…in a recent travel program :
“Hold your breath , for a long time , and follow our team to the deep end , on a dive at the edges of possible :
Down , down , down … we have now passed in to total darkness , nothing is visible beyond our diving lights. The pressure around us builds up relentlessly , a cold hard vice with us in the middle , at the same time as the pressure in our tanks rapidly dwindlles. We push on and manage to glimpse the masts on the sunken schooner with low tanks , and claw our way to the surface on the the very last pound of air pressure. Should have brought a second tank. Topside ,with drinks in our hands and the sun setting over the South Sea it´s hard to believe that this world exist paralell to ours , just over the railing of the boat.
After two hours Lisa is able to move her legs again. “
No , this show never aired. Somehow losing control is not seen as cool in the context of diving. This is however how a diving story would have been presented if you had brought in the team from Packat & Klart , with the same perspective as they recently portrayed high altitude trekking in Nepal.
This is probably the part where I start losing the attention of my Ladakhi & Tibetan friends , negative criticism is seen as an ego boosting trap. But there are times when it is useful to see how things go wrong , what mindsets takes you there. So bear with me as we tag along again with the reporters to Everest Base Camp and beyond.
“This has to be worst I´ve gone through, ever. Up . up , in to ever thinner air. Never have have I pushed my body this far .. “
This is the first shot of the lead reporter , one week in to the trek. It´s an attention grabber , good TV. It´s also the beginning of a consistently broken timeline which is poor public television , in the sense of getting a good understanding of the subject at hand. Timing is everything in high altitude trekking and climbing : it decides everything from how you see colors to if you can hold down your breakfast. Ultimately it also decides how many come down from the mountain , every year a number of people develop pulmonay and cerebral edema , and at that point mortality becomes high.
Some may also argue that timing is everything in media : early in to the show we are presented with an ironic view of the flight to Lukla , shown three weeks after the catastrophic landing that killed all but one . The programe is also aired the same week as the French ambassador in Kathmandu calls for better awareness and training in dealing with altitude sickness , after three French deaths in the same early in the season.
The introductory theme of …suffering will be repeated a number of times from now. The back is suffering , the boots are suffering , dhal bhat is probably also suffering, the packs … somehow the two magical limits of twenty kilos and two packs are broken , on what basically is a teahouse trek , with a shared incomplete kit. Somehow not only the reporter but also the editors seem to read in a meaning in this suffering , the themes of pushing the envelope , taking yourself to the edge of endurance are repeated again and again. Self realisation through exhaustion. In a viewers submitted section we find another video from EBC , with the comment from the editors that the footage is TV quality images , but lacking emotional content and presence : they specifically ask for a description of aching lungs.
Meanwhile , with or without packs we all will struggle in this situation : everyone who just has arrived at 3000+ meters has the same physical capacity as someone with chronic lung disease. It will get better , but not fast .
“-..and here is Annelie , cosying up …
“-I´m wearing just about everything I have , and the sleeping bag on top of that !”
This is October , around four thousand meters , and in shelter . It´s not that cold , especially in Swedish terms – in numbers. Which takes us back to time , and acclimatisation to altitude. There is no way to understand from the programme how fast they have arrived at this altitude , but this shot tells us one thing : fast. Being cold is intimately linked to incomplete adaption to altitude , with white cold hands and feet from constricted blood vessels in the periphery.
Putting on the reporter hat , we are presented with some numbers to understand the physiology : “here at 5000 meters my pulse is over 100 , and my oxygen saturation is 88 – normally it should be 100 % “
So there is stress , and an oxygen saturation that normally would mean a change of pace in the emergency room or ICU. Before this acclimatisation has been mentioned a number of times , but without any real attempt at describing what it is . Is it how fast you walk , is it where you sleep , is it hours , days or weeks we are talking of here ?
Useful numbers missing in this context are :
*numbers of nights above 2000 meters
*maximum safe ascent rate
*production time for red blood cells
* number of urine producing organs ( I kid you not , wearing the reporter hat there is talk of the kidney (singular) , and altitude sickness involving it “freaking out” . High urine output is actually one of the first defence mechanisms when exposed to high altitude. )
“Here I am , waiting for Annelie, at Kala Pattar , 5200 meters . She has never been this high before. She is feeling sick , feverish , her stomach is acting up and she has a headache…”
In short this is a close match for the LARGE! signs you find at every major trailhead in Nepal , from the doctors of The Himalayan Rescue Association beginning with “all symtoms above 2500 meters ..” and ending with (big capital letters ) “DESCEND ! DESCEND ! DESCEND ! “
…even before Annelie turns up on camera , with slurred speech. It´s also the same symtoms the lead reporter recapitulates in the beginning of the program.
So what comes next ? Of course they ascend even further (collective groan from the HRA clinic in Pheriche ) , the option of descending or even just remaining at that altitude isn´t even discussed in the program . Not surprisingly , they don´t make it to the top of Island Peak – but at least they make it down to Namche afterwards.