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

One step at a time (The only way forward)

Baz, Southern Alps, New Zealand
One step at a time – Baz, Southern Alps, New Zealand

Often I’m awe-struck when I think about the journey I have embarked on to climb amongst the world’s highest mountains. 

Sometimes it is so big that I just think about all the small steps I have taken so far.

The fun I’ve had… the fun and tears that are yet to come.

Yes, one step at a time Baz, it’s the only way forward…

Hey, by the way, thanks for joining me on this journey, I’ll need all the support I can get to help me climb to the summit…and back down again!

Baz, Blue Mountains, Australia
Baz, Blue Mountains, Australia

Climbing Mt Everest (Drinking Ovaltine all the way)

Mt Everest
Mt Everest

Looking back at old photographs is like opening a time capsule, you just never know what you are going to find and usually there are one or two little gems to bring a smile to your face.

I was at Janet’s parents home recently, Clare and Archie who are 83 and 98 years of age, and over a cup of tea we were flicking through books of old photographs. 

The themes varied from trips overseas, the children growing up, and of Archie’s  childhood in India.

Archie and younger sister Marjorie
Archie and younger sister Marjorie

You could pick any photograph and Archie would narrate a rich account of when it was taken, and the story behind those who were in it.

And there were photographs of Clare’s childhood days, growing up in far western Queensland on the family’s sheep property and of her days at boarding school in Charters Towers, far North Queensland.

Clare's Family Home - Charters Towers, North Queensland, Australia
Clare’s Family Home – Charters Towers, North Queensland, Australia

The conversation turned to our upcoming adventures and my journey to climb Cho Oyu, an 8,000 metre peak,  which is close to where Archie grew up, and if all goes well, Mt Everest.

Over the years I have listened to the many stories of Archie’s trips to Darjeeling, situated  in the foothills of the Himalaya’s and in later years of visits both he and Clare made back to Calcutta.

One story that always brings a good laugh is about a mountaineering expedition group  who turned up at the offices of James Wright and Company, General Merchants, the family business in Calcutta.  The suave and handsome couple heading the expedition  were in a rather irate mood as they stepped out of the taxi, demanding to know why they had not been met at the ship upon their arrival.

Being general merchants, Archie and his father dealt in all kind of goods, and were the agent’s in India for the popular drink Ovaltine.

“These mountaineers were here to climb Mt Everest and they were going to drink Ovaltine all the way to the top, extolling its virtues to the world.”

It had all been arranged in England prior to their departure and there was surprise and indignation that they had not been afforded the courtesies expected upon their arrival. They even had a copy of the telegram from the Head of the company that made Ovaltine in England informing of their visit.

This was a gentlemanly age and young Archie arranged for the expedition to be put up at a first class hotel where they could rest after their long sea voyage and ahead of their attempt to climb Mt Everest.

A Young Archie

And rest and avail themselves they did indeed…

Of course, there was to be no attempt on Mt Everest as the mountaineers were well practiced con people. After spending a number of nights in the luxury of the first class hotel, taking advantage of the young Fawthrop’s generous hospitality, they disappeared into the night, leaving Archie with an expensive hotel bill and the need to provide an account to his father of how he had been done by a slick group of con artists’.

But he could be forgiven, after all Ovaltine accompanied Sir Edmund Hilary on his ascent of Mt Everest with Tenzing Norgay in 1953 and the company went on to sponsor Chris Bonnington’s 1975 Everest expedition.

Archie, Clare and Tenzing

And speaking of Tenzing Norgay, as we continued our journey through the albums one particular photograph caught my attention, a black and white snapshot of Clare and Archie, with Tenzing Norgay standing beside them.

On a visit to Darjeeling, Archie and Clare met and spoke with Tenzing, a remarkable and quietly spoken man they said, whilst dining at the Darjeeling Club.

TomO was very excited at the discovery, a link to where we will travel this year when I attempt to climb three 6,000 metre peaks, Lobuche East, Island Peak, and Pokalde, all situated not too far from Mt Everest.

Baz traversing Mt Aurora
Baz traversing Mt Aurora

Was the Ovaltine story and the photograph a sign-post on our own journey, I thought.  

A connection to the region brought about from Archie’s younger days?   In the least, it will enrich the experience for us…

And as I climb in  the Himalaya’s Archie’s Ovaltine story will be sure to put a smile on my face, warming me like a hot cup of Ovaltine on a bleak winter’s night…

Baz - Meteor Peak
Baz – Meteor Peak

Cabin Fever High on the Mountain – Shelter from the storm

Pioneer Hut, Fox Glacier, New Zealand
Pioneer Hut, Fox Glacier, New Zealand

It is often said that too much of a good thing, is not such a good thing.

 And after three weeks in the spectacular South Island of New Zealand, mountaineering, climbing, jet-boating, taking to the skies in a Tiger Moth, and leaping 100 metres into a canyon screaming at the top of my lungs, seemingly a good thing came to an abrupt end this week.

