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  Diabetic Climbers Top Out in Central Asia


On July 30, 2005 Doug Bursnall (UK) and David Panofsky (USA) both insulin dependent diabetics reached the summit of Pik Lenin (7134 meters, 23,406 feet) in Central Asia’s Pamir Alay mountain range located on the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border.  Bursnall and Panofsky were members of the ISLET 2005 expedition which included nine type 1 diabetics from Italy, the UK, and the USA.  Expedition leader Marco Peruffo, diabetic since age 9, also reached Pik Lenin’s summit, but during a later attempt on August 5.  A total of eight ISLET climbers reached the top during the course of the month-long expedition which ended August 15 (Giampaolo Casarotto July 30; Paolo Cerin, August 3; and Paol Seraglio and Lino Guazzi, August 5).  Illness, altitude, and poor weather conditions kept many parties from reaching the summit or even progressing higher up the mountain.  The ISLET team established Camp 2 at 5300 meters and Camp 3 at 6060 meters in order to acclimatize and prepare for summit attempts.  An advanced base camp (ABC) was established July 24 on the glacier below the nearly 3000-meter high north face of Pik Lenin, close to the start of the crevasse-ridden route to Camp 2.

“I never thought that we’d be making a summit bid as early as the end of July,” stated Panofsky, “but my partner [Doug Bursnall] and I were healthy, acclimatizing well, and lucky to be in the right place at the right time.  And this only twelve days after reaching our 3800-meter base camp at Achik Tash.”  Three other ISLET members reached the summit on July 30 all behind diabetic Bursnall’s blistering time of five and a quarter hours.  Diabetic Panofsky reached the summit some twenty minutes later and waited five minutes on the summit for Beppe Tararan one of the non-diabetic Italian support climbers of the ISLET team.  The conditions on top were cold (minus 25 deg C) with light winds and reasonable visibility after a delayed morning departure from Camp 3 because of  high winds and poor visibility.  Due to the climb’s lack of technical difficulty (climbers typically move unroped above Camp 2) this is a very underestimated peak, considered the easiest 7000-meter peak in the world.  The mountain has been the scene of many tragedies including that of a 24-year old solo Polish climber who perished around July 25, 2005 at 6600 meters and whose body was passed during the July 30 summit push.

High altitude mountaineering presents risks for everyone and increased risks for those with diabetes.  Panofsky comments that “It was a challenge dealing with my diabetes during the trip, as it is every single day of my life.  The experience I have gained managing my diabetes during other high altitude trips provided me with essential skills I put to good use in the Pamirs.  On summit day I had problems with one piece of essential diabetes equipment but I was able to improvise and keep blood sugar levels within a good range to safely reach the summit and get back to Camp 3 in less than eight hours total. The ISLET project was a success not because any one of us reached the top.  It was a success because we all returned safely home and showed that diabetes doesn’t need to stop you from reaching your goals.”

ISLET 2005 was a collaborative project between diabetologists and diabetic climbers:  learning from one another and remembering the importance of physical activity for all people, patients and doctors alike.  Prior to departure for Kyrgyzstan, diabetic members went to Barcelona, Spain to work with doctors at the highly respected mountain medicine institute of the IEMM.  In Barcelona, the guinea pig climbers spent two days in controlled hypoxia in a state-of-the-art hypobaric chamber to assist with furthering our limited understand of the effect of hypoxia on blood glucose levels.

 

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