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Archive for July, 2010

Question: going really high

July 28th, 2010

I was recently asked for any tips, tricks, or suggestions that would help this person successfully climb Everest in 2011. The facile answer is “read my book.” But most of us (including me) will look for the shortest and easiest way to get the information we want, and there is a lot of information in the book that doesn’t apply to this person’s question. So with the caveat that this post is incomplete and certainly doesn’t contain everything you need to know to climb Everest, here are a few tips for the climber going to extreme altitude.

Physical conditioning. You should be in decent shape, able to keep moving for eight hours at a stretch, uphill and downhill, carrying a 30 pound pack. In Chapter 12 I lay out the general rules of the training program. If you are traveling with a guided party you will likely get some specific training advice from your guide. The most highly stressed muscles in your body at extreme altitude may be your breathing muscles–not your heart, not your legs. Train those breathing muscles! And being in good shape doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily do well at altitude.

Technical skills. Practice ascending fixed ropes and rappelling prior to the trip. Practice with mittens on, in the dark, in the howling wind. Technical skills must be ingrained into your brain so that this ‘muscle memory’ is available when you’re hypoxic, cold, and half asleep.

Psychological skills. While the previous two skills may seem to be the most important, failures on Everest and other big peaks are more likely to be caused by other factors. In my discussion of physical performance in Chapter 3, I list a whole series of factors that affect performance, and in many cases performance (= climbing Everest in this case) will be strongly affected by psychological factors. Figure 21 summarizes these factors and how they affect performance and judgment. Examples: are you a control freak? Prepare to be stressed, because a guided expedition means you relinquish control of almost every decision once the airplane lands. Get bored easily? Can’t stand sitting around for days on end? Then you’re going to have trouble on expeditions unless you are prepared to cope with it.

Social skills. Your relationships with fellow climbers, guides, and staff will have a major effect on your emotional and psychological well-being, which affect performance. When I wrote the book, chapter 9 (Interpersonal Relations) took on a life of its own as I realized how critical it was, especially on expeditions. On a guided trip you will be insulated from most of the backroom politics among expeditions, but you’ll still have to deal with people on your team. Zen-like detachment is the only way to go.

Even if you’ve been to Denali and Cho Oyu, don’t assume that you have the expedition game all figured out. You can expect things to happen a certain way, but don’t get frustrated if they don’t! On the other hand, if something seems screwy, speak to your guide or Sherpa privately and reach an understanding. Of course any life-threatening situation needs to be dealt with openly and immediately.

Even if you are surrounded by guides and Sherpas, things happen. Know what can go wrong and think about how to deal with it if suddenly you are in charge. Chapter 11 discusses decision making and accidents and will acquaint you with the major types of problems you may face.

Know the primary symptoms of altitude illness and thoroughly understand any drugs that you might use (Chapter 5). Along with that, know the major changes that take place during acclimatization (Chapter 4). If you wake up gasping for air, at least you’ll know why.

You might be surprised that I’ve left out the vast majority of the biology of altitude (Chapter 2). If you’re interested, go for it, but frankly you can climb any peak without understanding the basic science. Okay, maybe you should read the summary statements in the page margins of Chapter 2. It’ll take you about two minutes.

Finally remember that you haven’t paid to climb Everest. You’ve paid for the opportunity to climb Everest. And return safely. If you do so, you’ll return home and still be essentially the same person that you were, with the same problems, the same opportunities, and the same family and friends. Don’t expect Everest (or any mountain) to change your life.

Posted in Exercise and Performance, The Altitude Experience | Comments (0)

Back at it

July 28th, 2010

After a long hiatus, I’m back. I’ve intended to start posting regularly for almost 6 months now but something always seems to get in the way. I plan to be providing useful information about once every week or so. I’ll try to keep the drivel to a minimum so you can spend more time on Facebook. If you subscribe you can pick which categories you want to be notified about. Or if it’s too much just unsubscribe. Any problems with this should be reported via the e-mail address in the header above.

I have reformatted and added to the photo galleries and will be posting videos on YouTube starting this week. I’ll post info on how to find the video when it’s available.

On a personal note, I’m mostly healed up. I’ve been running, biking, and climbing since the beginning of the year and things continue to improve. I did a double crossing of the Grand Canyon in May (check out the photos) and climbed South Teton a week ago. Frankly, my typing has suffered more than anything else, which is the main reason I haven’t been posting.

Feel free to e-mail me with your questions; I’ll try to answer as long as the volume of questions remains manageable.

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