Support Eileen & Brandon to Help us Reach our Trek Everest Fundraising Goal!
She's back! This is her summary:
As we sat on the tarmac watching the plane being deiced on April 14/2018, we had many thoughts racing through our heads. We were off on the adventure of a lifetime and there was lots of anticipation about what challenges lay ahead of us. In May/1953 Sir Edmund Hillary along with Tenzing Norgay summitted Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain. It was a tremendous accomplishment lauded worldwide and this was the 65th Anniversary of that great feat.
MSH Foundation had been offered the opportunity to participate in a climb led by his son, Peter Hillary, who is a legendary mountaineer in his own right and had just returned from some time in Antarctica where he has been involved in ongoing studies. Also accompanying the team would be Andrew Lock, a distinguished Australian, who has summitted all 14 of the earth’s 8,000 meter peaks, all but one without oxygen. Ben Webster of Canadian Adventure Productions, an avid mountaineer who had also summitted Everest on more than one occasion and had led us on MSH Foundation’s “Climb to Conquer” venture in July/2011 to fundraise for a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Unit, successfully supporting us all the way to the top (19,600 ‘) was our co-ordinator, along with Melanie Southworth who had summitted Everest in 2016. Both had been very encouraging of us joining this new venture and emphasized the beauty of the Himalayas, the rich cultural and spiritual experience and the need to prepare for this Trek with physical workout preparation activities along with mental tenacity and commitment.
Our goal would be Everest Base Camp (18,400’) which was not as high as Mt. Kilimanjaro but we realized this trek would require many more days and we would be at higher altitude for a longer time. A group of us were leaving one week early to allow the opportunity to visit and contribute to the work at a hospital in Phaplu, as well as, a school of 106 students in that mountainous town.
But first, after twenty-four hours of travel and considerable jet lag, we stopped in Kathmandu (which is 9 ¾ hours ahead) where we were able to visit three local hospitals which provided quite a wide scope of practice areas. The staff were extremely hospitable and knowledgeable and some were well equipped with advanced level equipment while others were more basic, one focusing on the care of children, women and the elderly. But all seemed well organized and certainly functional and effective.
Because of inclement weather we then choppered to Phaplu. We had gathered up a considerable amount of medical supplies and equipment to donate to the hospital, as well as, duffel bags full of school supplies to contribute to the empty shelves at the local school. In fact, we had been able to supply two uniforms, fleeces and t-shirts for the schoolchildren who come from quite a distance to attend. We were at a height of 8,000’ and invigorated by the cool mountain air hiked along to the school and hospital, while noting the increase in our heart rates and shortness of breath with exertion while climbing to the “in the mountains” school site and nearby hospital. Normal resting pulse is 60-80bpm and oxygen saturation is at 98-99%. With altitude our bodies compensate for the decreasing oxygen level by an increase in pulse to the 100’s and a decrease in oxygen saturation to the 80’s and sometimes 70’s or below. With higher altitudes exertion becomes an effort.
The school children were delightful in their new uniforms and we distributed the supplies to a very grateful group of staff and students. A world map was put up in each of the classrooms and Sue Sheffield and Trish Lawless had arranged for some letters to be written by some of the children with the intention of some future liaison between the students there and some local schools back home. A simple lunch of rice with dahl (a lentil soup type mixture) and a curry dish was served by a local family who lived by the school. Noteably, the rooms were cold as there was no heating and electricity was intermittent. Most homes had a cooking area with a heat source and this was often fueled with Yak dung but this was only burned for short periods of time. Coats, warm clothes and hats were worn by most of the time.
The hospital visits showed a busy, active care centre with a paucity of equipment and supplies but the ability to serve a large catchment area of approximately 60,000 and even perform some surgical procedures ( eg Ceasarian Sections) on site. Stephen Ng (NP) and I could see that the equipment and supplies we brought would be put to good use and were much appreciated. A new hospital building was in the later stages of construction and featured two operating suites ( supported in large part by a Belgian Orthopedic Surgeon who had performed many helpful procedures there) and a mother/baby unit along with some ward patient beds. The list of medications available was extensive and many of the same conditions with which we are familiar were being dealt with, including infections, diabetes, hypertension , respiratory, GI, GU and MSK conditions. It was good to be able to contribute to support such effective facilities which seemingly were able to accomplish so much with so little.
Then it was off to Lukla, again by chopper, which is the starting point of the Everest Base Camp trek. We met up with the other now arrived MSH trek team members, packed up our trekking gear in duffels and backpacks and started off on our journey to the “top of the world”.
The weather was pleasant. Although, as we gained altitude fleeces and caps were being replaced with down jackets, gloves and warmer hats. The air was thinner and the temperature was colder. For hour after hour we trekked, climbing boulder upon boulder, walked along narrow mountain paths, always giving way to the trains of Yaks and Sherpas who were carrying supplies of all sorts. Everything is carried along these mountain paths. We even saw some young Sherpas carrying incredibly heavy building supplies on their backs, including windows, doors and even rebar to be used for building new structures. The number of people trekking Everest had almost doubled for the 2018 season and additional accommodation was being required. One feature was the amazing suspension bridges swinging back and forth over deep gorges of fast rushing streams. Breathtaking! You give way to the yaks.
We arrived at Namche Bazaar, (11, 300’) a larger village which actually had a number of stores which sold trekking supplies, warm clothing, boots and shoes. (Here we were able to replace my running shoes which had not made it into the duffel at Lukla) which allowed indoor walking in the teahouses to be a bit more comfortable, leaving the Yak, dust-fomite covered trekking boots along with the trekking poles in an area separate from our small tea house room. From here we took an acclimatization side-hike to Khunde amd Kumjung, sites of a hospital and school, part of the legacy established by Sir Edmund Hillary. At Thyangboche (12, 887’) we visited a Bhuddist monastery for a spritual visit and blessing.
