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Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Last Climb? - Page 2

Written by Peter J Levine
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The locally sponsored climbing program we selected was centered on four climbs, starting with Pasochoa (13,776 ft) a trek, not really a climb. Then, Pichincha (15,669 ft), a trek with some scrambling near the top. And finally, Cayambe (18,996 ft) and Cotopaxi (19,347 ft), both considered easy technical climbs, but requiring double plastic boots, crampons, climbing harness, carabineers, ice axe, helmet and being tethered to fellow climbers and guide.  Except for episodic knee issues, I was feeling pretty confident of my ability to handle all four climbs.



The journey from the DC area to Quito was as pain free as international trips go these days. Copa Airlines flies non?stop from Washington to Panama City, a five-hour flight, and then after a brief layover, a two-hour connecting flight to Quito, arriving at 5:30 pm. Same time zone, and no overnight or multi-day flights for a change. Although the US and Ecuador have a somewhat chilly diplomatic relationship as a result of Wikileaks and the current Ecuadorian government’s Chavez?like direction, interestingly the country’s official currency is the US dollar. So, a seven dollar cab ride from the airport brought us to the Hotel Reina Isabel, located in the Mariscal district of the city.


The US State Department and others have issued warnings about crime in Quito, particularly in the Mariscal district, and even the potential for crime on some of the mountain treks. We came prepared:  photocopies of passports and credit cards, and an ankle wallet.


We did not have any problems, however, nor were we aware of other travelers having problems.  Indeed, the Mariscal district, which is filled with restaurants, nightclubs, and upscale shopping, had a very significant police presence. While we are fit for two guys in their mid-60’s, we certainly did not pose a fearsome image to potential assailants as we walked through the neighborhood at night.  Reasonable caution and common sense seemed to work as well in Quito as anywhere else I have traveled.


An Unexpected Visit to a Hospital


We planned to meet our climbing guide on the morning of day three.


When I arrived at breakfast that morning, Skip was sitting at our regular table visibly upset. He had taken a hot bath earlier that morning (which we both were doing to address various aching body parts) and his pulse was still racing. At first I was skeptical –- prolonged immersion in hot water will naturally increase your heart rate -? but I took his pulse, and in fact his “resting pulse” was north of 100 beats a second. I urged him to sit outside and cool down, but he was worried, and wanted to see a doctor. The front desk advised we could wait a few hours for an “American doctor”, or walk a few blocks to Hospital de Clínicas Pichicnha.  We opted for the hospital.


As we walked to the hospital I had images of some developing world hospitals I had visited during my years in biotech: not pretty. But when we reached the hospital it looked reasonably modern, and had a clearly marked entrance “Emergencia”. In we went.


Using my best street-learned Spanish, and pointing to Skip, I said to the receptionist “Mi amigo, corazon”.  Without missing a beat, the receptionist asked for Skip’s passport, and we were ushered into a modern emergency room that appeared as sophisticated as any in the DC metropolitan area. Two nurses immediately guided Skip to a bed and began hooking up the monitoring equipment, loosening clothes, taking off his boots, etc. Two doctors appeared and began asking questions. Once we established our limited Spanish language skills, the senior doctor switched to more than serviceable English.


As I watched the monitors come to life, I saw Skip’s pulse was still racing, at 110 beats per minute, confirming both his concern, and my two-fingers-to-the-wrist estimate. But what was shocking was his blood pressure: 197 over 137. The bottom line was that his long history of untreated high blood pressure, the effects of high altitude, a hot bath, and anxiety about the upcoming climbs had combined to produce his racing pulse and pounding blood pressure. The doctors immediately started him on blood pressure medication.


I was worried, but with Skip’s condition diagnosed and stable, I ducked out of the hospital and returned to the hotel to meet our guide, “Nacho”. I learned from Nacho that Skip and I were the only two climbers who had signed up for the full multi-day program. One more climber would be joining us for the two days on Cayambe, but otherwise our group program had become a semi-private tour.

(Page 2 of 6)
Last modified on Wednesday, 31 December 2014

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