Adventure at the Equator – Cotopaxi Day 5

// March 24th, 2012 // Climbing

This day began just after the sun went down. Sleeping in a bunk room is never easy let alone at altitude. Once I did finally doze off I was awakened by a familiar sounding cough next to me. It was Mark Skinner and I knew immediately by the sound of his cough that something was wrong. Something beyond a cold or respiratory infection. I have had this myself in the past and I knew that he was in the beginning stages of HAPE high altitude pulmonary edema. The first small cough was at around midnight, by two a.m. it was becoming more persistent, and by 4 a.m. I had him propped up, taking meds, and was beginning the process of packing his things along with the help of John Jaran, the other member of our team. I assured him he would be OK.  I then asked him if it would be OK if I said a prayer for him – we all bowed our heads and asked for the Lord’s help.  By first light we would work our way down to a lower elevation as that is the only true cure for this potentially deadly illness.

As dawn slowly crept upon us I went to awaken the hut keeper, who I knew had a phone that could receive a signal since mine would not. In the wind and the rain we walked out to a distant ridge to get service and called Jaime from Alpenglow. Thankfully Jaime answered and quickly began to drive to the park to meet us.

John was a big help and moral support to Mark who had come on this trip at John’s invitation. We were on a bit of an aggressive schedule for acclimatizing, but not unreasonable. There were in fact a lot of others who were doing the climb in even less time and with less experience. Even when climbing slowly altitude can be tricky and an unknown quantity, but nevertheless – climbing slow and sleeping low is the formula for the best way to go.

I took Mark’s pack, John took a pack with just the things we would need to stay safe and warm given the weather and potentially long walk down, and the three of us hit the road. Mark stayed calm as did John, and the three of us made our way down the mountain. By the time we hit 13,000 feet it was evident that Mark was starting to feel better and by the time we met Jaime, Shelly, and the Landcruiser and got down to a warm cafe at 10,000 feet Mark was back to his old self. We were very thankful to have a friend and local connection as the park service really has very limited abilities and rescue resources – such as not even a car or radio to offer any help.

With the puffiness in Mark’s face going down, his lungs clearing out, and his health returning he encouraged us to go back to the mountain and try for the summit. John and I did just as he wished. We headed back to the hut and hoped for clear weather on this night which would be our summit night. The night that we layed awake multiple parties tried for the summit only to be turned back by high winds and whiteout conditions. We honestly were just glad that Mark was well and making a speedy recovery – our summit now would be as much for him as it would be for us.

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