Dispatch—Day 34: April 29, 2009
The Importance of Supplemental Oxygen
Photo: Erica Dohring tests her oxygen mask at Base Camp
By Dave Hahn
Video still by Kent Harvey

Everest Base Camp—17,530 feet (5,343 meters)
N 28º 00.336' E 086º 51.504'

We dragged out an oxygen bottle to practice with, just after breakfast. It does take a little practice, by the way, to get good with the systems we rely on up high. Today we were just familiarizing ourselves with how the regulators attach to the bottles, how the hoses attach to the regulators, and how the masks attach to the face. I like doing this sort of run-through down in the thick air on a rest day in the sunshine so that when we have to get up in the middle of the night at a bajillion feet above sea level with cold hands and dim brains, we can maybe muddle through and get our hook-ups and flow-rates right.

It all seemed reasonably simple this morning, and each of my little team put the gas bottle carefully in their pack, the mask on their face, and some goggles or glasses on their eyeballs, and then took the rig for a test drive around camp.

Over the radio, we could hear the gang with Peter Whittaker up above as they were taking another stroll on the Lhotse Face. It all sounded like it was going well as they checked in with one another and pointed out interesting features along the route. We heard that Jake Norton was coming down to Base Camp to deal with a chest cold and, like most news, we immediately sorted it into its good and bad components. The bad news: Jake would need to slow down long enough to get well. The good news: Jake is a smart, strong guy who knows how to shake a typical, run-of-the-mill expedition illness out of his system, and we won’t mind having him around in BC.

Erica Dohring and I went for a glacier walk after lunch. I do want her following the slacker example that Seth and I set for getting quality rest during our BC downtime. She is a voracious reader, which ought to qualify her for a fine life of expeditioning. I’m impressed with the way she orders her time, alternating between books for fun, books for school, and the odd movie on a borrowed iPod Touch. That is good resting, and it is important, but I also wanted to mix in a little exercise clambering around in the glacier today. I’m a big believer in keeping the legs stretched and the reflexes tuned for making awkward steps. We went out for about two hours, finding our way to a medial moraine and then hiking down-glacier with an occasional semifrozen stream crossing to negotiate. I’m trying to teach Erica to violently knock over every fragile pinnacle of ice and balancing rock that she encounters... for no particular reason... and she is rapidly gaining skill in this department.

The late afternoon is gray and overcast with a hint of snow flurries. We’ve gotten so used to the thunder of avalanches now at BC that it takes a particularly loud and violent one to get us out of the tents for a look. At the moment, though, it is quiet and cold enough that the team is starting to find their way to the dining tent for hot drinks, gossip magazines, and card games. Tomorrow, we’ll be a little busy preparing for the mountain again, and my guess is that we will be torn between lazy thoughts of staying indefinitely in BC and antsy thoughts of getting up where the action is again.

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