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High Crimes, Chapter 11
Everest, Camp 1. [Photo] Michael Kodas
Excerpted from High Crimes by Michael Kodas. Copyright (c) 2008 Michael Kodas. All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold.
We dined in that tent with commercial expedition leader Dan Mazur and many of his thirty-eight clients. After dinner, we slept there with Arnold Coster, a Dutch climber, and four Tibetan mountaineering porters who complained that they had never had to share a tent with white people before. The next night, with our phantom tent still eluding us, Coster invited us to crowd into the mountaineering tent he had set up. We slept, with overwhelming gratitude for the strangers who had taken us in and angry frustration with our own climbing partners who left us without one of the basic needs for surviving in the mountains. When we left, Mazur told us he usually charges $200 a day for trekkers and climbers who drop in on the expeditions of his company, SummitClimb. This might seem an outrageous price for a couple of meals and space in a tent, until you considered the cost of getting food and gear up high on Everest. However, five minutes after taking our money, Dan came back and returned it to us.
"Let's just keep this on the favor basis," he said. "You'd take in a couple of my climbers in a storm, right? It's a shame, what's happening to your team. Everest makes people grow horns."
When I continued up to Advanced Base Camp that day, I ran into my teammates Chuck, Dave, and Dan Lochner, who were descending. Chuck had vomited regularly since our arrival in Tibet. He could hide his illness lower on the mountain, but in Advanced Base Camp his swollen, listless face was impossible to miss. Dave and Dan were also sick and were making the torturously slow descent with him. By noon it started to snow, and wind blasted the mountain. They reached Interim Camp at three p.m. and Dave decided to stay there.
"I could have slept anywhere," he said, noting that he had a sleeping pad and a down suit with him. "I didn't feel like I wanted to walk anymore, and I didn't need to."
Dan decided to stay with him, but had nothing to keep him warm overnight. Members of a Greek expedition gave Dan a blanket, fed the two of them, and put them up with their Sherpas for the night. Chuck, however, wanted to continue down, so he found a doctor, told him about the condition of his friends, and headed out.
"By the time I got down to Base Camp, I was pretty much hallucinating," he said later. "I was shot."
After he staggered into Base Camp, Carolyn, who had also returned to the low camp that day, expressed shock that Chuck had left his friends behind. She also complained about the missing Interim Camp tent.
"This is a hard-core mountaineering expedition," Chuck responded. "If you can't hack it, you shouldn't be here."
The next morning, the Greeks fed Dave porridge with nuts that caused an allergic reaction and made him vomit. The team's doctor gave him medication that left him holding his knees on the ground. He, like Carolyn and I, sought help in Mazur's Interim Camp mess tent.
Staying healthy is often a greater challenge than the climbing. Some mountain maladies are killers: Pulmonary edema drowns climbers in their own blood; cerebral edema fills the skull with fluid. The body, desperate to increase the density of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in a climber's veins, will pull fluid out of the blood and store it elsewhere. Skin gets puffy, limbs occasionally swell, but these edemas are generally harmless. If the fluid builds up in the lungs or the brain, however, the condition will quickly turn fatal. The only cure is getting to a lower elevation, fast.
Other illnesses are just uncomfortable and inconvenient. Acute mountain sickness brings nausea and headaches to many climbers. Cheyne-Stokes respiration, while generally harmless, causes climbers to hold their breath when they sleep so they awaken gasping and terrified. Third World sanitation gives others water- and food-borne illnesses such as giardia and dysentery. And in this oxygen-poor environment, even common colds and sore throats are guaranteed to get worse without a trip down, a round of antibiotics, or both.
After everyone was back in Base Camp three days later, we gathered in our dining tent for a debriefing.
"If we make these kinds of mistakes up high," George said, "I guarantee you it could be fatal....To this point, we've had other expeditions help us a lot, and that's going to get embarrassing."
We wouldn't have had to rely on other expeditions during our trip to ABC, Anne pointed out, if we played like a team. "It was two days of every man for himself," she said.
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