Wednesday, July 7, 2010

No Mountain worth dying for

Indiahikes, a trekking company which runs guided treks in the Garhwal Himalayas has posted the sad news of the death of one of it's trekkers on 3rd July 2010 at Bedni Bugyal, a high altitude meadow on the trail to Rupkund. I am reproducing their post below and my views below this:

 We are terribly distressed to announce that one of our trekkers from the 28th June group, Mohan, died at our Bedni Bugyal camp.  The incident happened yesterday, the 3rd of July 2010.
 His body has been sent for post-mortem at Gopeshwar and we are waiting for the doctor’s report for the exact cause of his death. 
 Mohan complained of breathlessness as he was trekking up to the Bhagwabasa (our   high altitude camp). As our usual practice he was advised to rest at Ghora   Lotani (our last middle altitude camp), which he did. While he rested at the   Ghora Lotani camp, the rest of the team went ahead to the higher camp at  Bhagwabasa.
 There was no sign of anything alarming, because four-five hours later, an  Indiahikes team that was returning from Roopkund, got into the Ghora Lotani camp  to take a brief break. The trek leader met Mohan and told him to return with the  team to Bedni or Wan. Mohan declined and said he was feeling better and that the  next morning he would attempt Roopkund from Ghora Lotani itself.
 Sometime in the night his condition deteriorated. 
 Later, the next morning, word reached our two camps almost simultaneously (Bedni  Bugyal and Bhagwabasa) about Mohan’s deteriorating condition and camp leaders  from both camps rushed to Ghora Lotani to get Mohan out of there. 
In bad weather and rain, Mohan was brought back to Bedni Bugyal. He felt a bit  better at our camp at Bedni
��" but he was still very breathless and disoriented.  As the weather was still bad, our team medics decided to wait the night out  before shifting him down to our base camp. Meanwhile, they started to administer  first-aid medication including medication for any altitude related sickness on 
 Mohan. His condition through the night did not improve and he continued to feel  breathless. 
 In the morning at the first light of dawn, our camp managers at Bedni started  making arrangements to move Mohan down to our base camp. A mule was being   readied to take down him down. Meanwhile, he was given something to eat,   including some cornflakes. 
 A while later while our camp leaders were making the last minute arrangements  for leaving camp, Mohan suddenly collapsed. His pulse rate dropped. He was  administered CPR immediately. He passed away a while later in the arms of our  camp manager. 
 We are extremely shocked and traumatized at the turn of events. Mohan’s wife  Archana and other family members are now at Gopeshwar to claim Mohan’s body. She  is accompanied by her cousin, her mother and Mohan’s close friend.
 We are still waiting for the post mortem report to find out the exact cause of   his death. Just now (4.45 pm) we learn that the post-mortem report mentions   “Intracranial hemorrhage” as the cause of death. This is of course unconfirmed  report and nothing has been seen in writing by our team members. 
 We now learn from Mohan’s family members that he had a medical history. On an  earlier trek to Everest Base Camp he had similar symptoms
��" in fact in a crisis  mode for 3 days. He survived that crisis. . All this was unknown to us. 
 This time he joined our trekking program without the knowledge of his wife. She  was told that he would be in Delhi for a conference.  At this moment of grief, our sympathies are with Archana and Mohan’s family. We  are doing everything we can to ensure that the family has a smooth process of   bringing Mohan’s body back to Mysore. Our team is at Gopeshwar with them. 
My take on this:
Having seen a number of high altitude sickness cases in the Himalayas as well as a number of "chopper evacuations" in Nepal I feel that to allow Mohan to remain the night at Ghora Lotani itself was a recipe for disaster. Though the trekking leader asked him to descent to Bedni Bugyal (3350 metres), he refused and wanted instead to attempt Rupkund the next day (5029 metres) ! Just amazing considering his health situation and the altitude he had to cover. The next day they only managed to get him down as far as Bedni which is possibly a couple of hours from Ghora Lotani,  whereas the ideal situation would have been to descend to Wan where hopefully in the lower altitude he should have recovered. 
The treatment for AMS (acute mountain sickness) in my book is DOWN! DOWN! DOWN! as fast as you can and in the night as well!  The Indiahikes team unfortunately had Mohan spend two nights at altitude: Ghora Lotani and Bedni and ultimately it was too late. 
 Mohan it seems had suffered earlier from AMS on the Everest trail but had concealed that from Indiahikes and most amazingly he had gone to Roopkund telling his wife he was in Delhi for a conference possibly fearing that if he told her he would not be able to go given his previous AMS experience!
Ultimately no trekking company wants casualties on their hands and this is a very unhappy experience for Indiahikes. There is also the issue of how far a guide can go to "force" his client to follow instructions. In this case Mohan had refused to go down despite his guide asking him to descend. And finally, how does one  screen clients before a trek both medically and otherwise so that unfit candidates can be weeded out?  No easy answers to this one. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sujoy,
    There is no way I know of where a health risk can be discovered with any certainty. Trekking companies have to assume that every customer is a novice and a huge risk. Only a very experienced trekker should have the prerogative to hang on if he / she feels the symptoms are a false alarm or that their bodies will adjust and acclimatise. BTW, what was the "first aid medication including any medication for altitude related sickness" they started administering?
    I am sad for Mohan's family, and can only murmur a soft prayer that his passing was peaceful. Possibly, his love for the mountains made him conceal his health threat, and his plans from his family. Both actions were wrong, and serious errors in judgment that have caused much sadness and trauma.



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