26 January 2009

Jut and the Volcano

Originally drafted 20 November 2008

Image: Sun rise at mid-camp. Credit: Cristian Tambley.

This was an incredible challenge for me. I loved it! It's a lot like when I'm doing a long race. The ego takes over and you start to think, "what the heck am I doing here?" But then you realize exactly what you are doing. You reel in the ego, concentrate and realize that you are pushing yourself in ways that strengthen no only the mind but the body as well. I was completely alive and intimately familiar with every step that I took.

Image: Mid-camp (16,500ft) on the slopes of Volcan Simbad.

The cough was kicking me in the rear end, but I knew that I had a job to do once I reached the summit. And, I knew that I would reach the summit. Claudia, our expedition doctor, told me that altitude diminishes ones immune system, and that high elevations also tend to spur a cough in most. Because I had been sick most of the expedition, and I was at high altitude, this cough really had a hold on me. However, I did not realize how troubling it was until the second half of the climb.

The first half of the climb was quite easy. I've done once already and I knew what to expect. However, when we ascended we were carrying more weight than we did on our training day, but we were all still strong and climbing well.

Image: Having breakfast before our summit attempt on Simbad. Left to right -- me, Ingrid and Kevin. Credit: Cristian Tambley.

We spent the night at mid-camp, which is around 16,500ft elevation. I was feeling the effects of altitude here. After being at mid-camp for a few hours, I realized how winded I was if I simply walked from one end of camp to the other. The entire team ate early, and we called it an early night.

Image: Our ascent to the summit. Ingrid is at right. Yes, I'm the only one on the team with a light on his helmet. In my defense (though it may not be much of one), I leave for Rapa Nui to continue my cave work -- so, I brought my caving helmet.

I went to bed around 2000hr, but I only slept about three hours that night. For the first few hours, I found it very difficult to breath. I placed one of my backpacks underneath my head in an attempt to elevate my chest. This helped a little. Then, my tent mate, Nathalie, suggested opening one of the tent’s vents. I believe a combination between the two enabled me to breath much better. I was then able to drift in and out of sleep for the next several hours.

Between really weird high-altitude dreams and my inability to breath, I woke up the next morning ready to tackle the volcano. However, my cough had not abated. So, I had to make the ascent with a cough.

The second pitch – The climb for me was slow and steady for the most part.
Each time I stopped, I was coughing up a lung. I placed a bandanna over my face so that the air I was inhaling was slightly warmed. It seemed to help a little.

It’s funny; when you are standing at the base of Aguas Calientes, it does not appear that big. When you’re climbing though, you know she is a behemoth.

It was quite a sense of accomplishment once we reached the summit. I’ve never been to 19000ft, and the views were absolutely spectacular. Oddly enough, I didn’t notice the lack of oxygen as much while climbing and while on the summit. The lake was absolutely beautiful. It was pinkish red. We still don’t know why the lake is that color, but several on the team are investigating this question.

Image: The view of Simbad's caldera. Kevin, Jeremy and others are studying this lake to determine why the water is red. Credit: Cristian Tambley.

Once on the summit, I actually jogged around a bit, and got in trouble by the expedition doc. I’ve ran at 14K, but never 19K. However, I felt fine after my little job and was barely winded.

Unfortunately, I did not get to map the lake using the bathometry unit. The lake was frozen. However, we did set up the dosimeter (UV meter). It is currently collecting data at 19,000ft.

All and all, this was an incredible experience and expedition. With each expedition I complete, I walk away a better and more knowledgeable person. Expeditions truly can help one grow.

Image: Cristian and I sitting proudly before the dosimeter. This UV instrument is currently logging data at 19,000ft!

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