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Thread: Going into the Mountains - altitude sickness consideration

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    Lightbulb Going into the Mountains - altitude sickness consideration

    Love the mountains - in fact I live at 9000 foot plus and rarely come down to the "flat-lands" which are at about 5200 feet above sea level.

    I found it a bit difficult when I had first moved here about 45 years ago. I still feel difficulty going over the high mountain passes from about 10,500 feet - those with any heart conditions, or pulmonary issues (breathing issues) should consider some of the below and talk with their medical associates for their specific health and safety related issues.

    Here is some information and background: (from https://www.highuintapackgoats.com/h...us-regions.htm)

    Let's start with a simple image - Oxygen levels decrease the higher up you go. The blood cells need adequate oxygen levels and pressures in order to exchange gases and keep you alive.

    It can take WEEKS to adapt, if at all, for a person who has lived at sea level and has any edema (fluid buildup) to re-adjust to altitude, and that means taking it very easy, no extreme exercise - even walking around a few hundred feet can be exhausting and lead to death from lung flooding or brain flooding (severe edema) if one is susceptible.


    Acute mountain sickness is caused by reduced air pressure and lower oxygen levels at high altitudes.

    The faster you climb to a high altitude, the more likely you will get acute mountain sickness.

    You are at higher risk for acute mountain sickness if:
    • You live at or near sea level and travel to a high altitude
    • You have had the illness before

    Fact: - Acute mountain sickness is an illness that can affect mountain climbers, hikers, skiers, or travelers.

    Altitude sickness is the name given to the human body’s physiological reactions that occur as a result of low oxygen pressure that exists at high altitudes.

    At higher elevations oxygen levels decrease. The problem of Acute Mountain Sickness starts when acclimatization does not keep pace with your ascent to high altitude.

    This happens when you ascend too quickly or go from sea level to high altitudes in a day and your body cannot get as much oxygen as it needs or is accustomed too.

    Even the top endurance athletes know to get to a high altitude race location a few days early to acclimate to the altitude.


    Your symptoms will also depend on the speed of your climb and how hard you push (exert) yourself.

    Symptoms range from mild to life-threatening.

    They can affect the nervous system, lungs, muscles, and heart.

    In most cases, symptoms are mild.

    Symptoms of mild to moderate acute mountain sickness may include:
    • Difficulty sleeping
    • Dizziness or light-headedness
    • Fatigue
    • Headache
    • Loss of appetite
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Rapid pulse (heart rate)
    • Shortness of breath with exertion

    Symptoms that may occur with more severe acute mountain sickness include:
    • Blue color to the skin (cyanosis)
    • Chest tightness or congestion
    • Confusion
    • Cough
    • Coughing up blood
    • Decreased consciousness or withdrawal from social interaction
    • Gray or pale complexion
    • Cannot walk in a straight line, or walk at all
    • Shortness of breath at rest

    Are you going to travel to an area without adequate medical facilities?

    Have you considered your age and stamina?


    Early diagnosis is important. Acute mountain sickness is easier to treat in the early stages.

    The main treatment for all forms of mountain sickness is to climb down (descend) to a lower altitude as rapidly and safely as possible.

    You should not continue climbing (going up in altitude) if you develop symptoms.

    Extra oxygen should be given, if available.

    People with severe mountain sickness may need to be admitted to a hospital.

    I keep oxygen here with me for acute instances, when I have a cold, or allergies (fluid build-up), and for visiting friends if they have come from the flatlands.

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your health care provider if you have or had symptoms of acute mountain sickness, even if you felt better when you returned to a lower altitude.

    Call 911 or your local emergency number if you or another climber have any of the following symptoms:

    (if you are not in an area with immediate emergency rescue such as helicopter EVAC, consider your options carefully for even participating if you have any concerns)

    See below POST #4 about two people hiking and climbing upwards in altitude, in the USA, Mount Shasta - their experiences calling 911 and emergency search and rescue.. they tried for EVAC and couldn't get it.

    Severe breathing problems
    Altered level of alertness
    Coughing up blood

    Climb down the mountain immediately and as safely as possible.


    Keys to preventing acute mountain sickness include:
    • Climb the mountain gradually
    • Stop for a day or two of rest for every 2,000 feet (600 meters) above 8,000 feet (2,400 meters)
    • Sleep at a lower altitude when possible
    • Learn how to recognize early symptoms of mountain sickness
    • If you are traveling above 9,840 feet (3,000 meters), you should carry enough oxygen for several days.