Baz traversing Mt Aurora
Baz traversing Mt Aurora

 It was back to work…

Yes I do work, although my colleagues have often said, with a wink, that at times there is too much day dreaming going on and not enough work.

 But putting that aside…

My usual daily routine starts around 4am each day up in the shed with a row, a weight session, or perhaps even a bit of both. Other days it is a walk with a 25 or 30-kilogram backpack for company.

But I must say it was a little tough getting motivated these past few days, not so much because of the early start, after all, I had a few alpine starts these past three weeks where you rise around 3am in the morning to ready for a day of climbing.

Jet-boating with Janet & TomO, New Zealand
Jet-boating with Janet & TomO, New Zealand

Initially I put it down to a change in routine, let’s face it, it is pretty easy to get out of bed for a day of climbing in the spectacular Southern Alps; the walk to the shed just didn’t cut it.

Maybe it was cabin fever I thought, after all “the shed” is about the size of some of the alpine huts.

Baz over Wanaka
Baz over Wanaka

Now let me say the alpine huts dotted throughout the alpine regions are basic, but comfortable and what you would expect of this type of shelter and accommodation.

Mind you, heating is limited to clothing and a warm sleeping bag.

Franz Joseph Glacier - Centennial Hut
Franz Joseph Glacier – Centennial Hut

And given there is one big refrigerator outside, keeping perishable food is no great problem, just bury it in the snow and hope the Keas’ don’t find it before you eat it. So you can actually eat very well, which is great given the mountains tend to give you a solid appetite.

Good food - Colin Todd Hutt
Good food – Colin Todd Hutt

But back to this cabin fever thing, the weather turned particularly bad, and I mean badass bad, during the week I was attempting to climb Mt Aspiring.

We had two quite reasonable days before it all went pear-shaped and the wind howled gusting at up to 180 kilometres an hour at times, sleet, snow and rain, pounded Colin Todd Hutt relentlessly for almost three days and nights.

Practicing rope rescue techniques
Practicing rope rescue techniques

The lightening was striking all around the hut, but its flashes struck silently because you couldn’t hear the thunder over the roar of the wind.

We did keep ourselves occupied during the storm with plenty of knot tying, practicing rescue techniques, cups of sweet tea, and book reading tucked up in a warm down sleeping bag.

Relaxing during the storm, Colin Todd Hut
Relaxing during the storm, Colin Todd Hut

 But there was some floor pacing as well…

Actually, it was a great experience, if you had to have it, as it demonstrated what nature will toss at you in the mountains, a good lesson in patience.

I’ve just given myself a bit of a slap…

 C’mon Baz, you’re not suffering cabin fever, you love the shed, and after all it is a sanctuary, the font of all knowledge and some tall tales.

The Shed - Font of all knowledge
The Shed – Font of all knowledge

And besides you have plenty of training ahead of that climbing you are going to do in Nepal later this year.

Best you get reacquainted with the shed sooner, rather than later…

Hey, and remember, if all else fails, remain out of control and see what develops…

Baz climbing Sweet Dreams, Blue Mountains, Australia
Baz climbing Sweet Dreams, Blue Mountains, Australia

Climb Every Mountain…(Can’t wait!)

Baz - Chancellor Dome in the background
Baz – Chancellor Dome in the background

Can you believe that 2013 has rolled around already? And how good were those fireworks on Sydney Harbour to see in the New Year!

 Anyway, I know I’ve been shouting it very loudly at every opportunity of late, but just in case you’ve missed it, 2013 will be a big year for me in terms of mountaineering and climbing, and it starts at the end of this week as I head to New Zealand’s Southern Alps…

Southern Alps, New Zealand
Southern Alps, New Zealand

 Janet, TomO, and I were just looking at some of the climbing and mountaineering photos from 2012 so I thought I’d put up some favourites (again)…it motivates me to get out there…

 Crikey, almost forgot…Happy New Year to all from dowunder!

 And remember, if all else fails, remain out of control and see what develops…!

I’m Excited, Very Excited – More tales of a dope on a rope

Baz – Boar’s Head, Blue Mountains, Australia

I spent today spent in the wonderful Blue Mountains, just to the west of Sydney, doing a multi-pitch abseil and hike out. And what a wonderful playground to develop a high level of rope handling proficiency.

 Over the past two weekends I have concentrated on multi-pitch abseils of at least 250 metres done in sections (pitches) of around 40-50 metres each. And I’ve had my fair share of self-rescues thrown in without warning to ensure I have the necessary skills to do just that, rescue myself, or someone else, with confidence!

Boar’s Head, Multi-Pitch Abseil

I want to achieve an extremely high standard to ensure that when I am in Nepal next year, and eventually on an 8,000 peak, that my rope handling skills are completely second nature and can be done, quickly, safely, and confidently…

Under the watchful eye of the Shane and the fantastic team from the Australian School of Mountaineering I am well on my way to achieving this standard.

