We start down the mountain after a week above the Khumbu icefalls. Our plans are to go from Camp 2 past Camp 1 and straight on to base camp. It is a beautiful day, not too cold. It’s sunny and I am feeling a little better and start down with my Sherpa, Tenzdu. I get half way through the ice and slow down. Dan catches me and we make it to the bottom after a few hours. My breathing was giving me problems. We walk by the clinic on the way to camp; I stop in for a checkup.
When we arrived in base camp Dan brought the team to the Everest ER for a tour and to meet the doctors. Over sixty percent of their patients are Sherpa and porters that they treat for free. We made a donation of one hundred dollars each and that would cover unlimited visits while in camp. I thought that would be the last time I would be in the ER tent. The doctors are from all over the world, and are experts in high altitude ailments. I meet with a Russian American doctor named Tatiana, and local doctor, Yogi. They check my oxygen levels and they are good. Tatiana then listened to my lungs. Obviously she didn’t like what she heard as I saw her look at Yogi, and then I suddenly had two cold stethoscopes on my bare skin. I agreed to let the Discovery Channel film an episode of Everest ER 16, and I am standing in front of the camera hoping they don’t ask me to take my pants off, too. The diagnosis is HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema). Treatment for HAPE is a drug, and I must descend immediately to lower altitude. She orders a helicopter for the next morning to bring me to Pheriche, which is at 13,000ft. Pheriche has a fully staffed clinic, and the plan is to stay there until my lungs clear and I can return to base camp or they tell me my climb is over. I talk George into flying with me and we are stuck there for four days. Dr. Tatiana runs to Pheriche my last day. This is a fifteen-mile run; she is training for the Everest marathon. She looks at the ultrasound and asks me to stop by when I return to base camp to let her look at my lungs once more before the summit attempt. I am cleared to go back up.
We walk up to Lobuche, five hours from base camp and where I am now. It felt great coming up. We carried forty pounds and ran up the mountain already acclimatized. It is May 6, so we are celebrating Cinco de Mayo a day late and I have my first beer in months. I take half-day walks up the local hills with my breathing, sleep, and eating back to normal. There is bad weather higher up, and we are on hold until they finish fixing lines and carrying oxygen and supplies. We choose to wait it out here instead of a tent at base camp. We have good Internet and food, and hope to meet everyone in a few days.
The events that happened over the last week had many dark moments, and I have pulled the plug twice on the climb, but after a conversation with doctors and leader decide to continue. My body has held up well, I am not the fastest, but my climb is consistent. If I turn around now it will always haunt me that I didn’t at least try. My confidence level swings from eighty percent seeing myself on the summit to twenty percent asking myself why I am putting myself and family through this.
I know I am putting my family through hell and it my makes me feel terrible. I think about them constantly on these long down days. Today is Mother’s Day, which is making my day even harder. I am in a teahouse dining area with a lot of people around a potbelly stove that burns yak poop, hoping the distraction is enough to keep my tears away. I think it will be easier when I start up and can see the end and my day is consumed by the climb.