    FORCING your body to adapt (chemical treatment):

    If you plan on quickly climbing to a high altitude, ask your doctor about a medication called acetazolamide (Diamox).

    This drug helps your body get used to higher altitudes more quickly, and reduces minor symptoms. It should be taken the day before you climb, and then for the next 1 to 2 days.

    If you are at risk for a low red blood cell count (anemia), ask your doctor if an iron supplement is right for you.

    Anemia lowers the amount of oxygen in your blood. This makes you more likely to have mountain sickness.

    While climbing:
    • Drink plenty of fluids
    • Avoid alcohol and/or carbonated beverages
    • Eat regular meals, high in carbohydrates
    • You should avoid high altitudes if you have heart or lung disease.

    Those who live at the lower altitudes, even when young can want to come up to the mountains to experience the beauty and majesty in the spring/summer.. In the winter they want to go skiing and of course party at the lodge.. Up the lift they go to even higher altitudes, and stupid can happen..

    People die from altitude sickness. They get injured from altitude sickness.

    Lured by the beauty of the mountains, where the birds fly and the mountain goats live?

    Adjusting to altitude slowly to see if you can tolerate reduced oxygen if you are from sea level is smart.

    Be safe be well be prepared -


    Quote day 1 great !! but at night...
    Altitude sickness can take up to a day to occur, with symptoms often becoming worse at night. It can also often be mistaken for other illnesses or conditions, including dehydration and the flu.

    Quote Regardless of age, sex, body type and fitness level, one or more of these maladies can hit anyone at any high-altitude location — including Antarctica — according to medical experts. Two years ago, former astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, then a hale 86, had to be airlifted from an elevation of 9,300 feet in the South Pole. Congested lungs kept him in a New Zealand hospital for a week.

    Are you in shape? whenever I have severe allergies, I even feel the altitude even having 45 years of being acclimated to altitude.
    Last edited by Bob; 19th June 2019 at 20:21.

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    Default Re: Going into the Mountains - altitude sickness consideration

    Don’t forget to think about Weather! Such a good tip.

    Thankfully, we have the news with continual weather updates.

  3. The Following 3 Users Say Thank You to Ascension For This Post:

    Ba-ba-Ra (19th June 2019), Bob (19th June 2019), Denise/Dizi (22nd June 2019)

  4. Link to Post #3
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    Default Re: Going into the Mountains - altitude sickness consideration

    Medical Evac (evacuation) insurance clause - - (from https://www.alongdustyroads.com/post...itude-sickness)

    Quote Note that, if you plan on hiking at altitude in South America, it’s critical that you have the correct travel insurance.

    Most policies exclude activities above 2,500 metres, and so you would actually be uncovered in the event that you became unwell, suffered injury, or required rescue on several of the continent’s most popular hikes.

    Thankfully, both True Traveller and World Nomads offer travel insurance which can include coverage for high altitude trekking and various other adventure activities on the road.
    ref: True Traveller - http://www.alongdustyroads.com/truetraveller
    World Nomads - http://alongdustyroads.com/worldnomads

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    Default Re: Going into the Mountains - altitude sickness consideration

    But I love Mount Shasta !

    Stories from the summits
    Deaths in the mountains most commonly result from underestimating the risks. Sharing your experience might just save someone else's life.

    HACE on Mt Shasta
    (High Altitude Cerebral Edema - fluid build-up in the brain - HAPE, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema)

    Below is an extract from a detailed account of the tragic death of a young climber from altitude sickness on Mt. Shasta.

    It contains many valuable lessons that might one day save someone's life at high altitude. We are grateful for the opportunity to host it here. (
    Quoted from http://www.altitude.org/stories.php?...E_on_Mt_Shasta)

    Tom passed away due to sudden and unforeseen circumstances, and if it weren’t for his development of HACE, we would have both made it down in the wind without need for rescue. Tom's family has given me their blessing in speaking freely about Tom's last days in hopes that such positive messages make a difference for others. Though I only knew Tom for a short while, we had quickly grown close. I feel as though I have lost an old friend, or a brother. It’s hard to put the feeling into words.

