Quoting Ed Viesters,
"I think a lot of people don't ever experience that--"Man, every decision I make has a consequence right now." That's a very interesting feeling."
Ken, you know I like mountaineering quotes, so this "consequence" problem at extreme altitude deserves a look. Harvey"The implication of this dull, hypoxic, high-altitude brain and its inability to perceive risk is especially dangerous, says Smythe, when 'the mountaineer is too occupied with the problem of existing in the present to worry about the future.' "
This is from my Wilderness Medicine
article "Risks in the Mountains. Words From On High." Smythe's quote is from a section discussing my favorite hypoxia/high altitude subject of DULL BRAINS. Here are the full paragraphs of quotes:
Unfortunately, the hypoxic realm of high altitude mountaineering blurs the line between incompetence, inexperience, and honest mistakes in the perception of risks. Medically speaking, "As a major consumer of oxygen the brain is affected early by altitude, leading to errors in judgement, compounding what may already be a desperate situation. Hypoxia alone or in combination with other altitude complications may be fatal. Errors of cognition and judgment, such as in the environment we faced above 6,700m (22,000ft), may cause as many deaths as more obvious factors. Recognizing this mental decline can be difficult."
Or simply, in the words of the first Englishman to the South Col of Everest in 1953, Wilfrid Noyce, "The top layers of my brain were probably dormant up there." If not for the dulling effect it would have given Wilfrid the willies. Gray matter just doesn't work well up there. This subject is worthy of many more replies. All the big guys weigh in on this. First Shipton: "At that altitude mental processes are so sluggish and inefficient that it is most difficult to retain a clear memory of what has actually occurred." Then Smythe: "I did not even feel scared afterwards as I was climbing now in a curiously detached, impersonal frame of mind. It was almost as though one part of me stood aside and watched the other struggle on." Smythe also had famous hallucinatory experiences on Everest, sharing a mint cake with his imaginary companion and seeing floating geometric figures. Tasker, of course, is in his element here, from Savage Arena, "I would snap out of this delusion, to realise that I had to keep control of my imagination, that tiredness combined with the altitude and hunger were inducing hallucinations, then I would be caught up in them again, an observer, not a participant, my mind roaming independently of the automaton movement of my limbs," and Joe again on the same page, "The hood of my down suit, drawn protectively round my face, became the frame of a television screen from inside which I was observing the outside world."
Television? Diemberger sounds like Rod Serling crossing into the Twilight Zone at the last three words of this line, "If you don't do things the minute you think of them, you are apt to forget, or what is even worse, to think you have done them just because they occurred to you - thought becoming reality." Wait a minute, Kurt remembers more, "You forget about time. It is as if the whole dimension ceases to exist up here." Shipton rather uncharacteristically sums it up in plain Houston-medspeak terms, "temporary madness or hallucination is not uncommon at high altitudes."
The implication of this dull, hypoxic, high-altitude brain and its inability to perceive risk is especially dangerous, says Smythe, when "the mountaineer is too occupied with the problem of existing in the present to worry about the future." The extreme climber had better overcome not just the mountain but this brain fatigue for as Boardman deadpans, "At high altitude there are few clues in the survival game, and it is important not to miss them."