Health

All expeditions depend upon the health of their participants, not just the climbers but the support team too.

Most expeditions to the Himalaya take a doctor or medically qualified person as part of the team, usually with another role as well, as a climber or Base Camp Manager. Medical facilities are days walk away and helicopters were not as available in the early days as they are now. Joe’s alpine style expeditions did not have any such luxuries, and friends assisted in putting together first aid supplies to cover medical events and emergencies. These had to cover potential emergencies in weather that could range from the tropical, to extreme cold at high altitudes.

Joe noted in his writing the worry that one might become ill and let the team down, or not be able to get to the top of the mountain. During the Dunagiri expedition Joe developed severe toothache, which he tried to treat himself but eventually had to descend to an army medical facility. He describes his emotions vividly in his book Savage Arena “I asked myself over and over if I could ever rise from this bed of pain to reach 23,000 feet…I had never realised that climbing meant so much to me.” With only two climbers, Joe and Dick Renshaw, any illness would have terminated the expedition. Fortunately Joe recovered and returned to climb with Dick. They successfully climbed Dunagiri but had a harrowing descent which resulted in Dick losing parts of his fingers to frostbite.

On the Changabang expedition with Pete Boardman in 1976, Joe recalled teasing Pete about how his stomach was feeling as Joe had had his appendix out but Pete had not!

Health was not always a laughing matter. When Dick Renshaw suffered a stroke at altitude on the 1982 Everest expedition, it depleted the number of climbers from four to three after Dick and one of the support team had to walk out to get medical attention.