Saturday, March 10, 2018

Extreme Adventure and its Consequences and Personal Responsibility

"Whether I had hallucinations or not, whether someone saw me or not, whether there was shelter or not, the moral of this is that I am alive. No matter what, I am alive."
"It's fear that makes the masks you wear every day fall. But when real fear stares you right in the face, and you embrace it, you realize that it takes less physical and mental energy than it does to travel 500 km at -50 degrees Celsius."
"I will lose something, and maybe I will lose everything. But this doesn't make me lose the will to love life even more."
Roberto Zanda, Italian ultra race competitor
Robert Zanda competes in the Montane Yukon Ultra Race in February, 2018. Joe Bishop/Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra
"There's not only the risk of frostbite, there are other symptoms that athletes themselves can't recognize."
"So there needs to be someone at each checkpoint who can provide a medical opinion. Did [Roberto] have the mental capability to go on ...?  No."
"Were his clothes dry? No. Did anybody ask him how long he hadn't slept for? No. Was he able to use the SPOT [tracker] with this frozen hands? No."
"Did the [race] organizers think of everything? No."
Giovanna Carla, Roberto Zanda's life partner

"For one occasion at night [-50], I took my hand out of my glove to find some food. My hand did not get cold as usual."
"After two or three minutes, I realized that the feelings had just disappeared and it took fifteen to twenty minutes of hard work to get the circulation back."
"When there are so many people ending up with frost-bite, this is a sign of bad organization. Professional runners who participate in this type of race are looking for challenges to difficult areas, but expect the organizer to take care of safety -- and create a safe framework for the participants along the way."
"That's why we pay $2,500 to enter."
Frode Lein, Norwegian ultra-racer
Competitors set out in the Yukon Ultra Race 2018. Joe Bishop/Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra

"[Zanda had access to a race volunteer who spoke Italian fluently, and] got all vital information in his mother tongue. [He] showed no signs of hypothermia or frostbite [at arrival at the checkpoint and] in fact was looking rather good."
"[His critical decision to unhook from his sled was an error, separating him from] the athlete's lifeline."
"Reflecting on the race and making changes to increase safety is an ongoing process. Will this guarantee that it is impossible somebody gets hypothermic and makes mistakes? I do not know. Anybody can make mistakes. It is human."
Robert Pollhammer, German outdoor gear operator, founder, Yukon ultra race 
Roberto Zanda, aided by ski poles, navigates the trail pulling a sled with his supplies. Joe Bishop/Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra

Mr. Pollhammer, despite living in Germany, travels annually to the Canadian north in the winter to plan and oversee the event he founded in 2003, called the Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra, the "world's toughest and coldest ultra race". It is a 480-kilometre adventure in human endurance, across frozen rivers, ascending and descending mountains and trekking along fir-lined dogsled tracks, taking place in February which just happened this year to rank among the coldest on record with temperatures as low as -50 Celsius at times.

Most of the competitors gave up their attempts, surrendering to conditions that were unusual in the icy grip of a formidable winter season, in an unforgiving landscape. Those who decided not to continue the competition mostly did so because they were suffering from frostbite, from hypothermia, and some of the competitors from both dangerous conditions. This is a round-the-clock challenge. On its sixth day, Italian competitor Roberto Zanda, one of three men left in the race, hauling his sled holding a tent, sleeping bag, cook stove, food and spare clothing along the Yukon landscape was in trouble.

He began to suffer the effects of extreme exhaustion, exposure to relentless winter elements, and a wandering mind. This is a man with a background of a good many ultra-extreme challenges behind him, from running across deserts to traversing mountain ranges, always managing to stay his course and emerge with his goal completed. At age 61, he was fit and muscular, confident and determined. He was also, at that juncture, suffering mental and physical breakdown. When he attempted to use the GPS technology to contact race organizers in Whitehorse his fingers refused.

He was suffering acute frostbite and hypothermia, a state of irrationality that persuaded him to heed what a hallucinatory figure recommended; to abandon his drive and search out a cabin in the forest where aid awaited him. He jettisoned his sled with its life-preserving gear and trekked on into the forest. When his boots became mired in off-track deep snow he removed both boots and socks and fell into unconsciousness. Where he was discovered the following morning, half frozen, bare hands and feet black with fourth-degree frostbite.

Airlifted by helicopter to Whitehorse General Hospital, doctors did what they could, while their prognosis for recovery held little hope that his hands and feet would not have to be amputated before gangrene might set in. Two weeks later the man was flown to a hospital in northern Italy that specializes in mountain medicine. He is being treated with anticoagulants and vasodilators and experimental stem cell protocols in hopes of stimulating his collapsed arteries in hands and feet to regenerate.
Roberto Zanda, seen here at the Whitehorse hospital, suffered severe frostbite during the Yukon Arctic Ultra.
Roberto Zanda, seen here at the Whitehorse hospital, suffered severe frostbite during the Yukon Arctic Ultra. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

Is it reasonable to assure people undertaking their personally ambitious ventures in the field of the world's toughest physical endurance challenges, that rescue is available -- their survival assured under the most dreadfully adverse circumstances nature can impose, when they have themselves decided to surrender their free agency in decisions made with due consideration to the consequences, to alert others that they are in dire straits and despite the odds they don't court death, but want to live -- that they will come to no harm?
"There's been a lot of discussions, as 'could we have, what if,' and the conclusion is, no."
"He had everything he needed, he had the right gear… he simply ignored all the warning signs of hypothermia."
"If he would have left with his sled hooked up to him we would've seen him wander off the trail and we could've sent somebody."
"He was hypothermic, and to a stage where you… don't really know what's happening anymore."
"It's always difficult to know that you're organizing something and somebody's now suffering serious consequences."
Robert Pollhammer, event founder, organizer
A solitary Roberto Zanda pushes forward in the Yukon Ultra Race 2018. Joe Bishop/Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra

Labels: , ,

Follow @rheytah Tweet