Report from Mount Everest

July 02, 2012

Gabriel Westin who is an associate at Vinge’s Gothenburg office recently returned home after having spent two months in Nepal and Tibet. In this article he will be talking about the dramatic conclusion to the Mount Everest expedition.  

One of the team members in the expedition, Alexander Riddermark, reached the summit at 8 848 metres above sea level, whilst the other three; Gabriel Westin, Jesper Hartelius and Tomas Eriksson were all forced to turn back on the final day of the ascent. Gabriel reached 8 577 metres despite the fact that he was suffering from an infection. Back at the advance base camp at 6 400 metres, he started to run a high temperature, developed a rasping cough and had such difficulty in breathing that he had to be given oxygen. It subsequently transpired that this was due to a pulmonary edema.

How do you feel now?
“I still have a bit of a cough, otherwise I feel fine, although I do need to gain some weight. The total weight loss during the expedition was 13 kilos. In addition, one of us got a serious bout of a stomach bug in Kathmandu when we weighed in, so we probably lost a few more kilos there as well.”

How are the others feeling? Are they also feeling ok?
“Absolutely, but everyone is a bit thin.”

Are you disappointed about not having reached the summit?
“As things turned out up on the mountain, I am not really disappointed at all. I am just happy that we all got down and back in one piece. Taking the decision to turn back was probably one of the most difficult decisions I have ever had to make, but if I had not taken that decision then I am convinced that I would still be up there. And if we had not decided to go the extra mile and go all the way down to the advance base camp at once, then the pulmonary edema would have developed at a higher altitude and then I really would have been in trouble.”

Do you want to try again?
“No, this is definitely something that I do not want to do again. But on the other hand it is also something that I want niggling at me either. It has been a fantastic experience and we have all gained from it as persons. However, it is far too dangerous. At such altitude you really are on a knife edge because the simplest mistake can have extremely serious consequences. If anything happens up there and you cannot get down under your own steam, then it is over. Nobody can carry you down and rescue helicopters cannot fly on the northern face of Everest. Another reason for not doing it again is that our loved ones have undergone a lot of stress and strains as a result of this adventure and with the benefit of hindsight it makes me feel rather egoistic. If I am completely honest, then there are better things to do with your time than walking uphill for two months.”

Is there anything you would do differently if you had the chance to do it all over again?
“Yes, absolutely. We would have organised the trip differently. Having a westerner as a guide was completely pointless. Instead we should have got ourselves a Sherpa guide and more oxygen. This would have increased our chances of reaching the summit significantly.”

What was the best thing about the expedition?
“That is difficult to answer. There are lots of things that were good although at the same time we also had a few less inspiring experiences. However, coming back to all our loved ones here in Sweden was probably the best part of it. We have had a great time together and the camaraderie which has developed from being exposed to such physical and psychological strains together stays with you for the rest of your life. However, I cannot really say that I enjoyed the trip. It was more a question of making it as bearable as possible.”

What was the worst thing about the expedition?
“For me personally it was when I was feeling so bad in the advance base camp due to the pulmonary edema. That was one of the worst experiences of my life. Sitting there coughing up blood and not being able to breathe with no possibility of getting to a doctor or having any form of transportation to a hospital was terrifying. For a while there I thought it was all over. I could not breathe but then my mates helped me with the oxygen and I calmed down a bit and then my breathing slowly came back.”

Will there be any more mountain climbing?
“We do not have any expeditions planned. Even if all four of us did not make it to the summit, there are only three mountains in the world that are higher than the points that we were forced to turn back from. The next thing we are going to be doing together is going to some sunny clime with a drink that has got a little umbrella in it.”

How do you think this adventure will affect your life?
“That is difficult to say. I do not think it has all sunk in yet. However, you do learn to appreciate those things that you have at home a lot more after an adventure such as this. You learn to know yourself and your friends extremely well. You also realise what is important in life and also what is less important. For me it was a thoroughly useful experience. I am sure you can acquire that experience in other ways but it is very accentuated when you are up in the mountains. At a physical level I learnt that my body can actually cope with a lot more than I thought. You keep going by sheer will power alone but it is extremely important not to allow your will to affect your judgement. Maybe that sounds easy but when you have been fighting to achieve something for such a long time it can be quite difficult for example to make the decision to turn back when the goal is so close you can almost touch it.”

Read Gabriel’s own story about the summit attempt on the expedition’s blog.