..


The Conversation

  • Written by Julien Periard, Associate Professor, University of Canberra

Since the commercialisation of high altitude mountaineering in the 1990s, the number of climbers has increased significantly. Mount Kilimanjaro, perhaps the most popular mountaineering trip in the world, now attracts around 40,000 climbers per year. And the number attempting summits above 8,000m (such as Mount Everest) has risen exponentially.

The main challenge for all climbers is the decrease in barometric pressure and thus reduction in oxygen availability as altitude increases. The severity of altitude is defined as low (500 to 2,000m), moderate (2,000 to 3,000m), high (3,000 to 5,500m), or extreme (above 5,500m).

Remaining at high altitudes severely affects our physical capacity, cognitive function, body mass and composition, and ability to ward off illness.

If we don’t acclimatise or stagger our ascent, we’re at greater risk of acute mountain sickness, high altitude pulmonary oedema (excess fluid in the lungs) and cerebral oedema (fluid on the brain). These illnesses are all commonly characterised by symptoms such as headache, loss of appetite, nausea, weakness, light-headedness, and sleep disturbance. The presentation of these illnesses often requires retreat to lower altitudes and in severe cases, evacuation via airlift from camp.

These conditions are among the greatest obstacles to successful summit attempts, particularly when ascending quickly.

Read more: How does altitude affect the body and why does it affect people differently?

Acclimatising

Being fitter does not protect against altitude-related illness, nor does it ensure tolerance of the physiological challenges associated with high altitude exposure.

So acclimatisation is the more important factor. Acclimatisation is the process your body follows to adapt to the drop in oxygen availability. This is the best non-pharmaceutical strategy to prevent altitude sickness.

Mountaineers and trekkers can achieve acclimatisation by staying at moderate altitude (2,000-3,000m) for a few extra nights, then implementing a staggered ascent to higher altitudes. Gains in altitude should be between 300 and 600m of vertical elevation per day.

While many commercial trek schedules include rest days and acclimatisation days, some involving less technical climbing often ascend quite quickly. Some groups will ascend Kilimanjaro in four to five days (5,895 m).

To prepare for more rapid ascents, mountaineers may include some pre-trek acclimatisation, using natural or artificial environments to encourage their bodies to adapt.

Acclimatisation using artificial environments is known as “acclimation”. It can be achieved by either hypobaric hypoxia (normal oxygen concentration, lower barometric pressure), or more commonly via normobaric hypoxia (normal barometric pressure, lower oxygen concentration) using altitude tents or environmental chambers.

how fit do you have to be to climb a mountain? Technical experience, fitness and acclimatisation are equally important. from www.shutterstock.com

Of the two approaches, hypobaric hypoxia appears to be better for acclimation, though it relies on access to a hypobaric chamber or an ability to live at moderate/high natural altitude.

Although still relying on specialised equipment and expertise, more environmental chambers available mimic normobaric hypoxia. In some instances, you can even use tent or mask systems in your own home.

Acclimatisation can also mitigate the effects high altitude will likely have on exercise performance.

Training

Although fitness is not related to incidence rates of altitude sickness, trek schedules typically require many hours of hiking, often carrying a loaded pack, over at least four to five days. When combined with the gain in elevation, this means seven to eight hours per day of hiking at a moderate intensity, often over varied terrain.

So a program of targeted training will ensure trek participants are able to meet the strenuous demands of high altitude hiking and mountaineering. Evidence suggests fitter hikers report a lower sense of effort and lower levels of fatigue during high or extreme altitude trekking.

Read more: Tall tales misrepresent the real story behind Bhutan’s high altitude tigers

Studies have also found experienced mountaineers don’t need to expend as much oxygen, which is valuable when there’s less of it available. So to further prepare for high altitude expeditions, trek participants should focus on building fitness over several months by trekking at lower altitudes and carrying loads of 20-30kg for several hours over varied terrain.

This can be extended to higher altitudes (3,000m to 4,000m) and several consecutive days and weeks to allow for developing the strength required to tolerate the rigours of extreme mountain climbing. This is especially important as muscle mass and body fat losses occur during the expedition.

For ascents above 8,000m such as Mount Everest, the trekking company will usually have specialised training approaches. This may involve at least one year of training in which trekking time, distance and altitude are increased progressively, as summit day can take up to 20 hours. Experience in high altitude climbing and sumitting peaks between 6,000m and 8,000m is also required before attempting peaks of this altitude.

Staged ascents and considered approaches to acclimatisation are most likely to protect against altitude illness and ensure trek success. This involves using a planned approached to climbing with altitude targets allowing for acclimatisation.

Improving overall fitness and gaining mountaineering experience will prepare trekkers for the physical, psychological and technical challenges presented by high and extreme altitude adventures.

Authors: Julien Periard, Associate Professor, University of Canberra

Read more http://theconversation.com/from-kilimanjaro-to-everest-how-fit-do-you-have-to-be-to-climb-a-mountain-96123

Politics

Scott Morrison - Breaking Ground on Western Sydney Airport

Construction on Western Sydney Airport will begin today – boosting jobs, creating much-needed infrastructure and strengthening the economy.   Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Western Sydney ...

Scott Morrison - More choice for Australian families

Australian families will have choice and equity in education as the Morrison Government guarantees funding to the non-government school sector. The Australian Government has accepted all the recom...

Dutton - Labor/Green witch-hunt comes up empty

Despite Labor’s best efforts in hyping up the so-called “au pair” Senate inquiry, the farcical and shambolic witch-hunt has come up with nothing except findings that mirror the Labor Party’s initial...

Business News

Achieving the Perfect Balance of SEO and Creative Content is just a Few Steps Away

If you want an appropriate description of today’s online marketing world, in the search engine optimization kingdom, it may somewhat fit along the lines -- content is the king. Basically, it means tha...

Get Your Hands on The Perfect Shipping Container Today

A shipping container is such a blessing in disguise! It comes in handy for both temporary as well as long term storage, or say mobile offices, or even as temporary building options. They are extensive...

Is a flexible workforce the way of the future?

In short, “Yes,” says Joint Managing Director of Citrus Group, Paul Smith. By nature, working in a contact centre “isn’t the easiest job in the world,” says Paul. Allowing staff to work flexible hou...

Travel

Holiday Hacks: How to beat the travel companies at their own game

HACK YOUR WAY TO A CHEAPER HOLIDAY How to beat the travel companies at their own game and save money during the next school holidays   19 September 2018: As any parent who’s tried to book a holid...

Experience European Glamour with Ecruising

In May 2019, Ecruising is inviting travellers on an exciting itinerary that includes not one, but two, quintessential French Riviera events – the high-octane Monaco Grand Prix and the iconic Canne...

Factors to Consider When Buying a Campervan

You’ve been waiting to buy a Winnebago campervan and now it’s your chance. You’ve saved up and you’re ready to start living the road trip lifestyle. You’re in for a great time and adventure. Of cour...

You might also like