Quest on hold as climber gasps for air

High-altitude scare puts South Medford grad into ER
Brian Smith takes a self portrait after succumbing to HAPE, or high-altitude pulmonary edema. "It is 5 a.m., bitter cold, well below zero and I have been fighting for my life all night with HAPE and I am on an old O2 mask that Tindi Sherpa tracked down for me in camp II during the middle of the night as we had no masks in camp II," he wrote in an e-mail accompanying the photo.Photo from Brian Smith

Brian Smith, a 1988 South Medford High School graduate, is sending periodic e-mail dispatches to the Mail Tribune from Mount Everest, where he hopes to reach the summit by mid-May. The son of Larry and Linda Smith of Jacksonville, Brian Smith began his treacherous adventure when he arrived in Kathmandu March 28.

In his last dispatch, dated Saturday, Smith hoped to push to Camp II and Camp III, then on to the summit in two to three weeks.

May 2

I am sending out a quick note to let you all know that I made it back down from Camp III, but it didn't go as planned. I came down with high-altitude pulmonary edema last night at Camp II after climbing up to Camp III and didn't think that I was going to make it through the night. I did, though, and with the help of two bottles of oxygen gas, I made it back to base camp from Camp II today under my own power.

Suffocating totally alone at 21,200 feet is an unbelievably frightening experience and one I never want to go through again. I felt like I was on the moon as I gasped for air inside my tent where the thermometer was reading -10 F and I did not have the strength to pull on my sleeping bag or puffy jacket. The rest of the team was up at Camp III, where I had returned from and was to again go back to in two days.

I just returned from the Everest emergency room, where I am being treated. At the same time, the BBC is filming my story. We will see how well I respond to treatment, but my dreams of the summit may be over this season. If I respond well enough to treatment, I may attempt a late-season summit with one of our Sherpas several weeks after my team makes the summit. It is hard to say. Last night all I wanted to do was live through the night and could care less about the summit.

I am thinking a little about the summit today, but Willie said I do need to think about my family back home as my body is a ticking time bomb right now at extreme altitude. Of course it takes me quite a while to make it a couple hundred yards right now when I am not on oxygen.

I did make my new personal record for high altitude yesterday, climbing up the steep and icy Lhotse Face to 23,200 feet, so that was the good part of the day.

Mustafa and Casey have left our expedition, so it is down to just Bjorn, Eirik, Eric, Willie and maybe me. I definitely won't be summiting with them if I do make the summit at all. I realized last night that a person does not "conquer" Mount Everest, but instead they "survive" Mount Everest. I won't make a bid for the summit unless the odds swing back into my favor again.

I greatly appreciate everyone's love, prayers and e-mails. I believe that your many prayers helped me pull through the night last night when I thought that it was all over.

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