In search of the seventh summit
If Michael Andrews, DVM of Oak Glen, Calif., makes Mt. Everest's summit next month, he's believed to be the second veterinarian in the world to do so. For Andrews, a successful climb would rank as his sixth summit in a string of expeditions from Mount Kilimanjaro to Mount Rainier.Prior to his March 24 trip to Tibet, Andrews spoke with DVM Newsmagazine about the climb, his personal goals and how this type of expedition influences his work as a private practitioner.
Even though Andrews says he and his guide are doing everything in their power to mitigate risk, the climb is dangerous. Reportedly, 120 corpses are still entombed on the side of this mountain. "It becomes all too real when you see someone being taken off a mountain on a stretcher."
If the altitude sickness doesn't kill the expedition, avalanches and accidental falls could. Deaths from avalanches are at a 2:1 ratio over climbing mishaps.
Crossing glaciered crevasses on ladders, or hoisting over impassable rock, it's all part of the grueling expedition.
"The key to doing this is taking the suffering that is inevitable. It can be from heat, cold, boredom, stuck in a tent for three days, physically worn out, affected by altitude, or a high-altitude cough is keeping you up at night. Sometimes, you have to play games with yourself to turn it around. It is not always easy to do."
There are many emotions that come with the trek, Andrews says — fear is not one of them.
"If I was afraid of doing it, I wouldn't go. There are things you think about, but you try to mitigate risks as much as possible and you make yourself physically and mentally ready. Things can happen, but I don't think about it a lot."
Elevation sickness, Andrews adds, poses the far greatest threat to reaching the summit. This two-man expedition will have oxygen to help.
Andrews says that elevation sickness can be insidious. It influences your coordination and balance, and can cause nausea, lethargy and altitude headaches. Cerebral edema is far more serious. "The higher you go, the greater the risk."
If either of those are ailments are suspected, climbers head to lower elevations to recover. "If you look at this thing objectively. I am hoping that weather or something physical doesn't prevent me from summiting, because it is a lot of work and a big expense."
"The big concerns for me are about the altitude. I have never been past 22,800 feet. I have proven to be slow to acclimate to altitude. I am not too concerned about the other risks. For me it would be frustrating to go there and not reach the goal. However, I am prepared to walk away if things intervene and make it not doable. I have done that before."