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  SKi8000 expedition 2004: Update

Update 4/23/2004: During the 5 day summit attempt of the team, basecamp has grown from a small Dutch settlement, to a multicultural global village.

Next to the Dutch, the Spanish have arrived. They like singing and eating Spanish Omelets (smelling like Paella). A little more down are the Swiss. They come from Gstaad, and have a heated dining tent. One of them is now in Lhasa, because he didn't like the cold here. Then we have the Austrians (grundlich and under supervision of a Statlich Geprufte Bergfuhrer), the Checs (tough guys and also skiers), a Belgian guy (lost the way a few days ago 5 minutes from basecamp, searching for 3 hours), and an American solo climber (who likes Vicks and using our internet connection). There's also an international expedition (Canadian, Italian, German, Spanish, etc) and there was a Swedish solo climber (more about him later). The Japanese are there, and they are non-communicative. Finally there's a local Tibetan expedition, who's members like to give us tea.

Such a global village above 5700 m brings along numerous medical problems for its inhabitants. And surprise ... the Dutch were the only ones who didn't forget to bring a doctor and a proper medical kit.

The result is that our doctor Herman has no time to get bored. A summary of the last few days: An Italian climber couldn't walk anymore. Along with other symptoms a clear case of High Altitude Cerebral Edema (swollen brains caused by low oxygen levels at high altitude). This situation is well-known to be extremely life threatening... the guy descended on the back of Tibetan porters not before Herman insisted that he do so (after giving Dexamethason). The Spanish expedition leader needed antibiotics for bronchitis. He's now healthy again and high on the mountain. The Nepalese cook of the international expedition was in his sleeping bag with high fever for 3 days. Herman gave paracetamol and antibiotics. The internationals now eat delicious meals again.

The Dutch team is neither immune: Our cook Kancha got very cold at night... a warm sleeping bag + down jacket cured him. Ang Pemba Sherpa had altitude problems, but reacted allergically to Diamox. And Joost got back from 8000 m with compromised sight. This should get better without treatment. He might have to descend soon.

The most shocking story comes to us in the middle of the night. We sit right-up in our tents at 2:30 after hearing a low voice: "I need a doctor!" It appears to be the Swedish solo climber. We passed him that day on the way down from camp 2. He looked strong then. We find out that he soon after descended to camp 1 and felt very tired. He took his only tent and descended further. An hour below camp 1 he could hardly breath and made a bivouac. After one hour he woke up almost choking and heavily coughing. Using his GPS he stumbled to basecamp in 4.5 hours (normally less than 1 hour walk) to find the Dutch doctor. This was a clear case of HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema): your lungs get full of fluids and blood. Without taking action this situation leads to death very soon.

Because the guy had nothing in basecamp (no tent, no sleeping bag, literally nothing), Herman took him in his tent and admistered O2 and Nifidipine.

The Dutch + Sherpas spent all of the next morning arranging a quick evacuation on the back of Tibetan porters (not easy for a 95 KG guy). While transported out of basecamp with an O2 mask on his face, we heard several other climbers utter surprised: "Do you guys have Oxygen???" Hummmmm, just in case of emergency maybe...? We saved one life with it now.


Swedish climber evacuated on back of Tibetans

The most difficult decision of my life has been made. I am not going up anymore.

After consulting Dutch eye specialists this decision appeared unavoidable. Going higher again means risk of lasting vision damage. That's not worth it for me. There is a life after this expedition, in which I need both my eyes.

What happened? I seem to have developed High Altitude Retinal Hemorrhage. Simply said, some small veins within my eye have burst because of low air pressure. In itself, this is not harmful. But the bursts occurred in the center of the eye. Bad luck.

I am mad as hell and extremely disappointed. Why?

Greg, Herman and I managed this project from the biggest issue to the smallest detail. We prepared a full year for this project. I quit my job end of November to be a (temporary) professional mountaineer. When you do everything you can to succeed it is hard to accept when you get caught by something unexpected and seemingly insignificant.

Example of our efforts to prepare thoroughly: To avoid frost-bite we assembled the warmest ski boot possible out of 4 different manufacturer's boots. Result: Cold feet at 8000 m, but no frost-bite. Other example: We sought the help of a top-notch training consultancy. Result: Test data that match those of professional athletes. Other example: To avoid mountain sickness we designed a thorough acclimatization schedule: December - February in the Alps, March in Nepal before going up to Tibet. Result: Nobody sick, a smooth build-up of all the camps. Other example: We used the best ice climbing equipment to open the route on the mountain this year. Result: Other expeditions pay us to use our route and ropes now. Etc, etc, etc.

We did everything we could to be successful. And we were until now. From the hundreds of people that try to climb Cho Oyu this year, we are now the only ones that have all camps in place, the only ones that reached 8000 m. I feel strong and I was ready to be successful in our second summit attempt.

But what happens??? My left eye stops functioning! Who expected that??? Incredible, unlucky and hard to accept.

Anyway, I have to face reality and accept that my limit is now 8000 m. High, but not high enough...

From now I will support Greg during his second attempt to 8201 m. He will attempt to ski from the summit on the 28th. I'm convinced that he has a very good shot at it and I will help him where I can to make the VICKSpedition SKI8000 a big success!

Thanks for all your support and advice. Joost

copyright SKi8000 Expedition



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