Dhaulagiri III 8.167m Himalayas-Nepal-2021
7-8-9-10 May 2021 (55th -58th day of the mission). Dear friends, I have experienced a new adventure these days on Dhaulagiri mt., this time not only with the difficulties of the mountain but also with the invisible enemy, the COVID 19.
As I had advised you before, the Covid 19 is in tremendous activity in Nepal, and this is the reason of a general lock down. The incidents are countless and the same happens here in the base camp of Dhaulagiri, where at least half of the sherpas and members of the missions are affected and have returned to Kathmandu by helicopters…
My opinion was strong from the beginning and I have expressed it during the meeting here in the base camp, that we should run tests before any activity and of course the climbing to be made only by the ones who would be negative to the virus. The Base camp manager advised us that who ever was feeling good can go on and to take advantage of the “window” on 10,11 May, while anyone who was not feeling well could return. The reason of this decision was that there were not enough tests in Kathmandu.
On 5 a.m. of May 7th, I started together with Dawa and 25-30 persons, our final effort, aiming to sleep on camp1. Everything was running well. I was feeling strong and I had a perfect pace. The only problem was the sun reflection on the snow, which made me feeling as if I was on fire. My face was all red, despite the sun protection I used , and I was feeling suffocated from the heat and the humidity. Reaching the camp 1 (5.650m which is the right altitude and not the said 6100m) after 7 hours, entering the tent I felt a black out for 5-6 seconds, as if I was blind.
By the evening I had serious difficulty breathing, as if I was at 8.000 without oxygen supply. I started speaking with Popi who was in the base camp, through the radio and sometimes with my kids Violeta and John.
I must underline the fact that the day before I leave the base camp Popi had fever as if she had caught a cold and we were extremely anxious of the possibility to be positive in Covid 19. I asked Lois, the Spanish doctor of Carlos Soria to make the test to Popi. I was decided in case Popi was positive, to abandon the same day the mission and to return home. I would start the effort only in case popi would be negative to Covid19.
No need to desribe m,y anxiety at the time I was waiting for the results. I was telling myself (loud): “Dear God, please do your miracle and make the test negative. Please do it!”. Lois told me : “ It seems to be negative.. wait for a while… yes , yes it is negative”. I went out of the tent screaming to everybody “yes, it’s negative, yes it’s negative”. I raised my hands celebrating and I embrassed Popi strongly!
…Back to camp 1…. As my situation remained the same, my communication with my kids was continuous. My daughter Violetina, professional psychologist wrote me on the In reach: “Dady , I checked and found that nobody at your age, that is over 50 years, has made 3 x8.000 m in 4 months and even more the one on K2 in winters, therefore I believe that your mind sends you messages to protect you. The spirit may be eager, but the “flesh” is weak, so it is not bad to decide to return. I am sure you want to return home.” She added : “ You do not seems to have corona virus, since Mom was negative, unless the second test will prove to be positive”.
That time I remembered the words of my friend Mike Evmorfidis : “You have to get some rest my friend. Listen to your body, not only your soul”. My breath was at the same pace as my heartbeats….
A while before night fall I spoke to Andrew from Romania, who lives in Vancouver Canada and he is good in medicin issues. He was the one who spoke to BC : “ Popi is negative in Covid19 since the fever dropped after getting painkillers. Covid19 does not correspond to pain killers”.
So I invited him in our tent, I explained to him how I was feeling and asked , in great anxiety, his opinion. Andrew was eager to help, he examined me carefully (getting blood pressure , temperature and blood oxygene. The oxygene was at 90% and my heart pulses were 61. He advised me that he had not seen so good measurements at 5.700 m. and he was impressed of the very good status of my health. I was wondering however about the cause of my breathing difficulty, a fact which never occurred to me at so low altitude. I was wondering whether I was Covid 19 patient. His reply was negative. “You would have the symptoms, which is not the case now. You are probably affected by anxiety, so I will give you 2 pills for this”.
The next question was whether I suffered by decimalization, since on April 16 summit day Annapurna, I had no significant action, here on Dhaulagiri. He replied : “ That is possible. Maybe today that you got 1000m. at once from the BC, you got it wrong”.
I thanked him many times and that time he told me : “ Antonis I will abandon the effort, as both my sherpas suffer by Covid 19 and they cannot go on”. I passed a difficult night without sleep and trying to find my lost breath in the darkness. Next morning I told Dawa that as I probably had been declimatized, to go to camp II, to return to camp I for the night, so to be climatized better and to go the next day to camp II on our way to the summit. “OK father” (as he calls me) replied.
Next morning starting our way to camp II I made only 100 m. in 1 hour and everybody were passing me and were asking me what’s the matter with me. I was telling them that I could not go on, I was too tired and I could not breath. “You Antonio ? How can it be with you?” some friends were replying.
I returned to my tent in camp I, I got in and in my full disappointment I decided that I was not ready for a third 8000 m. peak and that it was a wrong decision the whole plan. The night passed without sleep and with my breath still very difficult.
My kids advised me to get back and not go on at this condition. My son added : “Every failed try is accompanied by a wise decision to get back safe , so that you can try again”. At this point Popi talked to me on the radio and advised me that she made a second test which proved to be positive, therefore by 100% she had passed me the virus. Oh God, what kind of news…..
I told her that I return the next day and she replied: “No, go on for the top, there is no problems with me, I am good for the time. Why to lose the chance, but better not tell anything to the kids, till you are back to BC”. Of course this suggestion was out of the question. I had to return immediately. I could not go on , knowing that Popi was positive in Covid19. The morning I was feeling better and I believed that the cause of my weakness was the wrong climatization and I started thinking that it would be pity to lose the chance to reach the 6th peak being so close to it. Two more nights would pass quickly, I would reach the peak and I would return to the BC as a winner. At the same time a second thought, usually wiser, was Telling me : “ If something wrong will happen to Popi I would feel as a criminal. I do not discuss it, I will return back. The peak will always be there and waiting for me. I have Popi’s health as first priority.” On May 9 I started the return to BC. In the meantime people from camp II started returning to BC. Others suffering by fever and others with Covid 19 symptoms. On the contrary I was feeling well, without breathing difficulties , or in my movements. I was in great situation and happy for it.
When I returne to BC, Popi was keeping distance fromall of us and my doctor , Carlo, was waiting for Covid test as while we were on the mountain, the SSDT had supplied 120 tests. This time I was not anxious to be Covid positive. I would be close to Popi to take care of her. I advised the doctor about what I was feeling on the mountain and he replied: “OK you have the Covid, but we will have the test anyway”. The test showed that I was positive and this was the reason I was feeling so bad. I said to the doctor : “ What do you say Louis? Is there any possibility to prove the test wrong? I feel very well now”. “You are positive Antonio” he said “there is no mistake. If you would continue the ascent , there was a very high possibility to suffer a very big damage. If your oxygen goes below 75%, your life is under real danger. You got the correct decision, when you decided to return”.
Today May 10th, a helicopter of the SST, brought us , as it made for may others, to Katmandu were we stayed in a private hospital. Doctors decided that Popi should stay in hospital for 2-3 days, while I was free to go.
This was our adventure with the invisible enemy, dear friends. I did not catch the virus from May 2020, travelling to so many countries and in Greece and I caught it in Nepal at 4.700 m. in Himalayas and especially having Popi with me for the first time in Himalayas missions.
I see that the “game of life” has everything in it. I will always remember the words of my late father: “Better on our hair, than on our head” !!! We hope that we will recover soon and we will return safe home. Our projects will go on, because our hearts and bodies will walk together!!!
Thank you for being always with me !