RIDGWAY, Colo. (MTN)—For nearly 40 years, Peter Hackett has been ministering to climbers as well as the natives among the world's highest mountains. But his most recent trip to Mount Everest included prescription of a drug that might more normally be associated with the porn-movie studios of California's San Fernando Valley.
Climbers in thin air always experience reduced capacity for physical performance, but about one-third of them decline to a greater extent. This is because vessels that deliver blood to their lungs constrict even more, preventing carbon dioxide from the body being exchanged with fresh oxygen.
Those with high blood pressure in the lungs, such as caused by emphysema and other pulmonary diseases, experience the same problem. And the same problem of constricted blood vessels can cause erectile dysfunction.
Viagra and a relative called Cialis now can be used to allow greater flow of blood to the penis and hence erections. But could the same medicine help the impaired climbers improve their ability to go uphill while on Everest?
That was one of Hackett's experiments this year on Everest, and he tells The Telluride Watch that in his study of four climbers, all achieved dramatic results. One climber more than halved the time he took to climb from camps at 21,300 feet elevation to a higher camp at 24,500 feet. All four summited the mountain and believe they could not have done so without the Cialis.
Did the climbers also report yearning ever so much more for home and loved ones? No doubt there were such conversations, but they were not disclosed.
In another experiment, Hackett gave climbers an asthma inhaler to curb the hacking cough frequently experienced by climbers in extreme altitude. The cough can become so racking that it fractures ribs.
"That's probably the major health problem up there," Hackett said.
Results from the experiment, which included 40 participants, suggest improvement.
Hackett first visited the Everest area in 1974 and has twice reached the summit. He was the 111th person to succeed.
Everest has become much busier since then. Just 25 people were on the mountain during his first visit, but this year there were 900. Among this year's climbers was an 18-year-old girl who had never before been on snow and many others who had never used crampons.
In his remarks with The Watch, Hackett took a somewhat dim view of the changes. If the local people, called Sherpas, were essential to the success of Sir Edmund Hillary, today the Sherpas have become almost valets. Still, added Hackett, "No one can carry you up Everest."