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Everest 2005: Diabetic climber's Everest rematch
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Feb 18, 2005 03: 11 EST
American adventurer Will Cross is attempting Everest this spring through the South side. Cross, a 37-year-old father of five, is out on a quest for the ‘Seven Summits’.

But Will’s toughest challenge is the one he faces every day—type 1 diabetes. Challenges are something Will does not shy away from, and he doesn’t let diabetes control his life. Besides following a personal dream, Will’s adventures are meant to prove to the rest of the world that diabetes is an illness that can be controlled and overcome, even in the most extreme environments.

That’s why Will started a project called “NovoLog Peaks and Poles Challenge”, which follows him on all of his expeditions to the Poles and Seven Summits. So far, Will has climbed Aconcagua, Vinson, Kilimanjaro,Denali and Kosciuszko. He also skied to the South Pole from Patriot hills, with Jerry Petersen, from November 2002 to January 2003, with a resupply.

Will is not new to Everest. He attempted it last year, but was forced to turn back 1500 feet from the summit due to problems with the supplementary oxygen system. Now he’s back to try again.

In an interview with ExplorersWeb, Will took a few moments to talk about his return attempt to the top of the world.

ExWeb: This is your second attempt to Everest. During the first one, what went wrong and how has that experience helped you to plan this second expedition?

Will:I have thought about those final 1500 feet every day since returning. This time I'll spend my first night at C3 without gas and if the weather holds I will rest for one day at C4. I faced two main problems first time up: My partner lost his vision in one eye from retinal hemorrhaging and the valve locked shut on the oxygen cylinder.

ExWeb: As for the upcoming expedition, are you joining a larger group or climbing on your own? Will you have Sherpa support and oxygen?

Will:I’ll be sharing a permit with an international expedition outfitter, but I will climb on my own and with gas.

ExWeb: How will diabetes affect your performance? How does altitude and extreme cold does affect you?

Will:Diabetes has not hindered my climbing but is a challenge, nevertheless. In particular, is altitude, which creates the same feelings as a low blood sugar. Above 8000m my body also reacts as though it’s sick because of the stress. This means that I have to take more insulin to keep my sugars in control. This is why the NovoLog insulin and Flexpens are so critical - a predictable insulin and an easy way to deliver and carry the insulin.

ExWeb: What kind of diet are you following while climbing?

Will:I try to drink as much fluid as possible. Energy bars and gels seem to work up high. I do most proper eating at C2 and BC.

Challenge of Diabetes when climbing

After Everest, Will plans on climbing Mt. Elbrus in July. If he succeeds on both Everest and Elbrus, he will become the first person with diabetes to climb the ‘Seven Summits’.

The challenge when climbing is the delicate balance between food intake, exercise, blood glucose testing and insulin injections. Too much insulin or too little food and Will goes hypoglycemic - a low blood sugar causes the head to spin, stomach to churn, hands shake and a general case of confusion. Same is true with a high blood sugar - feel slow, tired and unmotivated, thirsty. Too little insulin or too much food will cause a high blood sugar.

Delicate balance

Hemoglobin is critical to altitude adjustment and Will's is hindered by a high blood sugar. The mechanism for transporting the oxygen in his system is weighted by sugar molecules and thus very very challenging and important to keep good control; so that there is as little extra sugar as possible.

Lastly, the body naturally produces ketones while acclimatizing. Ketones are dangerous with diabetes as the kidneys are already stressed by the imbalance from lack of pancreas working. So its a very delicate balance to get up and down a big hill for a guy like Will.

Will Cross, a Pittsburgh resident, has climbed 5 of the Seven Summits, and walked to the SP from Patriot Hills. He has also climbed several peaks in North and South America.

There are currently more than 194 million people with diabetes worldwide. If nothing is done to slow the epidemic, the number will exceed 333 million by 2025. Severe health-related complications of diabetes account for about six percent of total health budgets in developed countries. In both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, chronically high levels of glucose in the bloodstream can progressively damage nerves and small blood vessels (‘microvascular complications’), increasing the risk of various complications.

More people will die each year from diabetes than from AIDS and breast cancer combined ( JDRF source )
Diabates is a leading cause of amputation, blindness, heart attack and kidney failure. ( ADA and JDRF )

Image courtesy of Will's website

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