‘On the edge’ — Vail Valley Medical Center doctor summits Mount Everest
VAIL — Tracee Metcalfe, hospitalist with Vail Valley Medical Center, took a moment to herself atop Mount Everest on May 13.
“It’s hard to compare it to anything,” she said. “It was just amazing. All I can say is it’s like being in an airplane because you can just see so far and you’re so far above the clouds.”
Beginning the trek at 1:30 a.m. and climbing for seven hours to the summit, Metcalfe’s moment of bliss atop the highest mountain in the world was short and sweet.
“I wanted to get down,” said Metcalfe, the expedition doctor. “I barely took three pictures. I just realized at that point that I was maybe in trouble.”
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PATH TO EVEREST
Metcalfe, originally from Los Angeles, has been living in the Vail Valley for 10 years and has been a doctor at Vail Valley Medical Center for the past eight years, helping people with non-surgical issues.
She has been to Nepal four times now as a medical personnel and spent two years as a volunteer climbing ranger at Denali, getting her foot in the door and meeting people, including Russell Brice, owner of Himalayan Experience.
Metcalfe said medical staff normally don’t climb to the summit, but with a small group on the trip, she proposed the idea to her boss, Brice, if she could make the trip to the top.
“It was still work because if anyone got sick, I was still taking care of them,” she said, adding that she helped people with everything from frostbite to high altitude pulmonary edema.
To train for the trip, Metcalfe did both physical and medical training. She said skinning locally and ski mountaineering races helped her physically, while she spent some extra time in the emergency room to familiarize herself with things she normally doesn’t see specializing in internal medicine.
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It was a cold, windy climb to the top of Everest, 29,000 feet above sea level, and Metcalfe experienced trouble with her gear.
“It was pretty cold, and our oxygen masks were freezing up, which normally doesn’t happen,” Metcalfe said.
She considered turning around but heard on the radio that they were on the coldest part of the mountain and decided to push forward.
“On the summit day, you feel like you’re really, totally on the edge,” Metcalfe said. “If anything goes wrong — it was scarier than I thought it would be.”
Metcalfe said her favorite part of the expedition was getting back to base camp, where she knew everyone was safe and jubilant from the summit.
“It does feel dangerous because I felt like if anything goes wrong with the oxygen, you’re kind of just hosed, unless you’re trained to do it without oxygen,” she said. “You could easily get frostbite. You can go snowblind if you take your goggles off. It was way more on the edge than I thought it would be.”
Metcalfe is back in the valley, working at the hospital and planning other adventures, possibly another trip to Everest.
“I would for sure go work there again,” she said. “I don’t think I need to summit again.”
Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and email@example.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.
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