    Originally Tom and I had planned to leave work early and arrive at Mt. Shasta by sunset on Thursday, as this would leave us enough time to do part of the approach that night and make it easier to cover more ground the next day. However, Tom had a meeting that ended up running late, which made us leave late.

    The drive to Mt. Shasta was great. Light-hearted humor abounded. We talked about the turmoil currently brewing in his personal life, and on a positive note began making plans to find a place to room together later in the spring. Tom and I drove to Mt. Shasta’s north side. We decided to sleep at the car and head up in a few hours. We woke up at 4:30am, ate breakfast and drank lots of water to fully hydrate for the big day ahead of us. By 5:45am we reached the turnoff from the road and we ascended the ridge. At about 9,800 ft we found a nice protected spot for our campsite. The wind here was virtually gone, and there was a nice snow slope to dig the tent into. Walking up and left about 100 ft gave us a nice view of the mountain, while the camp itself was protected by the wind from all 4 sides.

    It had been a very long day. We had climbed almost 5,000 ft in snow with 50 lb packs in 6 hours and in total that day we had climbed about 8,500 ft and 13 miles in the snow to an elevation of just over 13,500 ft. We made it down to camp without problem in the dark. The full moon lit up the slopes so brightly that we turned off our headlamps.

    Despite needing food and drink to rehydrate and nourish myself from the day’s climbing, I ended up feeling so tired that I accidentally fell asleep in the tent before dinner was ready. Tom ate and drank, but was unable to wake me, so he left me alone to play catch-up in recovery the next day.

    We started late in the day, so we decided that we were only going to try to climb a couple of the icefalls on the glacier. Since the entire route was only 3.8 miles and 4,600 ft of climbing to the summit, it was still possible to go for the summit this day if we descended in the night, but Tom and I agreed to see how fast we got through the lower glacier and what the weather was like before expecting to do anything more.

    Since we were feeling better as we ascended higher, our ambivalence about summiting changed to eagerness. At 12,600ft at last we had a full view of the remaining slopes ascending to the base of Misery Hill and to the summit plateau. Misery Hill, by the way, is a common torture for most would-be Shasta climbers. Just as they think they’re near the summit from most of the common routes on the mountain, they crest the final rise only to see a football-field-sized plateau at 13,200 feet and another 600 foot hill waiting for them past that. We turned left to follow the glacier’s steep final headwall to the highpoint at the summit plateau.

    6:30 pm – Topping Out on the Summit
    Tom was feeling the urge to start down since we had a long night ahead of us and the summit was perhaps another 20 minutes ahead of us. I wasn’t about to let Tom be denied the summit a third time for the sake of a few minutes while the weather was good, so I insisted we actually go up to the highpoint.

    As we climbed the snow slope that winds around the backside of the rocky prow, the winds picked up noticeably. As I crested the ridge and crawled through the first set of rocks, which blocked the wind somewhat, I was almost knocked off my feet as I hit a wall of wind roaring across the summit ridge from the west. The wind was blowing so hard and continuously that it felt like I was walking submerged through a river. Still, I could stand up against the wind with concentration and I was on a running belay with the trailing rope going back through the rocks to Tom, so I half walked, half crawled to the metal summit register box.

    Tom was as surprised by the suddenness and intensity of the wind as I was, but I insisted that I was solidly anchored and belayed him the final stretch to the summit register. He tagged it, called it good, and I belayed him back to the shelter of the rocks. Once he took out all of the slack our running belay was re-established so I unclipped from the register and followed Tom back down to the summit saddle.

    Ca. 8:00-9:00 pm – Choosing to Bivvy on the Sub-Summit
    As soon as we passed through the rocks on the summit ridge, the winds quickly died down again. As we descended back to the saddle the winds decreased until we could barely feel it. On the summit plateau between the summits it was clear again, and it was quiet, with no sign of the tremendous winds blowing just 100 ft overhead.

    I remembered our weather forecast from Thursday calling for Saturday night through Sunday morning to be clear, with deteriorating weather later Sunday as more clouds and moisture moved in through Wednesday. A small chance of negligible precipitation and winds no stronger than on Saturday had been forecasted for Sunday. My estimate was that at best the winds might be less intense or may be blowing at a different direction later on, allowing us to descend. At the worst, with the same conditions in daylight we could either more safely descend another route or just get fed up with waiting and force our way down the ridge, setting up anchors and belaying as we went.

