Saturday, March 31, 2012

Doctor on Everest, by Kenneth Kamler

Kenneth Kamler writes about his experiences as doctor on three Everest expeditions in his Doctor on Everest. He writes a multi-faceted book, with a witty take on his personal experiences, descriptions of high altitude medicine and how he administered it, and a front row seat to the 1996 disaster. All three years, Kamler climbs as a part of Todd Burleson's outfit, with semi-sponsored, semi-commercial climbs that also try to place laser reflectors on the mountain to get an accurate measurement of Everest's height in addition to usual summit climb via the Southeast Ridge. The first year, pre-monsoon 1993, is a mess of pulmonary disease, with a cook boy, Koncha, contracting pulmonary oedema, and a number of climbers with pneumonia and /or oedema. A number of climbers you'll encounter in other books participate in this climb, including Vern Tejas, Pete Athans, and Frank Fischbeck. You can also read about this climb in Margo Chisholm's To the Summit. Kamler's 1995 expedition and climb goes better for him, though he comes up short of the summit once more, and feels obliged to return the next year. His narrative is notable for an outside perspective to the Chantal Maudit drama and for further observation of Rob Hall's Adventure Consultants operation. Also, Kamler treats Wally Berg after a fall into a crevasse.

Kamler's was a unique perspective on the 1996 tragedy, since he's so far the only doctor on the mountain to write about it. He climbs with Pete Athans and Todd Burleson and is at Camp III when the poop hits the fan. Pete Athans and Todd Burleson head up to the Col, and he heads down to Camp II to set up the world's highest hospital. He treats the walking wounded, and then prepares for Makalu Gau and Beck Weathers, who are being escorted down. He treats and thaws Makalu first, with extensive frostbite on his hands, feet, and face, wraps him up, and then works on Beck, who is much worse off. His perspective also provides a unique angle on Sumiyo Tsuzuki, as she tends to Makalu and brings handwarmers to keep the IV fluids thawed. She gets mostly negative attention in David Breashears' High Exposure, and only a passing mention in Viesturs' No Shortcuts to the Top.

Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Kamler is a talented writer, conveying with a doctor's sense of calm the dramatic events of his three climbs. I appreciated his explanations, with more detail than the usual descriptions of high altitude injuries, that were still understandable to the lay person. Also, he doesn't shirk from writing about his climbs' effects on his family. Hope you enjoy Doctor on Everest as well! A shorter treatment of Kamler's high-altitude medicine can be found in his Surviving the Extremes.

This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier entry, which can be found here.

Note: This book is not to be confused with Peter Steele's Doctor on Everest, about Steele's participation in the 1971 International Everest Expedition that was racked with controversy and disease.

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