Dhaulagiri Medical Research Expedition 2016

In 2016, the most recent quadrennial Joint Services expedition took place in the Dhaulagiri region of Nepal during April and May 2016 and involved servicemen and women from the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force.

The overall ethos of the expedition was to conduct high quality Adventurous Training in a unique and remote environment, whilst simultaneously conducting a number of medical research projects through the voluntary involvement of expedition members.

The following research projects were undertaken on the expedition:

  • Study 1: Acclimation and acclimatisation: The effects of exercise under normobaric hypoxic conditions.
  • Study 2: Biomechanical changes in walking and balance at altitude.
  • Study 3: Application of apnoeic training and physiological adaptations to altitude.
  • Study 4: Appetite responses during high altitude expeditions.
  • Study 5: Monitoring of heart rate and rhythm during the ascent to extreme altitude.
  • Study 6: The investigation of the adaptation of the heart and lungs to high altitude.
  • Study 7: The use of brain natriuretic hormone as a marker for high altitude illness.

The aim of this expedition was to be as inclusive as possible. They aimed to develop mountaineers at all levels and provide the opportunity to gain qualifications and experience during the two year build up. Teamwork was essential, as will a strong sense of determination. The expedition was be challenging but endeavoured to overcome the difficulties competently and safely.

After seven weeks away from home, on the 21st May 2016 all of the teams arrived back at basecamp having drawn a line under their attempt to climb Dhaulagiri. They planned to climb in a lightweight style and avoid the “siege style” of Himalayan climbing and climb without the use of bottled oxygen. With the support of two Sherpa’s as equal team members they established camp 3 at 7500 metres and had a number of nights there poised for an attempt on the summit. Several other teams were on the mountain and these teams pushed twice for the summit, once on 15th May when a team of around 15 Sherpas using bottled oxygen spent 12 hours trying to open the route to the summit. They were turned back due to increasing winds. The weather forecasts had good summit weather on the 18th May but extreme winds made this date untenable and left the teams out of place when the window briefly opened on the 19th and some other teams managed to open the route to the summit. It is not wise to spend prolonged periods of time above 7000 metres just waiting for summit opportunities and sadly, they learnt of the death of an Indian mountaineer who had been high on the mountain for several days.

In seven weeks they have provided the opportunity for around 140 military personnel to take part in adventurous training in the dramatic and stunning Dhaulagiri area of Nepal. Many had volunteered for their research studies (in association with Oxford and Leeds Beckett).

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