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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Nepal Mountaineering Expeditions – Gearing up

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The call to climb amongst the highest mountains in the world has been echoing in me for a long time.

The allure of standing on top of the world and looking out, and importantly, looking down, has proven far too great to ignore these past few years…

I had expected to be in Nepal in 2013 and 2014 after spending 2012 and the early part of 2013 training in New Zealand with the world’s best high altitude experts.

But, somehow life has the propensity to throw a curved ball every so often, and I’ve had a couple to catch over the past 12-months!

Whilst New Zealand has some of the world’s most magnificent mountain peaks, it doesn’t have the altitude of the Himalayas’. My ability to adapt to the altitude is an unknown, but it will be put to the test on two expeditions to Nepal in 2015.

The first will be in April to climb Mera Peak, which stands at 6,476 metres, 21,246 feet, and in September I will attempt Himlung, a peak that stands at 7,162 metres, 23,497 feet.

Both of these climbs will be done without the use of supplemental oxygen, but there will be a rigorous acclimitisation process to ensure the best chance of success.

And hopefully these climbs will set-me up for an ascent of Cho Oyu, an 8,000 metre peak bordering Tibet and Nepal.

I am confident of my ability to adapt; certainly I don’t expect expedition life will be a problem given my remote outback experience and the hardship that often brings.

Training is in full swing, but as always, remains a work in progress, and I will be spending time climbing in the wonderful Blue Mountains in the weeks ahead…

The first ascent of Mera Peak was made on 20 May 1953, using what has now become the standard route from Mera La and no subsequent ascent occurred until 1975. We will just miss the anniversary of the first climb in 1953 by a couple of days.

We will have two camps on the mountain, camp one at Mera La and camp two, our high camp, at 5,800 metres. Our summit day will typically start before dawn and we are hopeful to summit in 4-5 hours. Some fix rope will be used near the summit where it becomes very steep.

As 2014 draws to a close, grab your climbing harness and a rope, or perhaps if you prefer, a coffee or tea and a nice comfy couch.

Either way please be sure to join me in on these climbs; one step at a time, we can do it together…

 

Baz – The Landy

Cancer and Courage, our Mount Everest

Mt Aspiring

Courage is a very powerful word when you look behind its meaning…

“…to have courage is to have the ability and willingness to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation”.

The word courage has been casually discussed around our dinner table amongst family and close friends in the context of my journey to the mountains, a journey that one day will lead me towards the summit of Mount Everest, fulfilling the dream of a young boy who has always believed that anything is possible –  just believe in that dream!

This week my sister Debbie, who is affectionately known to us as Merle, and I spoke about my journey and what it meant for her. Whilst she is an exceptionally talented musician and accomplished athlete it seems she never got that climbing and mountaineering gene.

And rest assured, I never got that musical gene. If they handed out awards for singing in the shower I’d still go home empty handed.

But as we spoke on the telephone tears rolled silently down my face…

Recently, Deb was diagnosed with cancer, a cancer that has taken a significant hold on her body in a relatively short period of time.

And here she was encouraging me to chase my dream, assuring me that she took great strength from my dream and my journey – and making me promise that no matter what happens to her that I must continue on my journey.

As we spoke she explained that the cancer that has infected her precious body is her own Mount Everest.

She reached out and said…

“Baz, take my hand and we will climb our own Mount Everest together, one step at a time, for that is the only way”.

Deb, Merle sent the following note to her many friends recently and I want to share it with you. I’m hopeful that it will inspire, inspire those who perhaps face their own Mount Everest…

Yes, courage is a very powerful word and I learnt its true meaning this week…

 The Beginning of a New Chapter

By “Merle”

A wonderful sister...
Merle, A  beautiful sister…

I am beginning a very important journey. So much to achieve, new directions to take, challenges to overcome, happiness to be found….endless opportunities to grab hold of. A time to redefine, evolve and embrace life to the fullest.

With the love and support of my family and dear friends, long standing and new, it will hopefully be a celebration of the human spirit that lives within us all. I am blessed that I have today and the time to make each moment count… moments that we can reflect and smile upon. Moments of “BEING” whatever that may be and wherever it may takes us.

I will be taking each precious day at a time and endeavouring to seek all the happiness and joy each of them bring. I will be promoting and encouraging all who know me to do the same. My one wish and only wish is for everyone to not focus on the disease (that is the doctor’s job) it is what it is. Find the love, joy, precious “ididocic” (idiotic) moments filled with laughter and all the happiness in the world during this time. NOT EASY…CHALLENGES NEVER ARE…DEFINITELY DOABLE!!!!

I understand this is a big ask for all who stand on the perimeter of watching someone they love go through this. To me, it is counter-productive to dissect and try to analyse and make sense of this disease consuming my body. It would obscure the human spirit that defines ME as a person…I am most afraid of losing sight of who I am in all this. If you can help, it would be beneficial not only for me, but ALL of us, please participate however and in whatever way you can to… HELP ME…REMIND ME…REMEMBER AND ENHANCE THE MEMORIES!!! For after all, this chapter is NOT ALL ABOUT ME. It is about ALL of us and what we gain from this experience.

CONFRONTING…yes, very much so. If not confronted we have not the opportunity to overcome this.

SCARY…mmmm!!! I imagine it could be at times. I do believe, always have, that knowledge and sharing is powerful. The understanding gained and shared puts things in perspective and allows you to take away or minimise the “scariness” to some degree.