    We decided staying on the summit was a viable option. While it was uncomfortable, and undesirable since we were eager to get out Sunday, I didn’t want to risk an accident by being rushed. Still, we discussed all of our options to make sure that bivying on the sub-summit was the best course of action, and that staying on the sub-summit wouldn’t be too dangerous.

    Although we didn't consider this at the time, in retrospect staying on the summit may have been a safer option in other ways. If we had descended part way and then got lost or stuck at night for whatever reason, we would no longer have cell phone reception. Also, the winds shifted from west to south overnight, and by staying on the summit we could still descend whatever direction the wind was blowing towards, so this kept our descent options open until we were ready to commit to the descent. We thought Altitude Sickness seemed a negligible risk considering our individual histories at altitude and our ascent rate to the summit, so hypothermia was the only serious concern about remaining on the summit.

    My Last Night with Tom
    We dug down into the snow at the base of the rock, but the drift wasn’t very deep before we began hitting rocks, so we made do with the depth we could level the platform to. The resulting wind shelter was slightly confined. I could lay flat if I curled into a mild fetal position. Periodically throughout the night my legs would get sore and I would sit upright so that I could stretch them out. My left knee especially needed to stretch since it has undergone two knee surgeries, and tends to act up from time to time. I am 5’9”, and Tom’s 6’4” height left him a bit more confined, but I left him more space across the platform so that he could lay slightly diagonally.

    We could crawl into our packs to insulate our feet and legs, and draw up the extended top to covers up to our waists. My pack had a removable insert that acts as an insulating pad, so I extended it to act as a ground pad for my whole body. Tom’s bag did not have this, but the bag insulated his lower half, and we made an insulating mat out of the climbing rope for his upper half.

    Out of concern of possible hypothermia we talked on and off throughout the night whenever one of us woke up to see how the other was feeling. We both seemed to wake up every half hour or so due to the discomfort and cold. Tom sounded clear and coherent the entire time, with completely normal mental awareness. Basically, Tom was Tom all night. Both of us shivered on and off slightly, although Tom seemed to be a bit colder than I, so near the end of the night we cuddled a bit so that I could keep him a bit warmer. We joked about how that night brought us literally closer together, and how we looked forward to experiencing more epics together.

    Throughout the night Tom never suffered a dramatic increase in being cold and neither of us felt cold enough to get up and move around for warmth or to attempt an earlier descent. I asked about headache, nausea and windedness as well, and Tom reported feeling completely fine.

    The night was surreal. We had a moonlit view of the glowing white summit plateau, and the black rock of the summit block rising across the way, lined in white from snow. Occasionally clouds would billow up in the moonlight and obstruct our views of the sky, valley, or summit as slivers slithered by.

    Ca. 8 am – First Signs of HACE
    Tom was feeling better than I was when we were ready to leave. The cold had left me eager to get down and disinterested in food, but Tom was happily eating some of his granola and said he felt ready to pack up and climb down.

    While I was putting gear back in my pack, Tom stood up to put on his crampons. I saw him suddenly fall to the side into our rock windbreak as if he had been hit by a bag of bricks. He stood upright and began to stumble. He said that he was having trouble with his balance and then he nearly fell over. I was concerned that he might fall off the sub-summit, so I hurried over and grabbed him to steady his stance and get him away from the edge of the snow platform. Then he said his vision was deteriorating and that maybe he thought he had snow blindness. I was shocked.

    “Tom,” I said, “I don’t think you have snow blindness. I think you have some serious AMS. We need to get you down Avalanche Gulch NOW.”

    By now Tom’s voice had begun to change and he began to stutter and as his speech wavered.

    “I-I-I don’t think I can climb d-down like this. I can barely s-stand,” Tom replied.

    “Tom, whatever is happening is serious. We HAVE to get you down. I’ll short-rope you down Avalanche Gulch. You can fall safely all you want and I can help lower you down,” I urged. Short-roping is a technique where two climbers tie in close to each other. When descending, the stronger climber stays higher on the slope and can catch the fall of the weaker climber through a braced stance or self-arresting with their ice axe if pulled out of their stance.

    Tom sat down and attempted to put on his crampons while sitting, but he had some difficulty adjusting the straps. Ultimately I adjusted some of them for him. He was aware that he was suffering from some sort of severe altitude problem and that he needed to get down, so initially he was very proactive in getting gear together and attempting to get down the mountain.

