The Himalayan climbing season is here. And so is Global Rescue, having again deployed its medical operations personnel to the region to support emergency rescue operations for our mountaineering and trekking members.
High-altitude mountain climbers are in the Himalaya range preparing for the 2022 spring climbing season. Whether it’s Mera Peak (21,247 feet/6,476 meters), Annapurna (26,545 feet/8,091 meters), Mount Everest (29,035 feet/8,848) or one of the many others, whenever high-altitude trekkers and mountaineers convene for high-risk, life-changing ascents, Global Rescue medical operations experts deploy to the region to help save lives.
“We have boots on the ground to support medical operations, logistical and emotional support. People traveling to the Himalaya region to climb and trek are in unfamiliar circumstances, and we can help,” said David Koo, a former combat medic, emergency nurse, associate director of operations for Global Rescue, and a member of Global Rescue’s Mountain Advisory Council. “We deploy anytime it’s a primary activity area, where we have a lot of members taking part in extreme activities. We have a lot of medical support wherever we deploy.”
For more than two years, the coronavirus pandemic disrupted international mountaineering, closing or limiting access to popular, challenging mountains worldwide. It’s unclear what COVID-19 or its variants will mean for the 2022 spring climbing season. But experts are making predictions based on their experience and observations.
Legendary high-climber and a member of the Global Rescue Mountain Advisory Council, Ed Viesturs, says it’ll be interesting to see what countries like Nepal and Pakistan require for entry. “There won’t be any climbing access from the China side. Outfitters will instigate their own protocols to protect their clients as well as their business operations,” he said.
“Last year, Mount Everest hit record permit numbers but it happened very late,” said Dan Stretch, operations manager for Global Rescue, a veteran of deployments to Nepal during the climbing seasons and a member of Global Rescue’s Mountain Advisory Council. “This year, like most things, high-climbs in the Himalayas are still unclear.”
Providing nonstop, 24/7 medical emergency support for a massive number of people taking part in extreme, high-altitude activities is not for the faint of heart. Koo says you need to be flexible and physically fit to be efficient on the ground.
Photo © David Koo, Global Rescue’s Associate Director of Operations
“Nothing will be spoon-fed to you. Thankfully, over the number of years of having boots on the ground, we have developed close relationships with our partners, both helicopter and hospital providers. They have always been a strong support for the team on the ground. We constantly research the area and the resources available. We stay close to the airport to coordinate and be part of airborne transports. Unexpected weather plays a big role. We make certain to have a plan B that includes a sleeping bag, portable oxygen canisters and more when we pack — in case we have to overnight on the mountain at Mount Everest Base Camp (17,598 feet/5,364 meters) to support emergency rescue operations,” he said.
The Global Rescue deployment team remains on-site for the duration of the two-month climbing season. The days are long, often lasting up to 16 hours.
“We are active from sunrise to sundown. If there are no ongoing rescues, that’s when we follow-up with rescued members, check on their care, complete administrative requirements and rest up. Each deployed team member has at least one day a week to chill out, get a massage, go sightseeing, do anything to rest, recuperate and prepare for the next few days,” Koo said.
This year will be a little different due to the pandemic. The challenge with operating during a pandemic is that the enemy – a disease – is invisible. “We have to protect ourselves and be vigilant to protect others. We’ll be wearing masks, avoiding crowds when possible, and we’re all vaccinated,” he said.
Global Rescue is the leading emergency rescue resource for mountaineers, climbers and those who love the mountains. The Global Rescue Mountain Advisory Council helps keep services at peak level. The Mountain Advisory Council is led by Viesturs, world-famous high-altitude climber Nirmal “Nims” Purja, outdoor adventure safety expert and longtime mountaineering author Jed Williamson, Koo and Stretch.
Additional Mountain Advisory Council members include:
- Wilderness and altitude sickness expert Dr. Eric Johnson is a Global Rescue associate medical director, past president of the Wilderness Medical Society and member of the Board of Directors of the Himalaya Rescue Association. Johnson is also one of the founders of Everest ER.
- Special operations and critical planning authority Scott Hume is Global Rescue’s vice president operations and the former Chief Operations Officer of the 3rd Brigade 25th Infantry Division.
- Former Navy SEAL and manager of Global Rescue Security Operations Harding Bush has extensive mountain and cold weather operations expertise. He has developed multiple training programs for ski mountaineering and cold weather survival. He is a graduate of several U.S. and NATO Mountaineering courses including the Slovenian Mountain Warfare School.
Stretch predicts that 2022 will be wide open on Mount Everest. “If 2021 is anything to go by, there won’t be any limitations on group size. Expect record permits distributed with no enforced rules. Climbers should go with expedition organizers who take COVID-19 precautions seriously,” he said.
Koo and his deployment team are taking it all in stride. “We are comfortable in Nepal. Our partners are super nice. It’s like a second home.”
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