Mt. Denali, Alaska, 17,660 Feet
The winded climbers slowly ascended the icy cliff in the near darkness of 4 a.m., carefully avoiding the steep crevasses that fell off sharply to either side. Several times each hour, Tom Benman, lead climber and expedition frontman, would call out "Everyone okay?" They had stopped replying long ago, too exhausted by the supreme effort of simply placing each foot in the proper direction. Three hours into a 12+ hour climbing day, the silence was permeated only by labored breathing and the crunch of ice under crampons.
Emily Norman, a Registered Nurse and the only woman on the six-person expedition team, was third in line, following her friend Mark McKinley, the least experienced climber of the group. For the last couple of days, Mark had been coughing heavily, and all morning had been slowing up, causing a backlog behind them and prompting several "everyone okay"'s from Tom. Knowing Mark's competitive spirit, Emily was hesitant to urge him to pick up the pace, and when he pulled up to rest on a protected ledge, Emily motioned to the other climbers to pass on by. Her head was pounding anyway, and she rationalized she could use the break.
"You okay?" Emily asked.
"Yeah....I just....can't seem to....catch my breath," gasped Mark.
"Just rest a minute. There's no rush, Mark. Take your time....slow, deep breaths."
Tom appeared from the upper trail. "What's up?"
"Mark's having a little trouble catching his breath." Emily was getting worried.
Tom looked sharply at her. "How much trouble?"
"Quite a bit, I think." Emily looked over at Mark, whose breathing didn't appear eased by the rest stop, and then back at Tom. "I think we should get him down to a lower altitude. Quickly."
Tom nodded. "I'll get the others."
Some sites to help answer the questions:
High Altitude Medicine Guide
High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema http://www.nejm.org/content/1996/0334/0010/0662.asp
Altitude Illness (David Shlim, MD, MedicinePlanet.com)
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (Last Updated: 11/21/99)
Outdoor Action Guide to High Altitude: Acclimatization and
Illnesses (Rick Curtis, Director, Outdoor Action Program)
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