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  American Autumn Shishapangma Expedition 2005: Monty checks in from home

Monty writes: Wrap-up (from the comfort of home!)

Lots of people have asked how everything turned out (especially the frostbite!).  Also, there were no pictures in the last dispatches, and I'm sure you'd like some pics of summit day.  Unfortunately neither Val nor I had ANY desire to unglove in 50-below windchill and snap shots of our snowcave or of the flapping tent remains.

After descending, the rest of the trip was quite straightforward.  We packed up ABC and yakked it out of there.  A high point was visiting our porter, Bemba's home and mother.  It is a classic old-style Tibetan one-room dwelling in a building so old no one knew when it was built.  It was quite an honor to be provided salted yak butter tea, potatoes and dried mutton, but to the Western palate the tea is pretty foul stuff!

From there it took us many days to get back to Lhasa, and then fly home via Chengdu, Shanghai, Seoul, LA and finally Portland. 

Frostbite (not for the squeamish...) 

I have frostbite on all ten fingers and both big toes.  My thumbs and index fingers appear normal; there's some slight nerve damage on the tips - they're more or less numb, but will recover OK.  The other six fingers have varying amounts of black, dying skin.  One pinky and one ring finger are mummified back to about the first knuckle, and are hard as glass.  Next Tuesday Iím going in to have them amputated - the ring finger to the first knuckle and the pinky almost to the second knuckle - there's be a clear line of black/pink flesh that says 'cut here'.  My middle fingers both have the tips black and hardened; this skin will eventually fall off and may regrow.  If enough flesh falls off that the bone is exposed they'll have to use surgery to close it up.  All this will take weeks, or even months, to determine.

The tips of the big toes are slowly turning purple (dying).  They'll probably slough off some skin but are expected to heal without much problem.

The immediate issue is the pain.  It hurts very bad, 24 hours a day - especially the dead areas.  The two dying fingers have excruciating deep pain, although tactile-wise they're completely numb.  I just got some medication for phantom pains and itís working better than the Vicodin.  

The lasting problem is that my fingers and toes will be *extremely* sensitive to cold for years to come, and due to the nerve and circulation damage, will be more susceptible to frostnip/frostbite from now on.

Many people have commented on 'how well I'm taking it'.  Well, what else am I gonna do?  There's nothing I can do but wait.  But the truth is I'm *extremely* disappointed at losing two (or more?) fingertips.  Ask me again in a year, after having two shortened fingers has settled into my psyche and I've fully dealt with the amputations - right now it's just too soon.  Iím sure a year from now Iíll wonder what the fretting was all about.

The other problem is that I discovered I have a condition known as high altitude retinopathy.  What this means is that my eyes hemorrhage at altitude, leaving a blood clot that occludes my vision.  The eye doc says it'll go away by itself and after three weeks itís almost gone, but it definitely gets worse the higher I go.  I had a very small incident on Ama Dablam (22,500ft) and more severe at 26,000ft.  This appears to be hereditary as my father suffered for years with ocular hemorrhaging (diabetic retinopathy).

People also ask 'Would I do it again?' or 'Was it worth it?' I don't know - again, ask me in a year.  What I WOULD do differently is to not organize and lead the expedition.  There's just too much that can go wrong that a small team is unprepared for.  That, plus having to deal with all the administrivia... yaks, tents, schedules, liaison officers, jeeps, permits - the list is endless.  The small amount of money we saved was more than offset by the increased hassles involved.  I'm happy to say I've assembled and led an 8000m expedition.  It was a great experience to do once, but next time I'll hire an outfitter! 

-- Monty

Next up Val!



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