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with Stefan Nestler

Pulmonary edema stops Alix von Melle on Makalu

Alix (l.) and Luis on Makalu

Alix (l.) and Luis on Makalu

The most important thing first: Alix von Melle is doing well under the circumstances. The 42-year-old, who has scaled six eight-thousanders and is therefore the most successful German female high altitude climber, started with her husband Luis Stitzinger for their second summit attempt on Makalu at the end of last week. Both reached their last high camp at 7600 meters, as planned. The following night Alix and Luis began to climb to the summit. They wanted to reach the highest point at 8485 meters without bottled oxygen. It was cold and windy, Luis writes. “Like in the past days Alix was plagued by a strong cough, in the extremely cold and dry air at an altitude of more than 7500 meters. After a strong coughing fit Alix suddenly said: Something’s not right, I can hardly breathe!”

Down, as fast as possible!

They continued to climb up for a short while but Alix’s condition deteriorated dramatically. “Suddenly we both knew: That was the end! Some hours ago we had still been so confident to reach the summit this time – and now that.” They turned around. Back in the tent they found that the oxygen saturation in Alix’s blood had fallen to 52 percent, compared with 78 percent in the evening before. Von Melle obviously suffered from a high altitude pulmonary edema and was in critical condition. “Fortunately we had the needed medicine and oxygen for the case of emergency so that we could immediately start treatment.”

“True Odyssey”

Return flight from Makalu

Return flight from Makalu

Both knew: they had to descend as fast as possible. On her way down Alix used bottled oxygen. After a forced march the German couple reached the base camp late in the evening of the same day. “Thorough medical tests by the base camp doctor revealed that Alix not only suffered from a high altitude pulmonary edema but also from pneumonia. No wonder that she could not breathe”, Luis writes. “Despite the disappointment about the abrupt end we thanked God for being back safely at base camp and for having all the resources for treatment. The descent was a true odyssey that took a happy end.”

Like a cool Siren

Later the German couple was flown by helicopter to Lukla where Alix was treated at the local clinic. The day after they returned to Kathmandu. “Once again Makalu has given us a cold shoulder. The mountain is like a cool Siren in Greek mythology. First it does attract you, then it doesn’t want to let you go and tries to kill you. Nevertheless, it is beautiful and graceful”, Luis sums up. They return from Makalu without summit success, for the second time after 2010. “All good things come in threes?! But the third time can wait.” First of all, Alix, get well soon! The mountains do not run away.


30. May 2014 | 16:01