    By the time I attempted to get Tom to a lower altitude on short-rope, he showed signs of lassitude as he became less talkative. As he walked down the slope on short rope, he quickly gave up attempting to walk on the 20-30 degree slopes, sat on his butt, and attempted to slide down the hill to keep moving. The situation was grim, but Tom wasn’t ready to give up. He was fighting for every inch. By this point I was scared for Tom, and scared that we might not be able to get down. But in my panicked mind I knew that there was no choice – we had to descend or Tom would only get worse.

    The driving force of the wind was unrelenting. I could barely crawl into the wind and I couldn’t even look in the direction we needed to go. Yet Tom could barely stand on the calm sub-summit. Grim reality finally set in as I realized that I could not get Tom down in those conditions. I decided that we had to go back to our shelter and call 911. It was obvious that Tom needed SAR to get down.

    It was a struggle to get Tom back up to our wind break and on the steeper sections I had to place his feet in the snow steps and push him uphill as he attempted to stand up. Once we got back to the wind break, he sat down upright against the rock wall and dropped his head.

    9:00 am – First SAR Call
    I turned on my cell phone and first reached 911 at 9:04 am. I got to the point with the most pertinent information, thinking that even if the operator wasn’t ready to record the information that a voice recording could be referred to later if we lost reception.

    (The following is my best recollection of what was generally said. I could be a little off on the exact details)

    911 Operator: “911, what is your emergency?”

    Me: “This is Mark Thomas requesting a Search-and-Rescue evacuation for Thomas Bennett. We are on the sub-summit of Mt. Shasta, next to the main summit. He is having severe cerebral problems from altitude and needs to be evacuated immediately.”

    911 Operator: “I’m sorry Sir; I’m having difficulty hearing you. Please say that again.”

    This went on several times before the static cleared, and then finally I got my message through.

    911 Operator: “Let me transfer you to search-and -rescue.” (SAR)

    Transferring . . . . . . .

    SAR Operator: “What is your emergency?”

    Me: “This is Mark Thomas requesting a Search-and-Rescue evacuation for Thomas Bennett. We are on the sub-summit of Mt. Shasta, next to the main summit. He is having severe cerebral problems from altitude and needs to be evacuated immediately.”

    SAR Operator: “What is Tom’s condition?”

    Me: “He’s suffering from severe ataxia and has lost his eyesight. I can’t get him down.”


    My phone disconnected as it flashed an empty battery symbol and powered down. The cold had drained my phone’s batteries in a matter of minutes. I stowed it in my jacket to rewarm the phone and tried to use Tom’s I-Phone. The process was a little slow since I didn’t know where he had it or how to use it.

    At this time Tom was barely responding to me. He talked in short sentences, mostly in truncated phrases. After some difficult attempts to communicate with Tom, I managed to find his phone and call 911.

    911 Operator: “911, what is your emergency?”

    Mark: “This is Mark Thomas again calling about the search and rescue on Mt. Shasta. I lost my connection.”

    911 Operator: “Let me transfer you.”

    Transferring . . . . . . .

    SAR Operator: “What is your emergency?”

    Mark: “This is Mark Thomas again calling about the search and rescue on Mt. Shasta. I lost my connection.”

    SAR Operator: “O.K. In case we get disconnected again, can you write down our number for a direct connection?”

    I couldn’t really write in these conditions and everything we had was wet from the blowing snow the previous day.

    SAR Operator: “O.K. What numbers can we call to reach you?”

    I gave the operator my cell number but said that the cold was killing the battery. I had difficulty getting Tom to tell me what his phone number was.

    SAR Operator: “What food and water do you have?”

    Me: “I have about half a liter of water, a GU, a Cliff Bar, and a candy bar.”

    I tried to ask Tom what he had left for food and water, but it was getting more difficult to get him to talk. All I could ascertain from Tom was ‘some granola’, so that would have to do for now, so I relayed that to the rescuer.

    SAR Operator: “And what is your location?”

    Me: “We are on the sub-summit of Mt. Shasta, next to the main summit. We are near 14,000 ft. We came in from the north side of Mt. Shasta and climbed the Whitney Glacier. We ran into high winds on our descent route last night and spent the night on the summit.” Apparently they were confused as to our location.

