Ever since the show shifted focus to the actual climb in Episode 3, it has been enjoyable and interesting to watch, and last night’s episode was no exception. At the end of Episode 4 Team 1 had summitted and were making their way back down, when Terry O’Connor, the doctor fro Oregon, began to lose feeling in his fingertips. Obviously something of a concern for a guy who makes his living as an emergency room surgeon. Meanwhile, Team 2, consisting of Max Chaya, Mark Inglis, and Tim Medvetz had made their way to Camp 4 and were in the final stages of preparing for their own summit bids.
Episode 5 began right where the show left off. Terry was stuck behind a group of very slow moving climbers on the Second Step, and could do nothing but wait for his turn on the ropes leading down. All the while his hands are getting colder, and closer to frostbite. Eventually the log jam clears however, and he’s able to get moving again, making it to Camp 4 before his bottled oxygen ran out.
During that segment, there were two things I really liked. First, was the graphic showing how the body recirculates blood to keep your core temperature warm at the expense of fingers, toes, and other limbs. It illustrated very well the concept they were trying to get across and how frostbite set in. The second intresting thing was watching team leader Russell Brice’s frustration as his climber was stuck behind the slower moving group. Listening to hime yell into the radio that it was his rope and ladder and that Terry should just push his way to the front to get down. You could hear his frustration and worry in his voice, and it was a strong indication of the amount of stress that goes into these climbs, even for the team leader at Camp 1.
The rest of the episode followed Team 2 as they went for the summit. In order to avoid the traffic jams that caused problems for Team 1, they left two hours earlier, and while Max and Mark got off on time, and ahead of the pack, Tim lagged behind, as has been typical for him throughout the expedtion. Max and Mark eventually made the summit, with Mark becoming the first double amputee to do so. Meanwhile, Tim left camp 20 minutes late and payed the price, getting behind a slower group once more, and having to wait while a Turkish group moved one of their climbers back down to Camp 4 after she collapsed on the way to the top.
It was at this point that the real drama of the episode began. In previous episodes it seemed as if they were trying to manufacture drama by stressing how dangeroun the climb is and showing climbers suffering from altitude sickness. This time there was no need to manufacture anything, as Tim and another climber began to struggle on the mountain, Russell told them that they were moving too slow, didn’t have enough oxygen, and should turn back. The two climbers, clearly fatigued and oxygen deprived, ignored the warnings from Brice, and the Sherpas, and continued to climb, thinking they were much closer to the summit than they actually were. It was fascinating and horrifying to watch these two men get caught up in the “Summit Fever”, putting all other thoughts behind, and pushing forward despite the repeated warnings and impassioned pleas from teammates to turn back.
At one point, one of the Sherpas did convince Russell to allow the climbers to go another half-hour, which surprised me. Up until that point, Brice seemed to be trying to keep everything in perspective and under control, keeping a close eye on the oxygen level of each of the climbers, and clearly he had decided before that to turn them around for safety reasons, and yet he was convinced to allow them to go another half-hour up when they probably should have turned around sooner.
Eventually Brice wanted to wash his hands of the whole affair, telling the climbers they were on their own, and they wasn’t going to put his guides and sherpas in any more danger to try to keep them alive. It was a powerful moment on the show, and you could feel the frustration, tension, and helplessness that everyone involved was experiencing.
The show ended with Tim and the French climber still on the mountain. Still determined to move forward and ignoring all requests to turn back. Max and Mark had made the summit and were turned around, heading down, but were not safely back at Camp 4 yet, so we’ll have to wait until next week to see how everything resolves itself. The sixth, and final episode, will certainly be an interesting one to watch for a number of reasons.
Watching him climb, I think Tim actually has the strength to maket he summit, but I don’t think he would have the ability and oxygen to make it back down. Remember, getting to the top is only half the battle, and many people consider getting back down just has difficult.
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