K2 Climb 2016
Blog #17 – “…to leave now would be admitting huge defeat”
27/06/16: Day 17 – Basecamp Rest Day, 5000m
My deep slumber lasted approximately 2 hours. By 2100 I was having to go back out to the loo (still not trusting a fart inside my sleeping bag with my stomach). You’re probably bored of me writing about my poor night’s sleep, but believe me, this one was no better than the previous three nights that I’ve been at BC.
The worst part (other than the splitting headache) was the psychological spiral that it tends to send you down. I certainly don’t consider myself a hypochondriac (just ask my wife how difficult it is to make me go to see a doctor), but the sleeplessness does tend to make you start to think the worst. Not only was I conscious that I wasn’t joining the rest of the team on their foray up to Camp 1 (therefore putting me a rotation behind everyone else), but was there something more serious about the severe nighttime headaches that I hadn’t been able to shake for the past 4 nights.
Getting a headache when you arrive at a higher altitude is very much par for the course, but it shouldn’t last this long. I don’t think that they are due to dehydration, as I’m drinking lots. There could be an element of heat stroke, but I’m not spending any more time out in the sun than anyone else. Over and over in my mind I was thinking that it could be something more severe. Could it be HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Oedema) – swelling or fluid on the brain? Could this be the end of the expedition? Might I have to go back off the mountain? Whilst the thought of getting back to my family might be an attractive one, I’d only just started – to leave now would be admitting huge defeat.
All big expeditions are gambles. Not only is there inherent risk involved with undertaking these big trips, but there is absolutely no guarantee of success. K2 has especially low success rates – there are whole years where no one summits due to weather conditions. However well prepared, funded and supported a team may be, once you are on the mountain, your fate (success or otherwise) is in the lap of the gods. If your trip is self funded (like my last one to K2) then at worst, you only have to contend with reconciling your own personal investment in a failed attempt. If, like me on this trip, you have been fortunate enough to have others sponsor you, then suddenly the stakes are much higher. With opportunity comes responsibility. Now, I know that none of my supporters of sponsors would think less of me for turning back, but it would be a huge blow to my personal pride.
For a year now, I’ve had this expedition in the back of my mind, and for at least six6 months, it has been very much part of my personal brand and story. There have been many climbers and adventurers who have had to cancel or cut short expeditions for many reasons, and many of these would have had large sponsorship deals or endorsements riding on them. Between the pangs of pain in my head every time I rolled over in my sleeping bag, I was running through how I would explain my early departure to those who had had so much belief in me. It would be disingenuous not to mention that I fully recognise that if I am successful in reaching the top of K2, it could be very beneficial personally and professionally. To turn back on a summit day, or to be beaten by the weather is one thing, but to admit defeat at this stage (however inviting a swift return home to those I love the most) would be absolutely gutting, and frankly, embarrassing.
This spiral of discontent and ‘worst case scenario’ is an easy trap to fall into when you are feeling at your most alone (in your tent, in pain, the the middle of the night, a hundred kms from any civilisation and thousands of miles from home). I heard the others leaving at 0200 on their climb to Camp 1 and back, and the rest of the night didn’t get much better.
As morning came, and the tent began to warm up to its inevitable unbearable heat, I forced myself to get up and out. When I say I forced myself, it must have taken me at least 15 minutes of sitting up to summon up the courage to pull my socks, t-shirt and trousers on, before finally managing to clamber out of the vestibule. Every time I moved my head it pounded, and like an old man I slowly stumbled over to the cook tent. The boys we’re still incredibly sympathetic and cooked Fahad and me fried eggs and roti.
With being up and about, the headache began to subside, and I just about managed to force down my breakfast. One of the other team’s LOs came by, and I asked if he knew of any doctors in camp. Fortunately he knew that one of the team members in the KK team was a doctor (Yuri from Mexico), but also mentioned that Garrett (Madison) might be a good person to speak to. After breakfast, Fahad and I wandered over to the other camps (fortunately we’re only talking about 50m), and I saw Garrett first.
Garrett is a veteran of many big trips like this (this is his 3rd K2 expedition at least, and he’s had many successful expeditions to Everest), so he’s quite accustomed to the various afflictions of travel in developing countries and altitude. He was very sympathetic, especially where my GI bug was concerned, and gave me plenty of good advice on what to take/do with that. He suggested that I go and check in with Yuri, who might be able to give me some more specific advice, especially where the headaches were concerned.
I found Yuri in his BC dining tent, and again, he was very sympathetic. I mentioned that I was no stranger to altitude, this being my 20th expedition or so, but it was the night time headaches that were worrying me. He said that it wouldn’t be anything as severe as HACE; that it is usually due to the changes in breathing patterns at night, which means that not enough oxygen is getting to the brain. He recommended that I take 125mg of Diamox before I went to bed, and see if that helped. Having taken Diamox on previous expeditions, whilst I’m aware of its tedious side effects (uncomfortable pins and needles, and it being a diuretic), I am also aware that it does help with headaches and acclimatisation.
It’s amazing the effect of talking to others about your problems (especially when one of them is an actual doctor), and as I walked back to our camp, I was already feeling better and not in the funk that I had felt during the night.
So tonight – I’ll be popping the Diamox before bed, and keeping my fingers crossed that it can work it’s magic. Sorry Saskia – I’m not ready to give up on this adventure quite yet!
The others returned from their jaunt to C1 (6000m) at about 1330. It had obviously been a tough day for them, nearly 12 hours on the hill. They’ve managed to fix two tents at C1, which is a great effort considering how little space there is up there. It looks like there is some bad weather coming in over the next couple of days, so it will be an enforced rest period before we hopefully can try to push back up to C1 (and stay the night) later on in the week. If we can get a night in at C1 in June, it’ll be a great effort and a good start to our acclimatisation programme on the hill.
Lesson for the day:
If in doubt, reach out to others – especially professionals. However optimistic our outlook, at our darkest moments our minds can conjure up the very worst case scenarios. It is important to share our problems and challenges and get other points of view and opinions – it not usually as bad as we think, and even the process of reaching out can help both physically and psychologically. Asking for help is not a weakness – in fact it shows strength and self-efficacy.
Jake Meyer 2016 K2 Expedition fundraising in support of Walking With The Wounded
Please note, that Jake’s comments are his alone (as are his spelling and grammar mistakes and poor jokes), and do not represent the views of any of the Sponsors, Expedition affiliates or Expedition Team Members. All praise/complaints to Jake on his safe return.
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