Modern Australian


how fit do you have to be to climb a mountain?

  • 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

NEWS

what teachers are saying about COVID-19 and the disruption to education

ShutterstockAll Victorian school students will be learning remotely from Wednesday. Prior to the state’s premier Daniel Andrews announcing a tightening of restrictions over the weekend, only students in prep to...

As 'lockdown fatigue' sets in, the toll on mental health will require an urgent mental health response

ShutterstockAs Victorians face yet another long period of enforced lockdown, serious concerns are being raised about people’s capacity to comply with the new orders and the mental health impacts of...

why health-care workers in Australia are inadequately protected against coronavirus

ShutterstockIn Victoria, more than 1,100 health-care workers have now been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Some 11% of active cases are workers in the health-care sector.Health-care workers...

Babe at 25, a trailblazing cinematic classic

Universal PicturesIt wasn’t the first time I’d crashed a film set. My first was the 1984 film The Coolangatta Gold. You’ll recognise me in one of the shots because I’m...

400,000 women over 45 are at risk of homelessness in Australia

ShutterstockOlder women have been recognised as the fastest-growing group of homeless people in Australia in recent years. Yet until now we have not known exactly how many older women are...

older women renters are struggling

ShutterstockOlder women renters are struggling in an insecure and unaffordable rental housing market. A combination of high rents and low incomes leaves many living in substandard housing and unable to...

How climate change made the melting of New Zealand's glaciers 10 times more likely

Dave Allen, Author providedGlaciers around the world are melting — and for the first time, we can now directly attribute annual ice loss to climate change.We analysed two years in...

Our states are crying poor. They wouldn't if they charged for rezoning like the ACT

Google MapsThroughout Australia, when land is rezoned from industrial to high-rise residential, a charge is levied to help fund the required infrastructure.In NSW it is called an infrastructure contribution.The NSW...

5 scientists tell the stories behind these species names

Left: imdb. Right: Volker Framenau Weaving creative, heartfelt or even risqué words into the formal Latin names for new species has long been common in taxonomy — the science of...

Australia won't recover unless Victoria does too. The federal government must step up

The announcement of stage 4 restrictions in Victoria marks a new, and depressing, stage in Australia’s response to COVID-19. The new measures will close non-essential retailers and most child-care centres...

Victoria's child-care shutdown is a hard blow for working mothers

ShutterstockHow do you occupy a child for long enough to get any work done?This will be the question confronting more than 150,000 Melbourne families for at least the next six...

here's why Melbourne's new business restrictions will reduce cases

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced sweeping changes to businesses across metropolitan Melbourne, including closure of retail stores and restrictions on some industries, including construction. The new constraints come into...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

How to supercharge your immune system for cold and flu seasonHow to Avoid Blocked Drains and Stinky OverflowCBD on Cyber Monday: Buying the Best for You5 Beginner Projects You Can Make with Arduino Starter KitWhy Your Outdoor Living Areas Might Benefit From TilesRetirement on the Road: Planning a Post-Retirement Australian Road TripDesign a Pool to Fit Your SpaceHow to Get TEFL Certification for Teaching English in ThailandHow to Find a Lawyer in Sydney for Your Legal RepresentationHow to Pre-Prepare For Your Retirement3 of the most common beginner’s mistakes in table tennisTips to Choose Regular Wear Bands for Your Brand New Apple WatchThe Benefits of Living a Healthy LifestyleHOW TO STUDY ART WITH WIKIART.ORGHow to transform a