Mt. Everest: a Sad Tragedy
by Richard Cummings
If you haven't read by now, this is Mt. Everest's worse year for climbers attempting to make it to the summit. At the time I am writing this, eleven hikers have died. As the numbers continued to increase, I had to find out what exactly was going on. I had questions such as equipment failure, falls, some disease? Many of these climbers were dying as they were descending. I saw the line of hikers, (pictured) and began to believe this was not the best place to be standing, waiting in a line.
I concluded I would need to do more research. I turned to the internet for answers. The hikers who died had slowly been getting either of two, if not both diseases. I had a close friend who climbed these types of mountains and he would tell me about his training of running up and down stairs with a 60 lb. pack on. I have trained for several Triathlons and have some insight into the difficulty of planning your training. I am certain most anyone climbing Everest had gone through more rigid and strenuous training.
The occurrence and severity of the disease is highly dependent on the rate of ascent, the altitude attained and individual susceptibility.he high-altitude (HA) environment generally refers to elevations over 1500 m (4800 feet) above sea level. High-altitude illnesses is the term given collectively to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), the latter two being potentially fatal conditions.AMS is characterized by non-specific symptoms such as headache, anorexia, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, and sleep disturbance, but not all need to be present at one time. (1)
I had worked as a clinical social worker in a rehabilitation clinic for people who had suffered from brain injuries of all types including strokes. I began to reflect on how a tiny clot can create a severe brain injury. Each patient who experiences a stroke had complained of many of the same symptoms. These "clots" were being created by swelling in the brain tissues and blocking the flow of blood to the major parts of the brain.
Taking into account the limited number of studies, it is argued that high altitude and chronic hypoxia may be risk factors for the development of ischemic stroke. The altitude associated with higher prevalence of ischemic stroke is not clear, but it appears that there is increased risk above 3000m. (2)
The other factors described as feeling as "an elephant sitting on your chest" is all too familiar to me. Recently, I survived a bad case of pneumonia and hospitalized for a week. Pneumonia causes the lung tissues to swell and fill up with fluid. With the lungs providing an exchange of oxygen into the bloodstream, this is a serious and potentially deadly situation if not treated. Muscles require oxygenated blood along with the brain if not, the body dies. I remember not being able to walk over 20 yards without a continuous 2 liters of oxygen flow; I can't imagine trying to scale a mountain up, or down.
Acute mountain sickness (AMS), high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), and high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) are preventable by exposing the body to high elevations for varying lengths of time to condition the body.
I found the following article in a Magazine entitled "Climbing", written by a nurse:
Prevention includes pre-acclimatization. Despite common misconceptions, fitness does not enhance acclimatization. Hike and sleep at incrementally higher altitudes for 1–8 weeks before your trip. Frequent altitude exposure over long periods is optimal. A higher objective necessitates a longer, staged acclimatization. Acclimatization diminishes within 1–3 weeks of altitude exposure, so bagging a Fourteener two months in advance won’t help.
I conclude if you are planning such an adventure, you not only see your doctor for evaluation but also a Physiologist for training information. A tragedy of any kind, especially a sudden death, is traumatic, no matter which mountain peak you have climbed to. With Mt. Everest.
I believe a temporary shut-down of the mountain, stopping the narcissism, would be appropriate to honor the many hikers who had defeated Mt. Everest and died in a voluntary expedition, life aim and goal, some leaving families behind.
1. http://www.jneuro.com/neurology-neuroscience/high-altitude-brain-swelling.php?aid=9458 : Srivastava./Journal of Neurology and Neuroscience., High Altitude Brain Swelling. 2016
2.https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270273416_High_altitude_exposure_and_ischemic_stroke rado, Dunn. Research Gate;. High altitude exposure and ischemic stroke.2011