Just Gassing

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Over the years the strange psychological phenomena high-altitude climbers and explorers experience have prompted quite a lot of literary interest, most notably from T. S. Eliot in The Wasteland. 'Who is the third who walks always beside you? / When I count, there are only you and I together / But when I look ahead up the white road / There is always another one walking beside you.' If memory serves, and frankly it does so less frequently these days, Eliot had been intrigued to read about Shackleton's hallucination while crossing South Georgia that there was another with his little band of exhausted troopers. Maria Coffey even wrote a book about it, published in 2008, called Explorers of the Infinite: The Secret Spiritual Lives of Extreme Athletes And What They Reveal about Near-Death Experiences, Psychic Communication and Touching the Beyond. That's got to be the longest title for an outdoor book in history. Anyway, I read today that Slovenian scientists have published research that suggest near-death experiences – bright lights, hallucinations etc – experienced by those suffering cardiac arrest are the consequence of too much carbon dioxide building up in the bloodstream. Gosh, that sounds like an overextended high-altitude climber, doesn't it? I've had a number of hallucinations over the years, including one monster session coming down the Whymper couloir on the Verte near Chamonix. We'd climbed the Jardin ridge, but taken too long and were benighted, requiring us to abseil down the couloir rather than down climb the Grand Montet ridge. By about 2am I'd been on the go for 24 hours and started seeing the two ends of the rope as the girls and boys in a classroom. One end of the rope, the girls, were well behaved and straght. The boys at the other end were unruly and twisted, and I kept having to sort them out. Bonkers.

Posted by Ed Douglas at 5.47 PM