    SAR Operator: “O.K. We need to forward this information on. Keep your phone on and we’ll call you back soon.”

    I hung up the I-Phone and put it in my jacket to make sure I didn’t lose its battery power to the cold.

    During the 911 call Tom still had enough presence of mind that he attempted to crawl back into his sleeping bag for bedding down again at the shelter. However, he did not have the presence of mind or coordination to get everything out of his pack or to get his feet all the way down to the bottom. I was frightened for Tom, but at this point there was nothing to do but wait for SAR to call back. I crawled back into my pack, shivering as I waited and the winds began to lightly blow snow into our shelter.

    Ca. 10:30 am
    I kept watching the phone for a call, but none came. Eventually I looked closer and saw that the I-Phone had lost reception. Several times I crawled out into the increasing wind to a clearer view of the valley, but the phone failed to get reception. I tried calling 911 again but with no luck. I tried my phone, which had regained some battery power, but it either couldn’t find a connection or it died as the phone started ringing.

    Although Tom seemed to be getting drawn more and more into his own world, sometime around this point he spoke up, saying that he thought his eyesight was getting better. This was the first time he volunteered to talk since before 9:00 and this made me feel hopeful. I asked him some questions about some metrics to prove whether this was really the case. He said that he could see his feet and crampons pretty clearly, and that he could see me, but just as a blur even though I was sitting beside him. I never asked for metrics when his eyesight first went, so I had no basis of comparison, but if this was an improvement, it certainly wasn’t much of one.

    I continued off and on to call 911 and check for reception without luck. I tried to warm up as the weather got colder and the sky began to cloud over. At that point I knew based on observed weather conditions that we were going to be there at least until the next day. I thought about digging a better shelter if I could find deeper snow, but that would require climbing back down to where the winds were blasting across the mountain. I’m not sure if I was indecisive about digging a snow cave then or just afraid to accept the hard reality that we were both cold, getting colder, and would be there at least until the next day. Certainly no helicopter was coming, and if any SAR climbers were attempting to reach us, they wouldn’t arrive until that night – if not until the next day. At least Tom’s condition didn’t appear to be getting worse, and his volunteered observation of his vision left me feeling a bit better about waiting it out at least until I could communicate again with SAR.

    Ca. 11:30 am – First Snow Cave
    By now our wind shelter was getting occasional drifts of snow blown into it and I was getting seriously cold. I had hugged and cuddled with Tom to keep him warm and he responded mildly to this. As the clouds moved and the wind picked up, it became apparent to me that even the rescuers might not make it to us today.

    I couldn’t stand waiting around any longer not doing anything. I had given up on hearing back from SAR by this time. The weather had continued to deteriorate and although Tom’s condition appeared to be holding steady, he hadn’t responded much to me in a while. I left Tom to dig a snow cave for us to move to in order to ride out the weather. I knew that at least digging the cave would warm me up, leaving me better able to care for Tom, and it would help ease my fears of our dire situation by distracting me with a task.

    I walked down the slope into the stronger winds looking around for signs of a snowdrift deep enough to dig a snow cave in. I checked along the rocks on the ridge but didn’t see anything promising. As I descended towards the saddle I saw a large snowdrift about 50 feet my left about halfway down the sub-summit. I walked over to check it out. There was a lip on the leeward side that indicated that the drift may be deep enough for a fully contained cave, so I started digging.

    I dug down and straight in and made it about four feet in before I hit rock. This was not enough space to dig a regular cave, but if I extruded this hole parallel to the slope as a “T” configuration from the entrance, I figured I could dig slots long enough for us to lie in across the hillside in snow ‘tubes’. I expanded the hole to my left and made it about 4 more feet before I hit hard ice and rock. Holding out hope I dug to my right where the snowdrift was likely deeper – that being the leeward direction – and kept on digging. Following the rocks, I found that the hillside wrapped around in a way that I could expand the slot wide enough to fit me and Tom side-by-side.

    Things seemed to be getting better. The winds outside the snow cave were probably blowing about 40 mph and kick a lot of cold snow in my face every time I stuck my head too close to the cave entrance, but inside my ever-enlarging cave it was warm, still and quiet. The cave was becoming a peaceful refuge against the terror developing outside.

