At the end of April last year, Nepal was hit by a devastating earthquake. Measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, the Goku quake took the lives of over 9,000 people across Nepal and injured over twice that number. The earthquake triggered a number of large avalanches in the Nepalese Himalaya and lead to the deadliest day in Everest history; killing 14 people on the mountain.
Rab® athlete Richard Parks is currently in Nepal and is aiming to summit Everest as part of a project aimed at collecting data on the effects of hypoxia on the human body. In attempting the mountain just a year after such a terrible tragedy, Richard has been confronted by the realities of life following a natural disaster. As part of his data collection on the mountain, Rich will be taking a muscle biopsy from his leg, a blood sample from his own ear and performing a cognitive assessment, all while breathing the 7% Oxygen air on the summit of Everest. It is hoped that the data will give valuable insight to scientists researching how dementia develops in the human brain.
After successfully completing a dry-run of his data collection on Island Peak, Rich has continued his journey to Everest and his process of acclimatisation has begun in earnest. Commenting on the practice experiment, Rich commented:
“Island Peak was a huge milestone. I can say that now, because I’ve felt the relief after a successful summit. At the time it was all about process, allowing the outcome to take care of itself. This was my final opportunity to test the data collection systems I plan to use on Everest’s summit that we have been developing in the lab. Despite the state of the art environmental chamber in the University of South Wales (USW), nothing can compare with doing it for real on the summit at 6,189m/20,305ft”
With the final opportunity for practice behind him, Rich has continued the journey to Everest and has begun the process of acclimatisation in earnest. In the past week, he has begun his first rotation above the Khumbu icefall, crossing the ladders and ever-shifting ice to camp 1 and from there, on to camp 2. Having last been on the mountain in 2011 when he made an ascent with the aid of supplemental Oxygen, Rich has found returning to Everest following last year’s tragedy to be a chastening experience.
“I plan to stay above the Icefall for 17 days next time. It’s a very sobering place as it’s built on the debris of last year’s multiple avalanches triggered by the Nepalese earthquake with bits of broken tent frozen into the ice and rock. For so many incredible humans and teams here on the mountain, there seem to be many people here oblivious to the constant threat and the sobering tragedy of last year. Although I wasn’t involved, it’s very clear to me from talking to those that were, just how huge an impact it’s had on their lives. At Jagged Globe we took part in a minute’s silence today along with some of the other affected teams and Everest ER to remember those affected and those who lost their lives. I’m sure some choose not to dwell on it for their own reasons, but I feel that it’s very important to remember.”
Another potent reminder of the dangers of the mountains came later in the day:
“…a serac collapsed in one of the gullies in the Western Cwm triggering a small avalanche whilst we climbed to Camp 2. I had no issue with running to safety to avoid the snow cloud. It was inconsequential in the end, although significant and bloody scary, we were in relative safety.”
Rich and his team are now safely set up in camp 2 getting ready to face the long process of gains and reductions in altitude that are necessary if the team are to summit without supplemental Oxygen. Reaching the summit is one thing, but staying there long enough to carry out the necessary tests is another matter and Rich plans to reach 8,000 metres twice before making the summit push. We wish him and all of the other climbers on Everest the best of luck for the coming weeks.