Dr. Peter Hackett isn’t being facetious when he compares climbing Everest to war. He’s being serious, and in his case almost deadly serious.
Dr. Hackett was a climber with John West’s 1981 American Medical Expedition to Everest as both a Doctor and a mountaineer. Hackett is an emergency physician in Grand Junction, Colorado, and an Affiliate Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle. His work on mountain sickness (altitude illness) has been published in over 100 medical journals; he knows whereof he speaks.
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Like a soldier in war, a climber on Everest experiences sleep deprivation, miserable living conditions, anxiety and often mortality. Everest has its own dangers as well, avalanches, sudden shifts in weather patterns that bring jet stream winds down the mountain side and especially the ever-present threats of hypoxia (an absence of oxygen reaching living tissues), brain swelling, and the hallucinations and death that they can bring.
In Hackett’s case hypoxia probably contributed to his near fatal fall down the Hillary Step following his successful summit of the peak. With nothing to eat or drink for the 13-hour trek Hackett was exhausted and probably hypoxic from the altitude. He started down Hillary step only to lose his footing and fall 15 feet and become wedged in the rocks. He found himself hanging upside down at 8,000 meters above the South West Face. Fortunately Hackett had secured his ice axe to his pack and was able to use it to right himself and continue down the step. He met fellow climber and Doctor Chris Pizzo, who had been waiting for several hours below, and continued safely to base camp.
Dr. Peter Hackett has been a long time contributor to EverestNews.com, his article: Ginkgo biloba reduces incidence and severity of acute mountain sickness is here.
This video, a Nova show on Public TV, traces the 1997 climb in which Dr Peter Hackett conducted a scientific study of how high altitude effects the ability of top climbers to function properly. Participants in the study included Ed Viesters, David Breashears. During the climb several team members get pulmonary edema and nearly die.