    By the time I was done I was feeling pretty good. The cave was comfortable, plenty large for me and Tom, and although there might be problems with it being located below the entrance, I figured we could block the entrance with our packs and gear to keep the warm air inside and the wind-blown snow outside. I polished off the inside walls to keep water from dripping on us as the cave warmed from our body heat and then eagerly climbed outside to go get Tom into it.

    Ca. 1:30 pm
    When I reached Tom I was shocked at his state. He was going comatose and was no longer protecting himself from the increasing wind and snow.

    “Tom! I just finished digging a snow cave. You can’t stay out in this weather. You’ll freeze to death. We need to get you into the cave. It’s very warm and comfortable. Come on!”

    I couldn’t quite bring myself to accept the reality of the situation and continued talking to Tom as if he could hear me.

    Reflecting now on Tom’s behavior, I don’t think he had any awareness left at this time and I thought (and confirmed later) that everything I did at this point was in vain. With HACE, the only permanent treatment is descent, which was beyond my ability to do for Tom and I was fully aware of this. Secondary to that, injecting dexamethasone (a strictly regulated prescription drug), administering oxygen from a canister and mask or using a Gamow bag (both of which are serious pieces of equipment that only fully stocked expeditions carry to extremely high altitudes) were the only ways that I could have alleviated Tom’s symptoms. Even with those aids, Tom’s condition had progressed so fast that they may not have been enough to get him down – Tom was too far gone to be saved.

    I may have started to go into some sort of shock at this time as I wasn’t really expressing much emotion at this point. My stomach was caving in, and my grave feelings of dread from earlier drifted towards a sense of panic that I kept trying to push back into the recesses of my consciousness. It seemed like I was saying the concerned words one should say in this situation, but they came out awkward and stilted. My face felt wooden – although I was screaming and crying inside, I was calm on the outside. Ultimately, because Tom was barely responding to me, I knew that I would have to drag him to the snow cave.

    “Tom!” I shouted angrily at him. “You can’t stay out here!” He was mostly passive and mildly resisting to my efforts to move him. At first I was cautious in trying to move him, but eventually I realized that he needed to be moved, whether he wanted to or not, and I would have to start making some very hard decisions.

    “Tom! If you don’t start moving soon, I’ll move you myself! I swear, if you don’t start working with me here, I’m going to drag you down to that snow cave!”

    I was bluffing at first because I was afraid of hurting Tom and the idea of dragging him against his will was terrible. Then there was the practical problem that I weigh about 165 lb, and Tom probably weighed closer to 175 lb or more of solid muscle. I really had no idea if I could even make good on my threat to drag him across the snow slope in the wind if I tried. Thinking of how I could get Tom down, I took one of my quick-draw runners off of my harness and clipped it to his belay loop. This gave me a leash to pull him close to his center of gravity, so I could drag him without the problems of him spinning around and dragging into the snow.

    After a lot of struggle dragging and lowering Tom down the slope, I then had to move him sideways over to the cave, which I did by hugging Tom tightly and rolling across the snow slope, taking care not to snag our crampons against each other. By the time we got over to the entrance of the cave, Tom’s head was just above the opening, but I found that I wasn’t strong enough to lift or push him into the cave. I only had to move him uphill about 6 feet, but I couldn’t even move him an inch. At this point I was getting exhausted, wet and cold, and Tom was in a far worse place then where I had dragged him from. The wind was blowing snow pretty hard over both of us and during the brief time we had stopped it had already begun to bury us.

    Ca. 2:30 pm
    Once Tom was in the cave he had become still. Growing more terrified from a nightmare that wouldn’t end, I attempted to check Tom’s breathing and pulse. I was surprised how hard this turned out to be and it took some time as it was difficult to tell his breath over mine, and the heavy clothing he was wearing may have hidden signs of his breathing. It was hard to take a pulse from his neck with my cold fingers, but after trying both sides, doing a visual and audio inspection, and feeling for breath on my fingers and ear, I decided that he had indeed stopped breathing and had lost a pulse, so I began CPR. I knew Tom was going to die one way or another, and I was terrified. I could not allow Tom to die alone, and I could not let myself give up on Tom, so I stayed, and I fought against the futility of it all.

    Throughout my time giving CPR, Tom was completely unresponsive. After 30-45 minutes of CPR with no response, I gave up.