In the tea houses the eating area was a large communal room with long narrow tables in front of banks of sitting benches all covered with rugs. The tables were usually covered with oilcloths.(brought along by the TAG Nepal trekking supply company which employed the helpful Sherpas and cooks) Large, insulated thermoses of lemon tea, hot water and occasionally coffee greeted us on the tables along with some staple supplies such as cocoa powder, peanut butter and some crackers. Near the centre of the room there was usually a round stove, started by kerosene and fuelled with dried yak dung (which emitted a pungent odour, causing some coughing and eye irritation) with large kettles on the top for hot water but providing some much needed heat in the increasingly cold wooden shelters. You could usually see your breath in the air.
The meals were delicious. TAG Nepal brought their own cooks. They usually consisted of rice, dahl, some cooked vegetables and occasionally a meat curry. Soon after dinner we headed to our assigned room, exhausted, to sleep in layers of warm clothing, thick socks, hats, mitts in a –20C degree sleeping bag on a wooden bunk. The washroom facilities were usually very, very basic. We used squat type of toilets, often accompanied by a large barrel of water with a dipping can and a wet floor. Bare feet or socks not adviseable here! Most of us carried lots of tissue and “baby wipes” and practiced our breath-holding on many occasions.
GI upset is a common development in spite of our care with hand wipes and wearing our face buffs to both humidify the dry, cold air and protect from inhaling the yak dung dust from the trails. We were also taking acetazolamide (a medication advised for high altitude symptom prevention, although it produced its own side effects of tingling fingers and toes, occasionally a metallic taste and very frequent urination, along with sleep disturbance). We were also strongly advised to consume four litres of water daily to hydrate adequately at increased elevation. The physiological effects of high altitude with decreasing oxygen concentration are not to be underestimated. The development of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema and Cerebral Edema are serious and life threatening conditions. While on Kilimanjaro, I had encountered both conditions in other climbers and sent them down for medical attention, understandably disappointed. They were unable to continue their trek to the summit.
Our own team had been developing many health issues which were requiring attention. Medication for nausea, bowel problems, respiratory infections, skin lacerations, muscle and joint strains, and insomnia. Having travelled to areas with groups without medical care availability in the past, I had learned to bring along an extensive medical kit with supplies for “ almost anything” including injectible meds, topical and oral meds, and splints and braces”. My husband always complains of the heaviness of the kit at the start of the trek but I assure him that it will lighten as we climb …and it did, as it always does! This time, unlike Kilimanjaro, we did have the availability of oxygen and had several occasions where it was required, encountering oxygen saturation levels of 55 or less in trekkers from other climbing groups who were in urgent need of care and could not continue their climb. A number of our own team required care and were advised to decrease altitude levels.
For the first time, which was unexpected, as I had tolerated higher altitudes in the past, at Lobuche altitude 16000 ‘ my own oxygen saturation dropped to the 60’s and sx of High Altitude Cerebral Edema ( HACE) developed . Nausea, head pressure, dizziness and some ataxia and loss of balance along with tinnitus set in, a combination of high altitude, fatigue ( I had not taken a rest day) inadequate hydration, side effects from Diamox and unpredictable physiology which meant treatment with injectible Decadron and consideration of oxygen by mask +/- lower altitude and additional meds as required. As our next destination was Gorek Shep a short distance from Base Camp and a known site of minimal facilities and a rocky ascent, Peter Hillary who was a wonderful, knowledgeable an caring support to us all suggested bypassing this destination and heading to Pheriche which was also on our intinerary but 1800 ft lower in altitude and with medical facility availability. So we started on a somewhat challenging six hour trek down through a snow storm and were able to stay in a tea house there overnight to further acclimatize, O2 sats were back to the 70’s and stabilizing. A wonderful Scottish physician did an assessment and felt the HACE sx were stable enough to proceed to Base Camp with an altitude of 18,400 ‘. Brandon, who had been so supportive and patient (He is a runner by nature) and I were able to advance to Base Camp where we were met by a number of our trekkers who had arrived earlier. They were about to feast on a special lunch of pizza, chicken, chips and lattice top apple pie which our wonderful chefs had prepared in the cooking tent. (They were a wonderful team who had even surprisingly produced two birthday cakes to help celebrate two team members’ special days while we were on the climb.)
We had prearranged to be choppered back to Kathmandu, having arrived earlier to visit the hospitals and school and had many important family issues to return to, including a new grandson born one week before we left. What an amazing life adventure it had been! The mountains were majestic, reaching up as far as the eye could see with snow-capped peaks. They were also mysterious with many stories to tell as we learned having visited a memorial site which was near Thukla with cairns and plaques for many mountaineers and Sherpas who had lost their lives on the mountain.
Sir Edmund Hillary had said “ It is not the mountain that we conquer but ourselves” and in so may ways that rang true with many of our trekkers saying “ I am done. This is my last day. I have no more energy left.“ and then with support, medical intervention, stabilization and encouragement they were able to get to the next level and a new day leading to our ultimate arrival at Everest Base Camp. What an exhilarating experience, the top of my world as I will ever know it, magnificent beauty and a feat of sheer endurance. Truly unforgettable! With my feet back again at sea level my overwhelming feeling is that of gratitude for all that we have and wonder at the marvel of planet earth and the world around us. In just under a month we acquired a lifetime of special memories. Thank you to all who came along with us, for your generous support and well wishes and prayers. Our MSH new Hybrid O/R is in the making which is exciting and so important for the excellence of care our hospital provides to our community. The fundraising is on going and we are so appreciative of it all.
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