High Altitude Climbing and Acute Mountain Sickness

everest-top

 I have been researching the impact that high altitude climbing will have on my body, what I can expect, what I can do to assist my body’s ability to cope.

And importantly, to be able to recognise the onset of Acute Mountain Sickness in its more serious forms.

Acute Mountain Sickness, AMS as it is often referred to, is the effect the declining number of molecules of oxygen in the atmosphere has on our body as we ascend in altitude. It can range from a mild illness, to the more severe life-threatening forms of the illness, such as High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE).

The latter two conditions require immediate attention and descent from altitude otherwise death is the most likely outcome.

I’m not intending to go into a great discussion on either, nor am I qualified to do so, but as part of my journey “To Climb a Mountain” I want to gain a better understanding of both conditions.

High altitude is defined as 5,000 to 11,500 feet, very high altitude 11,500 to 18,000, and extreme altitude as 18,000 feet and above.  At extreme altitudes physiologic function will outstrip  acclimatisation eventually.

My reading has taken me across a wide variety of topics, but the one that caught my attention was the connection between muscle and the requirement to fuel our muscles with oxygen when under exertion.

Over the years I have trained as a power-lifter for strength purposes and I have achieved results I am happy with.  As a consequence I have grown muscularly and currently weigh-in around the 95 kilogram mark.  This has given me a good power-for-weight ratio and has enhanced my speed on the kayak over the short to mid sprint distances.

Power-lifting has helped me develop strong legs, especially my quads through squatting, and dead-lifting.

Will this muscle help, or hinder me on the mountain as I trudge up the side of an 8,000 metre peak?

When exercising, the body, or more specifically the contracting muscles have an increased need for oxygen and this is usually achieved by a higher blood flow to these muscles.

And therein lies the dilemma as I see it.

Due to the less dense air at altitude the number of oxygen molecules for any given mass of air will drop. Consequently, mental and physical performance will decline, and the larger the muscles, the larger the requirement for oxygen to prevent muscular fatigue…

So what can I do?

There is not a lot that you can do to prepare for the effect of AMS, some people will adapt and perform better at altitude than others and this is hard to predict from one individual to another.

What I can do is decrease my muscle mass, and whilst that will mean a decrease in overall strength I can try and maintain the power for weight ratio balance.

The upshot of all this is that ahead of my expedition to Nepal in April I will deliberately take around 10-12 kilograms out of my frame…

The climbs in Nepal will be done without the aid of supplemental oxygen.

I won’t be changing my training routine greatly, I will maintain some weight training, rowing and kayaking, and importantly, a daily walk of around 10-kilometres with a 25-kilogram backpack at silly o’clock in the morning (that is 4:00am).

The best way to control weight change, either gaining, or losing, is via your diet and that starts in the  kitchen.

Baz – The Landy (In my home gym in the “Shed”)

 

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More dope on a rope (High altitude climbing)

Baz - Chancellor Dome in Background, New ZealandFor a simple bloke who can’t even tie his shoe laces properly the prospect of climbing some of the world’s highest mountain peaks would seem just a little ambitious.

At least that would be the conventional thinking.

Not that I have ever thought of myself as conventional…

And let’s face it, Castle Hill, which prominently stands out as a feature of Townsville, the wonderful tropical North Queensland town I grew up in, is merely a speed hump when compared to the Himalayan Mountains.

But in a similar way that I am drawn to the rugged beauty of Australia’s Outback, I am lured to the mountains for much the same reason.  The solitude and magnificent beauty, a feeling that you are insignificant in the broader landscape, but equally, an important part of this picture seemingly painted on the canvas of life…

Plans are now well under way for two expeditions I will be undertaking to Nepal in 2015, my place on the expeditions confirmed, and plane tickets are booked.

The first expedition will be in April when I head to Kathmandu to climb Mera Peak.

Standing at 6,500 metres, Mera will provide a fantastic view of Cho Oyu and Mount Everest from its summit.   The trip will introduce me to the culturally stimulating world of Nepal and will assist in refining my technical skills at altitude in preparation for three other peaks I will climb in the post-monsoon period in November.

