Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Update from Jon Kuniholm, Operation Denali

The Operation Denali Team reached the top yesterday and they are thrilled. AMS Guide, Kirby Senden told us that they wished they had the whole team together on the top. Sometimes that just isn't in the cards, for a number of reasons. Some of you may be curious about the members of Operation Denali who were not listed on the summit team yesterday. As a polite gesture, we let the climbers tell their own story.

Jon Kuniholm came down early after reaching a high point 16,200'. He had early signs and symptoms of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and made a difficult and smart climber's decision to descend before symptoms worsened into the more advanced stages of the illness. AMS has medically trained guides on Denali and also the world famous high altitude doctor, Peter Hackett, MD on speed dial directly with the guides. Peter is a good friend and an asset to all of our climbers on Denali. I've got to say, when it comes to medical consults from afar, that is as good as you can get!

In his own words, Jon describes his descent fro the mountain here: http://openprosthetics.ning.com/profiles/blogs/operation-denali

Here's an excerpt:
"....I was forced through the wise decision-making of our guide, Kirby Senden, to abandon the climb on the 14th of June, having reached just over 16k feet and the top of the fixed lines (what I viewed as my major challenge) during our forward carry up there, on suspicion of my potential to develop (but not actual) high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) if I were to go higher. I've coined this potential "Statutory HAPE" (sorry--groan if you need to; please don't be offended). It's surprising that after all of this, the difficulty that forced me off the mountain was not arm-related.

Not knowing how much longer the climb would take (the team left for high camp with a week's worth of food), and being able to offer no more than moral support, I elected to catch a "ride" (under my own power) off the mountain with Leighan from AMS and Tyler from RMI (another guide service). I stayed at 14 camp another night before leaving, not really feeling all that bad, and left the evening after the rest of the team left for 17 camp. Descent improved things further, and I felt even better pretty quickly. After a marathon descent from 14 camp to base camp from 8 pm to 5 am or so the next morning, a plane ride off the mountain, a caribou burger and beer in Talkeetna, drive to Anchorage and flight to RDU, I found myself surreally back in Durham, NC, by the evening of the 15th, feeling a little like I'd been kicked out of school. I was able to pick my son up from basketball camp yesterday night (the 15th)."

All of us at AMS are having a super time with the Operation Denali Team, working with them last year on a 12 day mountaineering course , and this year during the climb of Denali has been such a blast. These folks are very hard workers.

Stay tuned for the next installment of "Days of our Glacier Lives" more to come soon.

Cheers,
Caitlin

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