A Regina woman has succeeded in becoming the first from Canada to climb to the Nirekha summit in the Himalayas.
Sabrina Heywood and Bryce Schoers share the achievement of being part of the first Canadian team to summit the mountain that overlooks the world famous Mt. Everest in Nepal.
Prior to this achievement, only one Canadian – a solo man – summited at Nirekha.
Nirekha peak has an elevation of 6,069 metres.
Heywood and Schoers were part of a group of five climbers who connected via the Alpine Club of Canada, Saskatchewan section. The group consisted of team leader Mark Rosin, Kobus Stassen, Chris Tunison, Heywood and Schroers.
Not everyone made it
Heywood and Schroers were the only ones to make it to the summit. A grueling trek both mentally and physically, Rosin, Stassen and Tunison were forced to turn back before summiting.
“Our goal was everyone comes home for supper. We all make it back safe,” Heywood said. “So we achieved our goal.”
Stassen is a physician, which the group agreed was an asset to a trip of this nature.
“Kobus listened to my chest and said he thought I had pulmonary edema,” Tunison said.
Pulmonary edema, when fluid accumulates in the lungs, is a symptom of altitude sickness. Other symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, headache, nausea and shortness of breath. The only treatment is to get to a lower altitude as fast as possible.
Altogether, the group spent about two weeks trekking through the mountains to the toe of the glacier. It was on the thirteenth day that Tunison had to turn back. Group leader Rosin accompanied him back down to a lower altitude where he recovered.
New territory for the climbers
Past a certain point in the two-week trek there were no cars on the road. Some of the locals in the area have likely never seen a motor vehicle, and everything is transported on foot or by animal – like yak or donkey.
Some of the accommodations along the trek were heated by burning yak poop.
The last push
“I found it very frustrating,” Heywood said of the final push toward the summit. “The higher we walked the harder it got.”
Heywood has an athletic background, and is no stranger to physically exerting tasks. She likened climbing at that altitude to trying to run through Jell-O.
“I’m used to being able to rely on my mental toughness to push through things, but there were times I was bent over, having a conversation with myself.”
Heywood said struggling for breath at that attitude was one of the hardest things she’s even been through.
“You just had to go slow, one step at a time, five breaths in between each step,” Schroers said with a laugh.
“No one in the group would ever give up because it was too hard,” Tunison said. “They would only turn around over a decision of health or safety.”
Once the team finally reached the summit, they said the wind broke for a brief moment of tranquility.
“The view was absolutely breathtaking,” Heywood said. “We had a view of some of the most beautiful peaks of this world, which is quite a fortunate place to be.”