Kenneth Baillie (Leader)
Roger Thompson (Deputy Leader)
Apex Bolivia 2001 left Edinburgh at 9am on Sunday 18th March 2001. The following morning, we flew from London to La Paz. At over two vertical miles above sea-level, La Paz (3630m), the capital of Bolivia, is the highest capital city in the world. We spent four days there to acclimatise before ascending by jeep to the rudimentary laboratory at 5200m on Chacaltaya, a mountain near La Paz. There we stayed for the next ten days.
The lab is usually used for cosmic physics research. During our time in the lab we conducted our experiments. Most of the work was done on three "sample days", when the team assembled our equipment and set about taking blood samples, testing our breathing and heart function, inhaling Roger's cough stimulant, and doing computer tests of brain function.
200 metres above the lab, the peak of Chacaltaya was a popular place to visit to watch the amazing sunrises and sunsets, and to get terrific views of El Alto and La Paz. Just another 10-15 minutes further along a ridge was Chacaltaya mountain itself. From both these summits, we had great views of the famous Illimani, and other nearby mountains, provided the clouds stayed away.
After our time in the lab, we descended to La Paz again breifly, before most of the team travelled to Sajama. We had a choice of mountains so that we didn't get caught out by bad weather (we did't want to go all that way and get rained off!), the choice being between Illimani (6440m), Parinakhota (6330m) and Sajama (6520m). We selected Sajama on the advice of our guides. Unfortunately the weather on our summit day was quite poor and only a handful of the group made it to the summit.
After returning from Sajama, we had a few days to do some sightseeing before heading home on the 11th of April.
The most obvious and direct application of our research is to help us understand altitude illnesses such as acute mountain sickness, and the rare but rapidly fatal conditions, high altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral oedema (HACE). But we also believe that our research is an important way to learn about chronic lung disease and critical illness back home at sea level. These conditions are complicated by a shortage of oxygen, but these patients are very complex and usually suffer from several other diseases at the same time, so it is virtually impossible to work out which of their problems is caused by lack of oxygen. We can get round this by studying the effects of oxygen deprivation on otherwise healthy people. Travelling to high altitude is the only practical way to do this. To repeat our experiments at sea level, one would need to seal 129 people in a low-pressure chamber for 14days each. This would be prohibitively expensive and intolerably uncomfortable to most volunteers.
Apex 1 research has been presented at national and international meetings, including the International Hypoxia Symposium and Physiological Society, British Haematological Society and British Society for Haemostasis and Thrombosis Conferences. We helped to organise an Expedition Medicine symposium at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and have lectured at Wilderness Medicine Student Conferences and Bayer and Sysmex user meetings.
The expedition was the subject of a half-hour BBC Tomorrow's World documentary and a BBC Radio 4 programme, On Top of the World.
Apex 1 received grant awards from...
British Heart Foundation, Project grant to JK Baillie and D Webb, 2001
Chest Heart and Stroke, Scotland 2001 & 2003
The Mount Everest Foundation 2001 & 2003
The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland 2001 & 2003
The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Myre Sim Fund 2001, 2003 & 2005
The University of Edinburgh Development and Alumni Trust 2001 & 2003
The University of Edinburgh Student Travel Fund 2001 & 2003
The University of Edinburgh William Dickson Travel Fund 2003
The University of Edinburgh Weir Fund 2003
The Gilchrist Educational Trust 2001
The Royal Medical Society, Edinburgh 2001
The Royal Society of St George Expedition Award 2003
The Explorers Club, New York 2001