    I felt pretty strongly that Tom had passed away. At this point I felt pretty detached, but I still had to think and act, so I considered my situation. I got out my headlamp and shone it into Tom’s eyes. There was absolutely no response in his pupils. This was the one sure sign of Tom’s passing that I could use to justify to myself in declaring him deceased. I don’t think I could have brought myself to accept his passing otherwise.

    I knew in my heart that that Tom was dead. For some reason, perhaps due to shock, I knew I ‘should’ cry, yet I couldn’t. This disconnect was strangely upsetting, but I could only think about what to do next. Although I was slightly squeamish at the idea, and felt shameful at even feeling hesitant to do so, I prepared myself psychologically to stay with Tom’s body in the cave until I could guide SAR to us, whenever that might be. I began thinking through my head what steps I would take, such as bringing the gear down from our overnight shelter, organizing it in the 4 foot space that I dug to the left of the entrance, which would make a convenient cubby for it all, and sleeping beside Tom. I wasn’t sure if I could even sleep, but I was at least going to stay in the cave with him.

    Ca. 3:30 pm – Second SAR Call and Leaving Tom
    Throughout this time I must have had turned my phone on and had forgotten about it, because suddenly it started beeping out a tune that I had received voice mails. Surprised, I decided to check the first one, thinking it would be from SAR’s first return call and that the remaining four messages would be redundant ones from them. (This is a recollection to the best of my memory as to what I heard, but now the voicemails are erased from my phone)

    “This is Siskiyou County search and rescue. We’ve been trying to call you back but we’ve been unable to get a response. We’re trying to call you back regarding the rescue that you requested. We’re still not sure exactly where you are. Did you report that you’re stuck on Casaval Ridge? There is a large storm expected for Mt. Shasta tonight - . . . . “

    My phone cut out again, but at least this time it was due to reception and not the battery, so I left the cave and climbed to the top of the sub-summit in hopes that I would get reception again. First on my mind was to report exactly where we were, since that critical information had failed to be communicated during the transfers between agencies on the phone and the poor reception.

    Apparently, because SAR believed that we had climbed out of Bunny Flats (the only trailhead where wilderness permits are collected in the winter), and because records there indicated that some other climbers from the East Bay had descended and left later that afternoon, rescuers were beginning to believe that we were those climbers. Fortunately, I was able to make contact with 911 from the sub-summit. (This is a recollection to the best of my memory as to what I heard)

    Mark: “This is Mark Thomas again calling about the search and rescue on Mt. Shasta. Could you please transfer me to SAR.”

    911 Operator: “Let me transfer you.”

    Transferring . . . . . . .

    SAR Operator: “What is your emergency?”

    Mark: “This is Mark Thomas again calling about the search and rescue I called for on Mt. Shasta. My phone battery won’t last long, so let me tell you what I need to get across, and then ask me questions. I’m calling to report that Tom Bennett is deceased, but I am still with him. WE ARE ON THE SUB-SUMMIT OF MT. SHASTA, AT 14,000 FEET, JUST ACROSS FROM THE MAIN SUMMIT.”

    SAR Operator: “O.K. Sir”

    Mark:“I received your voicemails about an incoming storm to Mount Shasta. In light of Tom’s state and that we have a snow cave, how safe is it for me to stay up here with him?”

    SAR Operator: “…………..”

    I checked my phone and it was showing that it had lost reception and was nearly out of batteries again. I tried the I-Phone and it also showed no reception. At this point I knew that I might be in serious trouble, but I still was conflicted about leaving Tom. I considered the cold hard facts: Tom had passed, I might be in mortal danger and it would be a waste to die here as well. At the very least I would spare a lot of anguish to others and risk to SAR if I can mark Tom’s location and get down.

    It was a painful decision, and it took me a while to be at peace with it, but in light of the uncertain information, I decided to leave Tom and descend the north side of Mount Shasta. The final autopsy reports found nothing unusual in Tom, apart from cerebral edema.

    Originally posted by Mark on summitpost.
    reposted from: http://www.altitude.org/stories.php?...E_on_Mt_Shasta

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    United States Avalon Member Ascension's Avatar
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    Default Re: Going into the Mountains - altitude sickness consideration

    Thank you, Bob, for posting that tragic, yet timely story of loss. I'm moved.

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    Ba-ba-Ra (19th June 2019), Bob (19th June 2019), Denise/Dizi (22nd June 2019), Valerie Villars (20th June 2019)

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