As it turns out, hanging around in the Khumbu Ice Falls is not a great option - this season is turning out to be somewhat unpredictable. Due to all this, Mike’s team is forced to move very quickly for 3-4 hours in cold, dry air through the ice maze. It comes as no surprise that most of of them have developed the exhausting non productive cough known as Khumbu Cough.
Khumbu Cough is described as a “a cough caused by the low humidity and sub zero temperatures experienced at altitude, and is thought to be triggered by over exertion.” This can cause “extreme irritation which manifests itself in the form of a dry, persistent cough which can restrict breathing. Eventually the cough can be so violent and put so much strain on the chest cavity that it causes its victim to tear chest muscles or break ribs.” Mike reports that yes, this is all true!
The range of treatments include time and rest to Advair inhalers and prescription cough suppressants. During this break at base camp the teams focus attention on getting issues like this under control before the next rotation. The Sherpas like the Khumbu Spa treatment: hot water, Tiger Balm Oil and a towel. During the first thirty seconds you’re fairly certain your eyes are melting but after the 10 minute session it does really help!
Also keeping the climbers busy is testing oxygen systems fit and function. This is an essential preparatory step before heading off toward the hypoxic heights of Everest. The climber needs to become very familiar with all the valves and adjustments of the overall system well before leaving the South Col. Simple issues that can be resolved relatively easily like ensuring that a good fit for goggles and helmet/mask can destroy a summit bid if not taken care of down at EBC.