return to Camp II and then come up
to spend the night, but Pete and I figured we have enough experience and we'll
just increase our schedule a little bit. There's no danger to us and no danger
to our climbing on Everest. We just wanted to be up here—it was beautiful—so we stayed."
David continues, "Three things are at work here: the altitude, dehydration, and
particularly in my case, I take my glasses off a lot to film, and I can get a
minor headache from that, which has nothing to do with the altitude. We got up
here yesterday, dehydrated, extremely tired and had to spend two hours
preparing our tent platform. Our heart rates were very high, we finally got the
tent up and literally collapsed into the tent, lay horizontal for at least an
hour before we summoned up the energy to collect snow and light the stove. We
didn't rehydrate enough last night and we were both very, very thirsty."
8:00 am—David and Pete wait for the sun to hit the tent. Hoar frost has
taken over the ceiling of the tent and they wait for it to melt and evaporate.
The trick is to refrain from rustling the walls or ceiling of the tent so as to
avoid being rained on by a shower of frozen or half-melted ice. They light the
small camp stove in the vestibule of their tent, and then lay back down for
another 45 minutes, watching the ceiling drip as the ice in the stove slowly
melts into drinkable liquid. They fill their water bottles, fill the stove
again with ice and snow, and crawl out of the tent.
The morning hours at Camp III are remarkably quiet. There sky is overcast with
a diffuse light, and the air is windless, as it was all through the preceding
night. Looking up to the peak, it looks like a perfect summit day; there's not
a breath of wind anywhere on the mountain. David remarks over the radio, "You
could light a candle where I'm standing. This is very rare indeed, especially
since yesterday it was incredibly windy up high." Sherpas show up and begin
digging another tent platform nearby, as David and Pete continue drinking tea
and hot chocolate to stay hydrated.
12:00 noon—We get another status report by radio from David: "Today we feel
good. We took it easy this morning. We're drinking a lot and we're going to
have lunch shortly. We won't go more than 25-30 feet from camp today. Now we're
going to have lunch, then we'll do the high altitude neuro-behavioral tests, go
and work on some tent platforms for Guy Cotter's team, get some exercise up
here, and shoot some scenics."
1:00 pm—We get a radio call from Doug Rovira, a doctor climbing with the
Canadian team, who reports that two of our climbing Sherpas (both named Dorje)
are sick. "Older Dorje has bacterial dysentery. He threw up antibiotic last
night. Young Dorje has fevers and chills and a sore throat. He's on
antibiotics. Both Dorjes look pretty green. Jangbu and Kami, on the other hand,
look like a million bucks." We're a small expedition with only four climbing
Sherpas, unlike the other expeditions here on Everest, which have anywhere from
seven to 20 Sherpas assisting them and carrying loads on the mountain.
When we check in with David and Pete on a decision about whether the two Dorjes
should come back down to Base Camp, David replies, "They almost have all the
loads to the Col (Camp IV) and we have at least another eight days before we
head back up so we are not that concerned about it. We are more concerned with
them pressing on when they shouldn't, and burning out early. As long as they
go down, they will recover. If a Sherpa feels great a day or two after taking
medicine at Advance Base Camp and he wants to go up, that's his decision but we
will not prevail upon them to carry loads when they don't feel well."
7:00 pm—I place my last radio call of the day to David and Pete to say
goodnight. David, still working through the lassitude of the day, has a final
comment, "If the truth be known, my trip from Camp II to Camp III yesterday was
about the hardest five hours I've ever spent on this mountain. When I got to
camp, the last thing I wanted to do was spend two hours on a tent platform. As
long as Pete was gonna kick and shovel snow around, I certainly couldn't just
sit around on my butt and be the lazy boy. So I did, and now, thank god, I
feel much better. Because if I was going to feel that bad all night I don't
know what I was going to do about climbing up there—that tiny little bump
way up there called the summit. But it's part of the ritual, part of the game.
Everybody gets one bad day on this mountain when they are up here and I've had
mine and it's usually going to Camp III.""
A Case of Pulmonary Edema
Peter Weeks, a New Zealander attempting Everest this year has come down with
pulmonary edema while climbing the mountain. "I just had a real lack of energy,
just couldn't move quickly, could only move a few paces at a time and had to
stop and breathe," says Weeks. "Even downhill easy parts were very strenuous. I
wasn't aware that it was altitude-related, I just thought I was very tired and
exhausted. When I was diagnosed with pulmonary edema, it was a bit of a
surprise. In my lungs I felt a bit of crackling, sort of gurgling, something
going on there."
His expedition's doctor, David Fernley, put him into a Gamow bag—a
pressurized nylon enclosure—and pressurized him to a lower altitude for an
hour and a half. Peter recalled the experience: "I was put in there, zipped
up, and then the pressure increased and I found it easier to breathe, which was
great and relaxing, but towards the end of the session it got a bit
claustrophobic and I was very happy to get out of it." Dr. Fernley noted that
Week's pulse oximeter reading was 45%, so Fernley put him on oxygen at a flow
rate of 1.5 liters per minute.