Sunday, January 4, 2009

Change of Plans - due to altitude sickness

The delay in updates was due to high altitude sickness, but Scott is okay now. The climb is off, however. MountainWaz Aconcagua Expedition (MWAE) will have to be continued another year.

After several successful major expeditions and first attempt summits, Scott suffered a setback this time, but most importantly he is safe and has fully recovered.

After making it up to Camp II (17,552 ft.) to deliver a load of supplies, he felt strong and returned to Base Camp (14K) to sleep as planned. (Sleeping at a lower elevation helps your body adjust to elevation.) The next day he hiked up to Camp I (16K) and set up his tent there for the night. During the night he felt a gurgling in his chest, which is a sign of the onset of high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Wisely, Scott descended as quickly as possible back to Base Camp, which is the best prescription for HAPE. There he visited the doctor at the medical tent and was diagnosed with HAPE. Presumably they treated him there with oxygen and Diamox, a prescription medication that Scott took with him that helps the lungs expand rather than constrict as they react to the lack of oxygen and leak of fluid from blood vessels into the lungs.

The medical staff there insisted that a helicopter be used to transport Scott to an even lower altitude at that time, so they took him to Puenta del Inca (or base village) at ~9,000 ft to fully recover. There he was able to contact me where he waited for his muleteer and mule to bring his gear down the mountain and meet him. After one more night of rest at this lower altitude, he felt stronger the following day.

Then he was able to take the 4-hr. bus ride back to Mendoza, where he strongly considered trying to change his plane ticket and fly home early. Due to some language barrier difficulties and the fact that he is now fully recovered, he decided to remain there for the rest of his scheduled stay. He's spending some time south of Mendoza now until he leaves next Saturday (arriving home in Portland as scheduled next Sunday).

There are no long-term effects from HAPE, and he won't have any greater tendency to experience it in the future. It's not fitness-based and some high altitude medical experts say it often happens to young, fit climbers on the 2nd night at high elevation, which perfectly fits Scott's situation in this instance. It's a random occurance, and he has never experienced any severe altitude sickness in his climbing experience to date. Hopefully this was the 1st & only!

Thanks for your support and prayers. I am thankful that he was able to make good decisions in a very difficult situation, and that he is returning home safely, which we both agreed was his most important mission in this expedition.


Susan said...

Sorry to miss the summit, but glad you had the good sense to get down right away! Hope you had a fun trip anyway and have a safe journey home. Thanks for the adventure by proxy!

April said...

Thanks to the powers that be that Scott descended safely and is recovering. We look forward to hearing his account when he gets home. Let us know when he is back on pacific NW soil!