The peaks, Island Peak, Lobuche East, and Pokalde will be more technical and another opportunity to enjoy the people, culture and landscapes of the Himalayan region of Nepal.

And training for high altitude mountaineering is something I look forward to and will require lots of cardio-vascular work, and nothing beats putting on a 20-kilogram pack and walking in the hills for a few hours.

I’m excited to be back on track once again, so be sure to join me on the climbs – one step at a time, as that is what it will take as I progress towards an expedition to climb Cho Oyu, the world’s 6th highest mountain peak standing at well over 8,000 metres. That is set down for the 2016.

Strewth, I’m as excited as a rooster in a chook pen!

Baz – The Landy

High Altitude Climbing and Acute Mountain Sickness

I have been researching the impact that high altitude climbing will have on my body, what I can expect, what I can do to assist my body’s ability to cope.

And importantly, to be able to recognise the onset of Acute Mountain Sickness in its more serious forms.

Acute Mountain Sickness, AMS as it is often referred to, is the effect the declining number of molecules of oxygen in the atmosphere has on our body as we ascend in altitude. It can range from a mild illness, to the more severe life-threatening forms of the illness, such as High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE).

The latter two conditions require immediate attention and descent from altitude otherwise death is the most likely outcome.

I’m not intending to go into a great discussion on either, nor am I qualified to do so, but as part of my “journey to the mountains” and extreme  altitude climbing I want to gain a better understanding of both conditions.

High altitude is defined as 5,000 to 11,500 feet, very high altitude 11,500 to 18,000, and extreme altitude as 18,000 feet and above.  At extreme altitudes physiologic function will outstrip  acclimatisation eventually.

My reading has taken me across a wide variety of topics, but the one that caught my attention was the connection between muscle and the requirement to fuel our muscles with oxygen when under exertion.

Over the years I have trained as a power-lifter for strength purposes and I have achieved results I am happy with.  As a consequence I have grown muscularly and currently weigh-in around the 95 kilogram mark.  This has given me a good power-for-weight ratio and has enhanced my speed on the kayak over the short to mid sprint distances.

Power-lifting has helped me develop strong legs, especially my quads through squatting, and dead-lifting.

Will this muscle help, or hinder me on the mountain as I trudge up the side of an 8,000 metre peak??

When exercising, the body, or more specifically the contracting muscles, have an increased need for oxygen and this is usually achieved by a higher blood flow to these muscles.

And therein lies the dilemma as I see it.

Due to the less dense air at altitude the number of oxygen molecules for any given mass of air will drop. Consequently, mental and physical performance will decline. The larger the muscles, the larger the requirement for oxygen to prevent muscular fatigue…

So what can I do?

There is not a lot that you can do to prepare for the effect of AMS, some people will adapt and perform better at altitude than others and this is hard to predict from one individual to another.

What I can do is decrease my muscle mass. Whilst that will mean a decrease in overall strength I can try and maintain the power for weight ratio balance.

The upshot of all this is that ahead of my expedition Nepal where I will be climbing three 6,000 metre peaks, including Lobuche East, I will deliberately take around 12-15 kilograms out of my frame…

The climbs in Nepal will be done without the aid of supplemental oxygen.

Essentially, I will not change my training routine at all, I will maintain my same level of weight training, kayaking, rowing and other activities. I have found the best way to control weight change, either gaining, or losing, is via the kitchen and diet.

In fact I won’t even modify my diet to any great extent, simply quantity control.

Baz - Meteor Peak
Baz – Meteor Peak

High Altitude Climbing and Acute Mountain Sickness

I have been researching the impact that high altitude climbing will have on my body, what I can expect, what I can do to assist my body’s ability to cope, and importantly, to be able to recognise the onset of Acute Mountain Sickness in its more serious forms.

Acute Mountain Sickness, AMS as it is often referred to, is the effect the declining number of molecules of oxygen in the atmosphere has on our body as we ascend in altitude. It can range from a mild illness, to the more severe life-threatening forms of the illness, such as High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE).

The latter two conditions require immediate attention and descent from altitude otherwise death is the most likely outcome.

I’m not intending to go into a great discussion on either, nor am I qualified to do so, but as part of my “journey to the mountains” and extreme  altitude climbing I want to gain a better understanding of both conditions.

