/ High Altitude Trekking and AMS

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Ramie70 - on 07 Dec 2017

Hi - this is my first post so hope I'm not breaking or contravening any forum rules in this post.

My post is in regards to high altitude trekking and AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). I am a 47-year-old male. I keep myself in good shape and regard myself as being physically fit.

In October (2017) I set out to trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. Five years previous to this trek I had completed the Annapurna Circuit over 17 days. The Annapurna Circuit was amazing. Starting at Besi Sahar and ending at Nayapul, the Annapurna Circuit rises to 5416m as you cross the Thorong La Pass. I spent 3 days acclimatising in Manang (3500m) and completed the circuit without incident. The trek was awe-inspiring and I loved every minute of it.

Fast forward 5 years to the EBC trek... The Everest Base Camp trek was different to the Annapurna Circuit. Unlike the Annapurna Circuit where you start off low and gradually climb high, the EBC trek - after a short hair-raising flight from Kathmandu - starts high at Lukla (2880m).

My itinerary was as follows:

Day 1 Lukla to Phakding
Day 2 Phakding to Namche Bazaar
Day 3 Rest day in Namche Bazaar
Day 4 Namche Bazaar to Tengboche
Day 5 Tengboche to Dingboche
Day 6 Rest day in Dingboche
Day 7 Dingboche to Lobouche
Day 8 Lobouche to Gorekshep (Gorekshep to Everest Base Camp and back to Gorekshep)

The EBC trek was more physically demanding for me than the Annapurna Circuit and for a couple of days prior to my arrival in Gorekshep I had been feeling pretty shitty - mostly a frontal headache and some fatigue that I put down to lack of sleep. On the 8th day - after returning to Gorekshep from Everest Base Camp - I began to feel my headache worsen and went to bed for a while. I had a couple of hours broken sleep and awoke with a kind of pounding in my ears. I held my nostrils closed and tried to pop my ears but the pounding remained. By this time it was dark and I lay for a while hoping that I'd be okay until morning (when I would start descending). After laying in bed for an hour or two more - feeling my headache getting worse, not better, I decided to go look for Chaman - a Nepali guide I had got friendly with. Chaman had an oximeter for testing Blood Oxygen Saturation levels - he had told me a few days previously that if anyone's SpO2 readings drop below 60 then it was time to phone in a rescue helicopter. I found him and he tested me and my Blood Oxygen Saturation level had dropped to 35 (he tested me with two different oximeters - one reading was 35, the other was 38).

Luckily one of Chaman's Sherpa friends found a bottle of oxygen in the lodge, which they hooked me up to until morning when a rescue helicopter flew in at first light and air-lifted me out.

The Sherpa told me that he had never seen anybody standing with oxygen levels that low and that I was in a serious situation, which at this point I was well aware that my life was in danger.

I didn't take Diamox on the trek and think if I spent 2 rest days at Namche (instead of 1) and 2 rest days at Dingboche (instead of 1) then I would probably have been okay.

Anyway, I was just wondering if anybody else had any experience of AMS; I have done some research since I've been back in the UK and a Blood Oxygen Saturation level of 35 does seem extremely low.

Many thanks in advance
Post edited at 14:16
joshtee25 - on 07 Dec 2017
In reply to Ramie70:

Sounds hairy. Did they continue to monitor your spO2 once you were hooked up to O2? That is extremely low, to the point where your symptoms seem mild relative to your spO2 reading.

If they continued monitoring, was it with the same devices, administered by the same individual? What were the readings (if you recall at all!?)

Ramie70 - on 07 Dec 2017
In reply to joshtee25:

Hi joshtee25, thanks for your reply.

They did continue to monitor my spO2 once I was hooked up to the oxygen. The readings were taken by Chaman the guide and then a couple of times by his Sherpa friend. When I first found Chaman - sleeping (because it was about 10.30pm), he used different devices to make sure the first one wasn't malfunctioning; he also took his own reading with both devices after taking my readings and his readings were around 85 (normal at over 5000m).

After being hooked up to the O2 my spO2 level started to rise gradually - I'd say after about an hour or so my spO2 level had risen to about 70 (maybe a bit more). The Sherpa - from the start - told me it was very important that I remain calm, which I focused on doing.

With all the water I had been drinking (about 5 litres per day) I had to go to the toilet a few times - Chaman accompanied me each time I had to go as I was a bit unsteady on my feet; each time I came back from the toilet he'd take another reading and my spO2 would have dropped again but then once hooked up to the O2 it would rise.

Mountain Llama on 07 Dec 2017
In reply to Ramie70:


Apologies I can't answer you're query regarding O2 saturation but your level of ascent on you're last trip looks very ambitious.

From my limited experience, fitness and high altitude ability are not directly comparable.

On a previous trip we stayed 2 nights in Namchie and 2 nights in Dingboche and 50% of folk still were not 100% acclimatised.

Cheers DaveĆ½
Ramie70 - on 07 Dec 2017
In reply to Mountain Llama:

Hi Davey, I agree with you - too many folk get air-lifted out of the Everest Region because they do the trek too quickly, myself included. I was trekking independently - no porter or guide, and had a longer itinerary to start off with, but then I ended up unofficially hooking up with a guide at Namche (long story), and my itinerary changed to the shorter one that I posted.

Many thanks for the reply

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