News story

Mountaineering military team take on Nepal for medical research

A military team who climbed some of the highest mountains in Nepal in the name of medical research have been welcomed back to the UK by Defence Minister Mark Lancaster.

The team trekked Nepal’s famous Dhaulagiri circuit.
The team trekked Nepal’s famous Dhaulagiri circuit.

The team, made up of members of the Royal Navy, Army, and RAF, gathered at the Royal Geographic Society last night to wrap up the expedition which they undertook earlier this year.

The expedition involved investigating the effects of low oxygen levels on human physiology, and developing a greater understanding of how the body responds to this in both health and disease.

Welcoming the team’s work, Defence Minister Mark Lancaster said:

Our Armed Forces are ready to be deployed anywhere in the world on missions ranging from humanitarian help to combat situations, working in what can be unimaginable conditions. Research like this is vital to ensure we understand how best to look after them and ensure they can be as effective as possible.

In extreme weather conditions, the team trekked Nepal’s famous Dhaulagiri circuit, involving a multiday trek to the Hidden Valley and a climb to the summit of Tukuche Peak. The more capable mountaineers then went on to climb Damphus Peak and, finally, the seventh highest mountain in the world, Dhaulagiri itself, where they reached heights of 7500m.

Sqn Ldr Dan Graves, 46, who took part in the expedition, explained that it was a great success:

The conditions in Dhaulagiri were extremely difficult, with sub-zero temperatures, dangerously strong winds, huge altitude increases and equally low oxygen concentrations as we climbed some of the world’s highest terrains. I’ve climbed mountains in Scotland, Bolivia and the Alps, but this was the most challenging experience of my life.

By using analysis of blood and ECG examinations on those who took part, we have successfully contributed to developing evidence-based medicine best practices for prevention and treatment of altitude illness and mitigating performance impairments.

Sqn Ldr Dan Graves, part of the the team which trekked Nepal’s famous Dhaulagiri circuit.
Sqn Ldr Dan Graves, part of the the team which trekked Nepal’s famous Dhaulagiri circuit.

The results of the research, which was compiled in collaboration with Leeds Beckett University, could help military personnel work in mountainous terrain which often provides sanctuary for hostile forces, particularly terrorist organisations.

Many military operations require the rapid deployment of personnel to these mountainous regions. However, rapid ascents in high mountainous environments can have debilitating effects on the capabilities of un-acclimatised troops. This research will now help the military to better understand these effects and mitigate against them.

British Services Medical Research Expeditions take place every 4 years, with the next set to take place in 2020.

Published 8 December 2016