Team Everest Anniversary Post #5: Getting Back Down

Gene Rodgers

May 30, 2017

To commemorate the 14th anniversary of CTD's Team Everest '03 Expedition, trekker and long-time CTD member Gene Rodgers shares his memories of the event in a series of guest blog posts. Check in Tuesdays in May (and one in June) for new posts!

Read Post #4: Getting Close to Basecamp.

The last stop for us, before Basecamp was Gorak Shep. I started to feel like something was wrong, and I soon took ill. At first, I thought it was from the altitude. Janis, our Team doctor, warned us about altitude sickness early in our trek. It occurs when a person climbs too high too fast. As a result, the body cannot get as much oxygen as it needs, and the person must breathe faster. Symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath. If severe, it can develop into life-threatening cerebral or pulmonary edema. As the body gets used to the altitude, the symptoms go away.

But my symptoms didn’t go away. I was overwhelmed by another force of nature—my own body. It was shutting down. I lapsed in and out of consciousness. I don't even remember being treated.

Sometime in the early morning hours, I awoke to Janis telling me that he was sending me back to Kathmandu. I saw something in his eyes that I had never seen before. It wasn't fear, but something awfully close. I knew Janis had no recourse and that going back was the only choice. His priority was to get me to a lower elevation to limit the negative effects of altitude. He also told me I probably had a twisted bowel and would have to be hospitalized. If symptoms didn't improve soon, I would need surgery.

On a bright, snowy field, three warmly clothed men sitting in wheelchairs hold up a flag, which resembles the American with the field of stars replaced by a figure in a wheelchair. Behind them, two more bundled up people stand, holding up a smaller banner that reads Team Everest 03

After Janis broke the news to me, he asked if I could live with that. On this trip, he knew our mental health was as important as our physical health. Janis knew I had a strong need for being on Everest and wanted to know if my soul was at peace and if I accomplished my own goals. I admitted that I was very disappointed about having to turn back only hours before reaching Basecamp. I did feel as though I failed, but was satisfied I had tried my best. 

Knowing I had reached the end of my trek, I passed some of my possessions on to my fellow trekkers. I brought a bagel from Katz’s Restaurant and a bottle of Tito's Vodka to be offered at the Puja – a Buddhist ceremony held at Basecamp to bless trekkers. I also handed off a special flag that my mother made with the international symbol of accessibility. I wanted a picture of the guys in wheelchairs holding this flag at Basecamp (right). 

Over snow, four bundled up men carry a fifth in a wheelchair, each taking a corner of the chair.

Finally, co-expedition leader Gary Guller looked at my attendants, Robert (my brother) and Jose, and said, "One of you is going to have to go down with Gene." Robert volunteered. Although disappointed too about not reaching Basecamp, he knew it mustn’t break the bonds of blood. We said a few tearful good-byes to fellow trekkers, gathered our goods, and headed out.

A rescue helicopter couldn't reach us at our altitude, so Sherpa carried us down to Lobuche. The doc took the lead and, along with several Sherpa, started pulling me in my wheelchair (left). Our descent was much easier because gravity was on our side and we didn’t need to keep acclimatizing to the altitude. Still, nothing on Everest is ever truly easy. For Janis and myself, we shared an experience we'll never forget but have no desire to remember.

On a snowy field, two bundled up men lift a third person whose face is covered into the open door of a helicopter.At Lobuche, Janis gave Robert last minute instructions and said good-bye (right). The helicopter could only pick up one passenger at a time, so first I, then Robert, was transported 2,400 ft. down in altitude to a medical-aid station at Pheriche. Then were both flown to Kathmandu where I was hospitalized.


Read Post #6: Documenting the Trip and Reflections

Photos by Erich Schlegel, The Dallas Morning News.

About Gene

In front of a brown brick wall, a bearded man in a blue collared shirt and cowboy hat smiles in amusement at something off camera.Adventurer, activist, media star, and educator Gene Rodgers earned a bachelors degree in Education, an MBA, and graduate and post-graduate studies in rehabilitation. He has traveled in 44 countries, on six continents, and a number of island nations. He has enjoyed recreational activities and adventure sports including skydiving, sailing, paragliding, scuba diving, and, of course, trekking in the Himalayas. To to share his experiences, Gene created the TV/Web show “The Gene And Dave Show” with Dave Dauber. View the award winning show on Access Austin or Gene is a long-time member of CTD and ADAPT of Texas.