Mt Aspiring, Southern Alps, New Zealand

In less then two months I will be back in New Zealand for an attempt on the summit of Mt Aspiring, and without wanting to wish my life away – I can’t wait! But the journey can only be made one day at a time, and what a day it was.

There is nothing better than putting yourself in a position where you must simply trust the set-up you have built and locked yourself onto it…

The confidence to do this comes from practice, and the rewards are great. Simply lying back “into thin air”  and going over the edge is exhilarating.

Shane, Boar's Head, Blue Mountains, Australia
Shane, Boar’s Head, Blue Mountains, Australia

The Blue Mountains provides such a wonderful natural backdrop to pursue this activity.

 Boar’s Head, a natural rock formation was our abseiling destination of choice today.  It is a short walk-in from the main cliff-drive not too far from downtown Katoomba. And the vista at the start of it is spectacular, overlooking Narrow Neck, a prominent plateau that stretches to the south…

The total abseil is around 250 metres and we used two 60 metre ropes to drop to the valley floor in five pitches. The walk-out required some “scrub bashing” to join up with the main Devil’s Hole track, that took us back up to our transport.

Multi-pitch Abseil, Boar’s Head, Blue Mountains, Australia

The thick undergrowth made for a humid traverse of the gullies, before we started our climb up through Devil’s Hole.

I’ve tried to capture the beauty of the day in photos…hopefully it gives you a glimpse of our wonderful backyard and the fun we had, just being “Out and About”

Security is mostly a superstition (Isn’t it?)

Living life to the fullest, taking risks, knowing your limitations, these are questions I frequently ponder. It isn’t something I dwell on, it is more of a musing from time to time.

And I have always been encouraged by the words penned by Helen Keller

“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.”

Janet, my partner, thinks along the same lines and is always very supportive of the adventures I have undertaken. The only questions she usually asks are have you thought through the risks, prepared as best you could, and are you ready?

I’m fortunate to have someone so supportive. Mind you, Janet is no wall-flower when it comes to adventure and applies the same principles of risk assessment herself. Whether when she jumps from a plane, or abseils down a building!

My mountaineering goals are as high as the largest mountains that can be found. I want to experience the joy and satisfaction, the freedom and beauty that mountains can bring into our lives.

It is a personal thing, shared by many and what better place to do it than the majestic Himalayan Mountains

And rest assured, I have no morbid fascination of pushing to the limits of flirting with death, I’ll be happy to slowly slide away peacefully when my time comes!

And I have been cogniscant of the impact it has on those around me,both negative and positive, and especially our son, TomO.

We want to bring him up in an environment where he is encouraged to pursue his dreams and to believe that anything is possible. We feel that this is possibly one of life’s most important lessons.

He is showing signs that he is heading down this path of thinking…willing to throw himself at life!

He has been keen to play tennis and took his first lessons the other day.  I was fortunate to be able to go and watch him, taking an early mark from work and I could see the enjoyment on his face.  Now it is fair to say he wasn’t the best out there, in fact his tennis skills are quite limited. He knew that, but wasn’t concerned.

Coming off the court he said, “Dad, I loved it and I had a lot of fun, even if I’m not very good. I just need to work on it.”

And that attitude pleases both Janet and me…

He isn’t concerned that someone is better, that his skills are lacking.

English: Mount Everest North Face as seen from...

I have a stated goal to climb Cho Oyu in 2014, which seems a long way off, but as we all know, time seems to fly-by so fast.  But in all honesty, Cho Oyu is part of a bigger journey and TomO casually asked me a few months ago whether I intend to attempt a climb of Mt Everest.

I wanted to be measured in my answer, but truthfully the answer is yes, so I just told him that.

Highlighting that it is 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 it hopefully will form part of the dream, the journey, to see what I am capable of…

One step at a time is what I told him and if it goes the way I would like, and I retain good health, then it might be a chance sometime in the next 2-3 years, maybe sooner.

Before climbing in New Zealand recently, TomO left me a note to say that one day he might be standing on top of Mt Everest with me.

He had obviously given it some thought…

I’ve spent some time reading that note over.

Perhaps it is a dream, a child’s feeling of wanting to follow in the footsteps of those close to them, to emulate them.

The other day I casually asked him was that truly a goal he would like to pursue? Asking what was his motivation to do it?

“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 even better.”

He shows maturity beyond his age sometimes. Mind you, he is a 12-year old, so rest assured, not all the time!

Janet was there and we both told him there is plenty of time to think it through, although we highlighted that he will need to prepare for it if that is his dream, his desire…

Maybe the enormity of the task is lost on him presently and we will see how it unfolds. There is no pressure from us and we are ever so careful to ensure he understands that, no matter what it is he is pursuing. We are placing no expectations on him whatsoever, but endeavouring to help him understand it is important to develop and set your own expectations.

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

Later, 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 walk every step of the way to base camp with you, after all life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”