High altitude is defined as 5,000 to 11,500 feet, very high altitude 11,500 to 18,000, and extreme altitude as 18,000 feet and above.  At extreme altitudes physiologic function will outstrip  acclimatisation eventually.

My reading has taken me across a wide variety of topics, but the one that caught my attention was the connection between muscle and the requirement to fuel our muscles with oxygen when under exertion.

Over the years I have trained as a power-lifter for strength purposes and I have achieved results I am happy with.  As a consequence I have grown muscularly and currently weigh-in around the 95 kilogram mark.  This has given me a good power-for-weight ratio and has enhanced my speed on the kayak, and rowing machine over the short to mid sprint distances.

Power-lifting has helped me develop strong legs, especially my quads through the nature of the exercise; squatting, and dead-lifting.  I can squat around 180 kilograms (400lbs) and dead-lift 220 kilograms (460 lbs).

Will this muscle help, or hinder me on the mountain as I trudge up the side of an 8,000 metre peak??

When exercising, the body, or more specifically the contracting muscles, have an increased need for oxygen, and this is usually achieved by a higher blood flow to these muscles.  And herein lies the dilemma as I see it.  Due to the less dense air at altitude the number of oxygen molecules for any given mass of air will drop. Consequently, mental and physical performance will decline. The larger the muscles, the larger the requirement for oxygen to prevent muscular fatigue…

So what can I do?

There is not a lot that you can do to prepare for the effect of AMS, some people will adapt and perform better at altitude than others, and this is hard to predict from one individual to another.

What I can do is decrease my muscle mass. Whilst that will mean a decrease in overall strength I can try and maintain the power for weight ratio balance.

The upshot of all this is that ahead of my climb in New Zealand in January, and later next year in Nepal where I will be climbing three 6,000 metre peaks, including Lobuche East, I will deliberately take around 12-15 kilograms out of my frame…

The climbs in Nepal will be done without the aid of supplemental oxygen.

Essentially, I will not change my training routine at all, I will maintain my same level of weight training, kayaking, rowing, and other activities. I have found the best way to control weight change, either gaining, or losing, is via the kitchen, and diet. In fact I won’t even modify my diet to any great extent, simply quantity control.

Narrabeen Lake, Sydney, Australia

If you have any thoughts on the topic I’d welcome your insight!

Just Trick Your Brain (It works for me!)

Most days I get out and about and do some form of exercise. One of my staples is rowing, and I belong to a virtual rowing team based in America, with members scattered around the globe.

The Luna-tics was formed by a group of NASA people many years ago with the intention of rowing to the moon and back on C2 rowing machines. Members log their metres whenever they row, advancing the journey.  We have been to the moon and back and we are on the return journey.

Currently I am standing at around 15,000 kilometres of  rowing over the past  4 years.

But I’m digressing, as usual, mind you if you are a rower we are always on the look-out for “space travellers” to join the journey…

Most, if not almost every day I will do some form of strength training, which will either be body-weight exercises such as push-ups, or chin-ups. Alternatively, I will do all the bigger compound lifts with weighted barbells.

I follow a progressive 5×5 program, which involves 5 sets of 5 repetitions with weights advancing in a periodised way over an 8 week cycle. There is plenty of information available on this style of lifting and it works best for me as I want strength development, rather than too much bulky muscular development.

And when I can I put some indoor climbing in there, or better still a climb up in the Blue Mountains with TomO, our son…

Since this year’s Coast to Coast race across New Zealand I have placed more focus on strength training during the winter months which requires some calorie excess to gain muscle. But over the next 3-4 months I will be looking to cut up to 10 kilograms out of my frame to prepare for the mountaineering and climbs I have planned next year.  I’ll do this progressively through diet management whilst continuing with the same exercise regime.

And on other days, if I haven’t run out of my quota of seven, I will grab my “sled” and load it with a sandbag and drag it around the park while carrying dumbbells or do sprints dragging it behind me, even go for a run…

But sleds are an awesome workout!

Of course there is my other passion, kayaking.

We try to spend weekends on the water, especially through the summer months.  And this is a family affair at Narrabeen Lake, on Sydney’s northern beaches. Well, Janet, my partner, is more inclined to be lazing around on the shore with the weekend papers, taking a well earned rest from the weekly grind.

