Trekking in Nepal

Snow Blind on Mt. Everest

Working as a guide for the 1982 Canadian Mt. Everest expedition Pema suffered a bad case of snow blindness. On the day the group made the summit he had a strenuous climb with a heavy and he had put on a lot of layers for the cold weather. He was wearing some big goggles, and as the sun came out he could feel the heat and steam welling up. The goggles started to fog up a lot so every few minutes he had to take them off and wipe away the condensation. It got to be a nuisance, and after a couple of hours he decided to just leave them off. There was a lot more to think about besides the annoying goggles.

Coming down from a successful summit he got to camp #2 in the evening just past the Western Cwn and stopped for a rest. He slept lightly for a few of hours, but at 1 a.m. he awoke with his eyes terribly - he couldn't see at all! It was very painful; his eyes were swollen running constantly. Of course it was very uncomfortable and time seemed to drag on. He knew he had to wait until morning for help, but as he waited for an agonizingly long duration for the break of day, time seemed at a standstill. Each time he asked the time, the morning came no closer. What seemed like hours to Pema was only 10 or 15 minutes at a time.

Once the morning finally came there was no time to deal with Pema's condition - the group leader insisted that everyone get ready to pack up and head out to base camp. Pema asked him if he could just keep one Sherpa with him and stay at camp #2 for another more night, but the leader refused. He didn't want to leave anyone behind. So even though he was blinded he had no choice but to get ready to go. The trail back down was very treacherous, passing over rough, icy terrain and seracs atop deadly crevasses. They made it back to base camp, and the doctor immediately tended to his injury with eye drops and bandaging. He told Pema he needed 48 hours of rest and he must not to use his eyes for anything in that time.

Pema heard everyone having a great party because their success in reaching the summit, but he just had to rest in place and listen to their excitement. A few times he lifted my bandages and tried to sneak a glance, but he found it was very blurry. After he rested through the next day his vision finally returned. Pema now knows that once you are affected by snow blindness you are very susceptible to get it again. You must be very careful on the snow and keep your sunglasses on with full coverage. At high elevation with the thin atmosphere and in a field of pure, reflective snow, the intensity of the focused sunlight quickly damages the eyes.

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