Bleeding Your Way Off the Top of the World
(Being Evacuated off Mt Everest)

1 Apr - 30 May 2008 - by Monty Smith

In April-May 2008 I had the opportunity to take a crack at Everest via the South Col route. This was during the Chinese-imposed closing of the mountain while they brought a specially-designed Olympic torch to the summit. Closing the mountain involved the Nepali police searching tents, snipers at Camp 2, and one protesting American climber being forced out of Camp 1 and deported. In the end the Chinese moratorium had little effect on us, as they summited before the prime season opened up everyone who wanted to go for the summit had ample chance, with good weather.

That included my partner and me. We'd teamed up on climbing Shishapangma (8012m, Tibet) in 2005 and agreed to tackle the South Col route together. Everything was ready for the summit we felt great, the weather was stable, fixed ropes and camps were in what could stop us?

Of course, even thinking such hubris is to court disaster. Only hours later, my summit bid was halted by a massive internal hemorrhage next to my brain - known in lesser circles as a nosebleed. At 3am on the morning we were due to move to Camp3 (24,000ft) I felt my nose running. No problem. I rolled over to wipe it and as I leaned, found the runny nose was blood. Drat! Why now? (That's a family-safe approximation of what was actually stated). Never having had serious problems with nosebleeds, I wasn't worried, at least until it wouldn't stop. Soon I had one emergency room doctor join me in my tent with two more on the radio, and we tried everything, all to no avail. After about five hours I made the difficult decision to descend to base camp while my partner left me to ascend to Camp3.

Moving down the Western Cwm, and then the Khumbu Icefall, was extremely difficult. I had toilet paper plugs jammed into both nostrils, which became disgusting bloody projectiles when I sneezed. Following climbers must have wondered about the numerous blood patches dotting the icefall. I don't mind saying I was fighting horrible emotional reactions due to abandoning the summit bid... to a nosebleed!

Upon arriving at Base Camp, I headed straight to the medical tent of the Himalayan Rescue Association. Examination showed the bleeding was somewhere inside my nasal cavity and could not be reached by cauterization methods. Since we couldn't stop the bleeding, the next step was to block it a product known as a nasal tampon. If you've never had the pleasure of a one, imagine a 3/8 x 3 long stick shoved into your brain. Trust me it SOUNDS better than it feels. And the resulting headache is not to be missed!

This helped sort of. Now all the blood was simply re-routed out the other nostril. So the following day I had a second one driven in (oops, I mean 'inserted'). My nose was no longer bleeding, but it was all running down my throat. It didn't take long to get horribly nauseous, so now my only choice was to lean over a bottle and spit.

Any activity caused the bleeding to start again, plus I was getting very fatigued - and it's a 34-mile walk to the nearest airport (there are no roads in the Khumbu). After wondering how I was going to get out of there, the doctors finally authorized a military helicopter evacuation. That was the final humiliation being evacuated, apparently healthy, with big plugs sticking out of my nose that's the size of a balloon.

Once in Kathmandu I had them removed, with the bleeding finally stopped. Overall it was a great adventure, although not the way I wanted it to end. Besides, standing atop Mount Everest, reaching the highest summit on the planet, to some the pinnacle of climbing achievement, I hear is overrated.


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