SAD….definitely, we will all feel it. Sadness is a positive emotion, I believe it shows how much we truly treasure, connect and love each other. It is an emotion to not hide…we cannot be BRAVE all the time, that would be counter-productive, and we would go insane. Release the tears, smile and begin again.

“IDIDOCIC” MOMENTS…Yes please, lots and lots of them!!!   Also remember past “ididocic” experiences and share with everyone who will listen. Laugh, BIG belly laughs and rejoice!!!!

I am looking forward to the moments we will all share and I am truly blessed, humbled and consider myself the most fortunate person on this earth to have such beautiful people in my life. Thank you for being you and hold on…this journey is going to be a big one with lots of opportunities.

Love Merle x x x

Dreams come true (For those who believe)

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in name, nor do the children of man as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

I have always been encouraged by these words penned by Helen Keller.

Living life to the fullest, taking risks, knowing your limitations, these are questions I frequently ponder.

Janet thinks the same way, and is the anchor that questions the balance between risk and reward, whether you have prepared as best you could, and are you ready?

My mountaineering goals are as high as the largest mountains. I want to explore further the joy and satisfaction, the freedom and beauty that mountains bring into my life.

But I have been cognisant of the impact it has on our son, TomO, negative and positive.

We are bringing TomO up in an environment where he is encouraged to pursue his dreams and to believe that anything is possible, and from an early age he has demonstrated a willingness to throw himself at life with no holds barred…

The exuberance of youth!

Next year I will travel to Nepal in both the pre and post monsoon periods climbing on two different expeditions, first and foremost to enjoy the experience.  But the expeditions will also help prepare me for an attempt on  Cho Oyu, the world’s 6th highest mountain peak, standing at 8,200 metres.

“And what about  Mt Everest” TomO has asked.

“Do you want to climb it”

“Yes” I told him.

Prior to climbing in New Zealand’s Southern Alps  he  wrote me a note to say that one day he might be standing on top of Mt Everest with me.

I said to him “One step at a time”…

Explaining I am on a journey  that may take me there, but it isn’t my real focus just at the moment.

In fact, the journey isn’t about climbing Mt Everest either, but hopefully it will form part of the dream, the journey, to experience high altitude climbing, to see what I am capable of.

I went on to tell him that having dreams and aspirations define who we are and is part of the mosaic that is life itself.

Perhaps it is no more than a child’s feeling of wanting to follow in the footsteps of those close to them, to emulate them. But it made me smile to think that he is developing a line of thought that gives him the confidence to pursue his dreams, whatever they are.

As parents, we couldn’t ask for anything more, besides it would be wrong to dismiss or ignore…

I’ve always been a dreamer, and always will be – dreams come true if you believe in them…

I asked him was that truly a goal he would like to pursue and what motivated him?

“Yes” he said.

“How great it would be to experience that feeling of the mountains you have described to me and doing it together makes it special”.

Janet told him there is plenty of time to think it through, adding that he will need to prepare for it if that is his dream…

Perhaps the enormity of the task is lost on him presently and we place no expectations on him whatsoever, but simply want to help him understand it is important to develop and set one’s own expectations of themselves.

But it puts to the test our resolve to support him in any endeavour he wants to undertake.

I asked Janet what she thought of “her boys” heading off to Mt Everest together?

Her reply was simple and uncomplicated.

“It scares me” she said.

“But if that time comes I will proudly walk every step of the way to base camp with you and will find the inner strength and courage to wait for news from the mountain, for after all, life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

 

Baz – The Landy

Beer – Magical and Medicinal

Outback AustraliaLike a couple of old Holden cars in the Australian Outback, I was feeling just a little rusty and worse-for-wear this morning as I headed out on a 10-kilometre pack walk with the mandatory 20-kilograms strapped to my back.

In the pre-dawn darkness the kookaburra’s were just stirring in the Harbour City, laughing as I trudged on up the hill…

As part of my training to prepare for two climbing expeditions to Nepal in both the pre and post monsoon periods in 2015 I pack-walk between 10-20 kilometres with a 20-kilogram backpack every other day, and do sprint running on the other days.

Unfortunately, a recurring injury I have suffered over the past 12 months or so has been a tight calf-muscle in my left leg. Well to be more specific, and for the medically inclined, it is the peroneus muscle group.

Over the weekend “The Kiwi” was in town so there was plenty of training on Saturday in the mountains and given the extreme heat a few beers were consumed at the day’s end!

Water would have been better wouldn’t have cut it…

Of course, many will know “The Kiwi” as my partner in endurance events both in Australia and his homeland of New Zealand, and he is the bloke who has dreamed up a 250-kilometre run, come walk, from Newcastle to Sydney in March next year – apparently in 60-hours!

Oddly, 250-kilometres seems to figure often in the things he dreams up, last time that number came up it was a 250-kilometre cycle, run, and kayak from the west to the east coast of New Zealand’s south island.

Yes, these plans have usually been hatched over a few beers, and you’d think I would have learnt by now that one always needs to be cautious of Kiwis’ bearing gifts of free beers…

Crikey, I wouldn’t have it any other way though!

But on beers, the pain in my left calf muscle was absent on my pack walk at silly o’clock this morning, confirming, I’m sure, that beer is full of magical medicinal properties – truly, nectar of the Gods’.

Well that is the story I’m sticking with anyway, let’s face it – when you’re on a good thing!

 Photo:  Baz – The Landy (on Trilby Station in Outback Australia)