Monday, March 12, 2018

Winter Survival - Quit or Not Quit?

Session with Louie - the North Pole Marathon participant, along with coaches Ige and Ani.

I know that we should seldom entertain the word ‘Quit’; but reality dictates that we should be practical and smart in our approach, whether that’s attempting a summit in a very cold place, or – as these questions are designed for, attempting a marathon in the North Pole!

I used these questions to preempt my one-on-one sharing with the marathon candidate, to see his risk perspective and detect what should I highlight in our discussion – and sharing this to you in case you plan to climb or do any winter endurance sport. 

How many ‘Quit -yes’ will you answer?

Here below are my personal opinions on each scenario - a sort of guide on how to survive these challenges:
1.       “You had a bad night with only 3 hours of sleep and you were not able to get a good rest in the cramped seat on your flight to North Pole (or say the pre-summit night in the last camp). Race started and you felt weak and tired; after 20km (or say 3 hours of summit climb), you felt that you can’t make it anymore.”  Quit or not?

== In many cases, this is almost ‘normal’ but I still go for the summit anyway.  Feeling tired and sleepy – are not usually enough reason to quit unless there are other critical conditions. Fight on, endure!

2.       “Before race start, you already feel weak due to diarrhea; During the run (or climb), the urge sets in and you’re about to ‘explode’ yet again…” Quit or not?

== I’ve had many battles with diarrhea, my 2 worst ones are – first in Carstensz when I have ‘to go’ whilst hanging on a rope – on a 600m wall!  And the second one in Khumbu Icefall in Everest where doing a toilet business in a highly-crevassed area is a gamble of life-and-sh*t.  Net – not enough reason to quit, just drop the S-bomb.  

3.       “You were sick the day before, felt extremely cold before the start, after 5km (or say 40 to 60mins of climbing) - you can’t seem to warm up & still felt cold, weak and running (or climbing) slow.  The constant 20-30kph wind was not helping.  After a mindless 2 more hours, you started losing your balance, but didn’t seem to care what was around you anyway and felt you can just continue on “auto-pilot” mode.”  Quit or not?

== What was your answer?  This scenario is a probable hypothermia case – you could DIE!  First, prevention is key, keep warm before and during (i.e. hot liquids, enough insulation layer, protection from wet/wind, etc.).  Losing balance and apathy are clear symptoms of hypo.  Quit, and get medical attention. 

4.       “You have blurry vision after a windy but sunny 15km run (or say 2 climbing hours), the goggles are fogged and iced - and now useless. You didn’t have a backup sunglasses, and the 15kph headwind is making it worse.” Quit or not?

== Prevention is key, I’ve had this problem in Everest when during the night start, constant wind made my eye blurry in the early morning.  I didn’t wear the goggles as darkness was my first enemy.  During daytime, constant wind eventually ‘iced’ my goggles so I sometimes remove them.  Obviously, I didn’t quit, but prevention is important lest you risk losing your vision (i.e. an accident risk) or get permanent eye damage (i.e. have a back-up eyewear, control your condensation constantly, etc.); Manage your issue (ex. melt the condensation inside your layers), don't quit just yet. 

Denali 2008 - after our ordeal - surviving a sudden storm at the summit.  Never underestimate the power of nature!

5.       “You felt and knew that there’s blister developing in your right foot after 15km (say 1 climbing hour), presumably wet socks rubbing your underfoot. You can feel some pain and thinking that you will not be able to make it.”  Quit or not?

== I’ve had a 5-peso coin sized blisters in my left and right underfoot (plus 2 small ones) during my 2-day fast descent down Denali.  It felt bad, but generally – it’s not enough reason to quit.  Manage blister like wound, and endure the pain during the trip.  You didn't go out there to whine about blister pain!

6.       “You realize that you didn’t like the terrain, you didn’t like the cold, you didn’t like running (or climbing/hiking) in a bulky outwear and the freakin’ goggles and tight balaclava are making you uncomfortable!” Quit or not?

== It may sound funny but I have friends and colleagues who occasionally ‘snapped’ realizing they ‘can’t take it anymore’.   Obviously, it’s a temporary ‘insanity’ and pissed-off mood, and not enough reason to say sayonara.

7.       After 15km (or say 1 hour of climbing), you can’t seem to ‘feel’ your fingers.  You try to move them but it felt numb.  You checked and saw that they’re ‘white’ and pale. You think the glove layers are not giving your hands/fingers enough warmth.  But you felt that you can finish the marathon (or climb) and deal with it later.” Quit or not?

== You still want to go on?  And risk losing your fingers?  This is a frostbite risk scenario.  Fix it first before even thinking of pushing on.  Again, prevention is key (enough warmth, move constantly, etc.)

8.       “You felt cold and sick before the start. Race started (or summit bid), after a few kilometers, sick feeling prevails, but you were sweating, still felt like vomiting.  You’re unable to drink water, afraid that it will trigger your vomit and make yourself weaker. There’s 30 km more to go (or say 4+ hours), and it’s an effort trying not to vomit.” Quit or not?

== My first ever 7 summit peak, Kilimanjaro - was littered by my vomit!  I’ve vomited in most of the mountains I’ve climbed.  Just throw up, you will feel better.  Then push on!

9.       “You have runny nose before the start. As you run (or climb uphill), it worsened and getting harder to breathe esp. with the face mask.  It was uncomfortable and air you inhale didn’t seem to be enough for you to run (or climb) well, and to complete the whole distance (or trip).” Quit or not?

== Recognize that in cold, dry places – you’ll have runny nose even if you’re not sick.  Toilet paper will not work (it disintegrates), while stronger wet tissues will freeze.  So just blow it out, ugly as it may be – dirty as your face mask and gloves might get (trust me, you’ll use your gloves to wipe off the ‘excess’) – but that’s the only way to clear your nose.  No quitting!

So how did you fare?

This article was written in support of FWD's North Pole Marathon #BlazeATrailInTheArctic Campaign.  Content and opinions are all my own. 

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