She loves being part of it all, but is happy to get her exercise with a daily walk of our dogs, MilO and JackO, which can be quite a sociable affair with lattes and morning tea afterwards. Mind you, she’s first in line for the adventure bits, like skydiving, but less inclined if it involves a “Landy” style endurance walk…which can be a non-stop overnight affair…

If you’ve never experienced an overnight walk or run, give it a go. It is a different world out there in the dark, just pop a Petzl light on your head and go!

And including family is the key to my training. I don’t use a gym, preferring to work-out in the shed at home, and down at the beach or lake, that way we are all together…

And on diet, I don’t stress too much about the actual composition of what I eat, focussing more on controlling weight through portion size.  The formula is pretty simple, eat more than you need and weight increases, if that is what you need, or eat less and it declines.

Mind you, I am  pretty much a meat and three veggie man, so the diet is fairly well balanced by the time I add some fruit. And Janet is a wonderful (the world’s greatest) cook…

 But my point is this, it doesn’t matter what you do, or even how long you do it for, the main thing is you try and do something every day.

Consistency leads to habit…habits lead to life-long health benefits…

But don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day either, just get back to it the next day, sometimes a good snooze under the mango tree is just what the body needs!

The Shed

Having said all this, I ceased all weight-lifting this week as I don’t want to run the risk of injury ahead of climbing in New Zealand this coming week.

I manage injury risk through daily stretching, weekly massages and chiropractic adjustments.  I see these three things as just as important as anything else I do. But Murphy’s Law say this will be the week I’ll injure myself, so by stopping it I can manage the risk. It won’t make any difference to my fitness levels.

And none of this comes easy for me, but I try and look through the daily routine to what it is I am trying to achieve.

I visualise where I want to be.

The brain is an amazing thing, give it a thought and it will simply accept it without qualification. If you tell it you’ve already climbed that high mountain, or run that marathon, or just done a new PR in weight-lifting, it will believe you.

Next time you come to do it, it just happens…well, as long as you put the work in!

Every day I see myself on the summit of Cho Oyu, of people congratulating me on my return…

 Believe in yourself, your inner strength and Just Do It….

Blue Mountains Climbing – Chomping at the bit

On the Rope, Mt York, Blue Mountains

I’m off to climb in the Blue Mountains this weekend to further advance my skills with the team from the Australian School of Mountaineering, the weather is perfect and I’m chomping at the bit…

 I am currently investing time in developing and advancing my rope handling skills with a big focus on self-rescue and rescue techniques generally in preparation for a climb I am doing in New Zealand this coming January, Mt Aspiring in the country’s South Island.

I’ll be spending a total of two weeks in New Zealand, training and practising my skills and working on steep technical climbs as well as crevice rescues.

Later in 2013 I am heading to Nepal to climb three 6,000 metre peaks, Island Peak, Pokalde, and Lobuche East.  This will enable me to further develop my skills, visit a wonderful country with my family, and to be able to take a peek at Cho Oyu.

My aim is to make an attempt on Cho Oyu in 2014.

 Cho Oyu is the world’s sixth highest mountain and possibly one of the easiest of the world’s fourteen 8,000 metre peaks. Although, this is more because of the ease of access, as there is nothing really easy about exposing yourself to 8,000 metre peaks.

I have partnered with Adventure Consultants, a New Zealand based high altitude Specialist Company that was started by the legendary Rob Hall and Gary Ball in the early 1990s. Their stories are ones of great adventure and determination and I’d encourage anyone with an interest in adventure to take time to read about them. And I must say the team at Adventure Consultants have been very helpful thus far in assisting me to meet my goals.

For me this is a journey, of which one can never be sure of where it will lead, or what you will see and do along the way, and that makes it incredibly exciting. It also provides the motivation to take my fitness to a completely new level.

I am a great believer of simply living in the moment and sometimes I feel like I am planning my life away, however there is much planning to do, and as we all know, time seems to fly…

But, it is one step at a time, so I’m looking forward to this weekend, and the backdrop of the Blue Mountains makes rock climbing in the area even that more pleasant.