Richard Parks forced to end expedition on Everest

Richard Parks has been forced to end his current expedition Project Everest Cynllun due to medical complications.

Richard’s expedition, a collaborative British Research project showcasing the effects of extreme altitude on the body and mind, was due to reach its conclusion in the following weeks as Richard attempted to become the first person in history to collect a blood sample and muscle biopsy from the summit of Mount Everest. He was also climbing Everest without supplemental oxygen.

However, due to rare medical complications discovered over the weekend whilst Richard was in Camp 2 on Everest, he has been forced to end his expedition early and return home to Wales.

“It’s been a bitter pill to swallow” said Richard, “I am confident of my process to make the decision. It’s the right one. I’m at peace, but it’s been a brutal few days.”

Before Richard’s last climb to Camp 2, Science Lead Professor Damian Bailey performed an arterialised blood test on Richard at an earlier than scheduled time. This was to look at how the period Richard had spent above the Icefall had impacted on his acclimatisation ahead of the summit bid. Richard’s Haemoglobin levels at first glance were hugely positive, confirming his strategy and training were paying off, in fact his body’s response and adaption to hypoxia was excellent.

Upon further investigation of Richard’s samples, and with input from Jagged Globe’s high altitude experts Dr. Rachel Tullet and Dr. David Hillebrandt, the flip side of Richard’s results was highlighted.

His results showed that Richard had an abnormally high red blood cell count and haemoglobin level. This could provide insight into his unique physiology to perform in these extreme environments as an ‘Outlier’. However, these readings combined with an extraordinarily high Haematocrit posed a dangerously high risk of life threatening complications.

In simpler terms; the high values of oxygen carrying Haemoglobin showed that Richard’s ability to adapt to extreme altitudes is potentially exceptional, however it also showed that his blood has become dangerously thick putting an extra stress on the heart and brain with an extremely high risk of clotting. Whilst at sea level this is potentially life threatening, at extreme altitude and in the relatively remote environment of Mt. Everest the risk of complications such as stroke, heart attack, pulmonary embolus are greatly increased way beyond the normal risk levels associated with climbers taking on Everest.

Prof Damian Bailey reflected; “In retrospect, I’m glad to have performed the unscheduled blood gas analysis on Richard. The collective decision to halt any further ascent and reduce the increased risk to Richard was without question correct.”

On discovering there had been abnormal blood readings, Richard and his climbing team descended from Camp 2 to Base Camp to further analyse and repeat the measurements.

Jagged Globe’s Dr Tullet added; “Richard’s blood test results show that he is at high risk of developing serious or potentially life-threatening complications. The risk is greatly increased by the extreme environment he is currently in. Our advice to Richard was that it was simply too dangerous to continue with the expedition, be it with or without supplemental oxygen, and to descend immediately for obviously his own health and safety, but also that of his team.”

Richard’s performance director, Prof Nicola Phillips stated; “Whilst the scientific study is a primary aim of this expedition, Richard’s health in this extremely dangerous situation has to take priority. After considering the advice from everyone involved there was no other option but to withdraw. Richard has shown incredible professionalism in making this decision and in considering all implications, including the safety of the team around him.”

Richard’s expedition has been 18 months in the planning and preparation. Enormous amounts of time, resource, effort, training, support and research has gone in to creating Project Everest Cynllun, making the decision to leave Everest a painful one to make.

“I have discussed and considered every option” added Richard. “There is data demonstrating that some native highlanders have similar measurements to me, often presenting chronic mountain sickness symptoms. However, I don’t have any actual symptoms of ill-health, making the situation difficult to absorb. I feel great, but the harsh reality is that I am in a very dangerous predicament.”

Richard added; “I am not prepared to risk my life over and above the risks I have considered, trained and prepared for, or risk the lives of those around me. Any incident above Camp 3 would realistically mean a massive rescue incident or that I’m left there to die – I’ve climbed over dead bodies on Everest before. Also, the negative legacy of such egotistical behaviour could jeopardise further scientific expeditions on the mountain. This is about so much more than my own personal desires.”

Over the past 5 years Richard has completed several major expeditions, setting new records along the way.

“This situation has highlighted just how close to the ceiling of human performance I’m operating” he stated. “It’s been a sobering experience. Damian’s sample might’ve saved my life. The margins are almost non-existent. I won’t risk my future, or the future of others, given the information in front of me. I’m at peace with that.”

Despite not being able to fulfil the opportunity to take blood tests and a muscle biopsy on the summit of Everest as planned, Prof Bailey is encouraged by the fact that all experiments at basecamp were conducted successfully. His efforts will concentrate on analysing the data that includes cognitive assessments, blood and tissue samples when he returns to the UK. He is confident that the novel findings have the potential to contribute towards the publication of high impact factor papers that will ultimately influence our global understanding of the mechanisms that underpin dementia.

Finally, Richard stated; “I feel numb at the moment, but I’m confident of my decision. The integrity of all my expeditions is paramount to me. I am proud of everything we have achieved to this point, and I would like to thank all my partners and sponsors for their belief and support. I’ve been privileged to work with an incredible team here in the field and back home in Wales and the UK. I’d particularly like to thank Nic, Damian and Gareth for taking the time out of their lives to support me here in Nepal. I also wouldn’t be here without the support and love of my family and friends. And last but by no means least, I would like to thank all the people who have followed the project and sent me good luck messages on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, they mean so much.”