A Gamow Bag is a portable fabric hyperbaric chamber that can be inflated with a
rafting-style foot pump to a pressure of about two psi (pounds per square
inch). The pressured differential, or change in altitude, that can be simulated
depends on the altitude at which the bag is used. At Everest Base Camp, for
example, a patient can be "descended" (this is a pressure descent) 8,000 feet
at about two psi. That would put the patient at a relatively comfortable
altitude of 9,600 feet. In Kathmandu valley, which is approximately 6,000
feet, a patient can be descended 5000 feet (close to sea level).
While the bag is being pumped up, the patient inside often develops mild ear
pressure and feels an increase in temperature due to the compression of air
molecules within the enclosed space. A small window is available for the
doctor to monitor the patient visually, and although communication is slightly
muffled, patients can be heard. Doctors often tape a hand-held altimeter to the
corner of the window so the patient's initial "descent," and then their return
"ascent," can be precisely monitored. For mild forms of altitude sickness, an
hour inside the bag is typically sufficient, whereas for severe forms of
mountain sickness, four to six hours or more may be necessary. The unfortunate
reality of Gamow Bags is that ultimately patients have to get out of them, and
they're back at the same altitude where they began.
The death of Mal Duff left a heavy silence around Base Camp for two days. The
wind blew ceaselessly for those 48 hours, as we all tried to come to terms with
the shock of losing one of Everest's longtime expedition leaders. Mal had a
personality that affected everyone differently, "Mal was a quiet but firm
leader with a wonderful sense of humor and tremendous patience. As a leader, he
was admired and respected by Westerners and Sherpas alike. It was always a
pleasure to come across Mal somewhere on the route on Everest," reflects David.
Catching Up with Ed Viesturs and David Carter
All had been going well for both Ed Viesturs and David Carter on the mountain.
Because they are climbing for the New Zealand expedition, they are on a
different acclimatization schedule. However, David, Pete, and Jangbu have
passed them on the route on a few occasions. They were able to meet up at Camp
III to do some filming and conduct psychometric tests.
Ed, who, unlike last year, is climbing with oxygen this year, was able to spend
some time with us at Base Camp. "For me, climbing without oxygen is much more
enjoyable than climbing with oxygen," commented Ed. "Even though physically
it's harder, I feel less encumbered by the apparatus and oxygen mask on my
face, which tends to be a little claustrophobic. I breathe huge volumes of air
up there and I often have to take the mask off to get enough air. And so it's a
little bit of a weird sensation; even though it should be easier with oxygen,
for me it seems like it's easier without. Whether that's psychological or not,
I don't know. But when I'm guiding I use oxygen simply because it's safer. If
anything were to go wrong, I have oxygen, and I'm maybe a little quicker
Ed will be breathing supplemental oxygen from Camp IV and beyond. Tashi
Tenzing, Tenzing Norgay's grandson, is among Ed's clients this year.
Interestingly enough, Tashi is the only "client" that Ed and Carter will be
climbing with this year; the other clients on the expedition dropped out
during the acclimatization process. Ed explains how this process works: "First
of all, we look at their physical fitness and how they perform day to day and
camp to camp, how they react to the altitude, what they look like and how they
feel when they get to a certain camp. Do they still have enough energy to
perform basic tasks? Do they have enough energy to get down? Getting up is half
of the climb. Getting down is the second and most important half of the climb.
You always have to be evaluating and looking at their performance."
David Carter was able to give us a status report on how he's doing this year as
compared to his attempt on Everest in 1991: "I feel much better this year. I
have not lost any weight so far. It's been amazing. My acclimatization has
been easy. I have not had any headaches thus far. The only problem I have had
is a high altitude cough. I'm starting to lose my voice. My main concern
right now is as I get higher the cough will get worse and I'm worried about
breaking a rib or vomiting or something. I've been keeping a scarf over my
mouth when I climb past Camp II."
"Can you describe for us what the high altitude cough is?"
"It's a real violent cough. It comes from deep within and you can't control
it. Usually it starts when you stop climbing for some reason. You are at a rest
break or you are in your sleeping bag at night and it is so violent that
sometimes you get nauseous. The problem is that when you get nauseous you try
to hold that cough in and that is when you can break a rib and that's what I
did in 1991."
"Can you tell us why you've come back this year to climb Everest?"
"I feel like I have some unfinished business. In 1991, I don't think I climbed
the mountain right. 1991 was more of a learning year for me to climb this
mountain. This year I feel like I'm pacing myself better, I'm taking better
care of myself. I know the route and that makes a really big difference this
year. Plus, I feel like I'm acclimating better because I've been here before.
I've been to 26,000 feet and I think my body knows that. I'm not as scared as
I was in 1991. The stress makes a big difference in acclimatization also."
All of our climbers have climbed to Camp III and slept there—the 24,000-foot
camp on Everest that will be their last acclimatization stop before heading
into the so-called "Death Zone" above 26,000 feet. Not one has felt inhibited
by the thin air of the extreme altitudes they have been climbing in. They wait
with us here at Base Camp for good weather to open up a window of opportunity
for their journey to the top of the world.