Hi, Ralph Harvey here, PI of ANSMET.
The field team has asked me to fill you in on news from this season that didn’t show up in the blog because they weren’t sure how to deal with; there’s more to the “Groundhog Day at Larkman” story from a few days ago than they told you at the time.
As they left Larkman for the Mt. Cecily site last saturday morning, the team’s mountain guide (Shaun Norman) had been dealing with severe headaches for hours. And as they got rolling, things got worse, with Shaun getting disoriented. The team recognized this as very serious and immediately returned to Larkman where Shaun recovered significantly after some time in the tent, warm fluids and food. Again the team did the correct thing; they consulted with doctors in McMurdo Station and the decision was made that Shaun should go back to McMurdo for evaluation. Shaun made it back to McMurdo within the day and while he seemed to have recovered fully, the doctors there (including a neurologist) recommended he get back to Christchurch for a more detailed evaluation.
As of this writing Shaun has been back in Christchurch for about a day. I don’t have any details to share with you right now on his condition (UPDATED BELOW), but I can say that when I talked to him in McMurdo he seemed absolutely perfectly normal, which for Shaun means full of good humor, communicative to the point of being a chatter-box, personable, and more concerned for the team he left behind than for himself. We’re all praying that this was nothing more than severe dehydration and stress, which is entirely possible- the Larkman site is one of the highest we’ve visited, at the equivalent of about 9500 feet, and the traverse to Cecily was a big deal for which Shaun was in charge. It is really easy in the thin cold wind to work too hard and drink (and breathe) too little. In fact, in my own 20+ years of ANSMET fieldwork, I’ve only had altitude sickness one time, and it was in that region, while working too hard to get a traverse underway. It happens to be best of us.
As for the team, over the last 72 hours they’ve consulted with me, with John Schutt (the mountaineer for G-057) and the field safety folks in McMurdo. The decision was made that rather than go on to Mt. Cecily, where they’d get to work only for a few days at most, they will traverse back to the Otway landing site when weather allows. It’s about a 6 hour trip, and with their satellite images, maps, GPS and their own snowmobile tracks to find their way, it shouldn’t be a big deal. In fact it may have already happened- I’m sure the next blog post from them will update us. (UPDATE BELOW)
I will try to keep you updated as I learn more. For now, let’s all send our hopes and prayers for a very healthy Shaun Norman to recovery fully and quickly, with no long-term consequences.
UPDATE: 3 pm tuesday east coast US time. Jim Karner called me from the field and said that the systematic team is at the Otway landing site after a traverse that went very well, almost 2 hrs shorter than expected. They’re packing up 16,000 lbs of cargo and getting in the queue for flights back to McMurdo. Shaun Norman apparently had an MRI yesterday and there are no signs of brain injury, and they’re describing his episode as an extremely severe migraine.
Meanwhile, the recon team is still at Szabo Ridge, waiting to move toward Klein glacier for pickup or a trip to Pole to get a plane from there……