It is not a matter of luck: there is a physiological reason why so many climbers die on Mount Everest

by time news

2023-06-06 07:05:05

The website published a translation of a serious analysis of the background of the failed summit attacks, which sheds a new light on the tragedy of Szilárd Suhajda. The article was written years ago and shows through the example of an American alpinist, Adrian Ballinger, why it is not simply physical condition and fitness that is the basis of a successful summit climb. Acclimatization is much more important, and anything that helps the body more easily endure the dramatic consequences of reduced oxygen pressure.

They say: air pressure decreases with height in a relatively predictable way. The percentage of gases in the air does not change with altitude, i.e. we are not talking about rarer oxygen, but the pressure of oxygen decreases. In our lungs, less oxygen from the lower pressure reaches the red blood cells. In other words, less oxygen gets into our blood.

Our energy production and any kind of work requires oxygen: this ensures the so-called cellular respiration. This oxygen is carried by the blood. In order for oxygen to reach all our cells, adequate blood pressure and heart rate are necessary. By changing these two, the body can adapt to the altitude.

Adrian Ballinger has reached the summit of Mount Everest six times, but only on May 27, 2017 did he manage to climb the world’s highest peak “cleanly” without the help of an oxygen cylinder. He also tried in 2016, but was unsuccessful. After that, he changed his preparation and paid much more attention to his nutrition.

When he set off for the summit attack from Camp 4 on May 24, 2016, he felt confident, fast and strong, convinced that success would crown his venture. The most he could suspect was that he had a cold. At first he just started shaking, then his hands turned white and he couldn’t even warm them up. After a while, an insurmountable, uncontrollable tremor came over him, and he couldn’t feel his hands at all. He could not use the carabiners on the pre-tensioned ropes.

He must have been two hours from the summit when he decided not to continue and turned back.

Ballinger initially attributed the failure to a lack of equipment. He thought that maybe his gloves and jacket weren’t insulating enough, maybe he didn’t have enough muscle mass, or maybe his layer of fat wasn’t thick enough. He asked for the help of a team of experts who had previously supported a climber who had successfully climbed the summit.

Uphill Athlete assessed his condition and concluded that the cause of Ballinger’s 2016 comeback was a carbohydrate-based diet. The climber ate energy bars up to every hour, he fed entirely on carbohydrates, and like most professional climbers, he saw nothing wrong with this.

“I ate nothing but carbs while climbing. And I was always hungry from morning to night,” Ballinger recalled.

The Uphill Athlete specialist came up with a seemingly valid explanation:

“A person who eats carbohydrates has enough spare fuel in his body in the form of glycogen for a maximum of three quarters of an hour. If this runs out, you need to keep eating to keep your energy levels up. On most peaks this method works satisfactorily, but not in Everest’s death zone above 8,000 meters; the digestive system is barely functioning, the climber is nauseous and cannot take anything in his mouth.

When Ballinger’s hands got cold in 2016, it was because he ran out of glycogen reserves. Due to the dangerously low energy level, the blood circulation is centralized in this case, feeding the vital organs, the heart, lungs, and brain, and blood does not reach the limbs. He was supposed to burn fat, but his body wasn’t prepared for that.”

The sports laboratory results confirmed the theory. In April 2017, before Ballinger traveled to Tibet, he received his new lab results, which showed that his carbohydrate-trigger heart rate had risen from 115 to 141.

In the case of mountain climbing and other sports as well, compared to carbohydrate-based nutrition, in ketosis the food requirement drops to a third, in addition to which oxygen consumption is also significantly reduced, thus significantly increasing physical performance.

The symptoms typical of high altitude sickness develop only in higher regions and later. The clarity of thinking is maintained much longer, the heart rate does not increase to such an extent that it further stimulates the need for oxygen. As a result, the same work can be done longer and the climber can reach higher.

Ballinger’s 2017 summit attack, prepared with an aerobic foundation and a ketogenic diet, was perfect. He wore a heart rate monitor during the climb, and with the help of this they were able to follow his heart rate throughout the base camp. His heart rate never once rose to the critical level, it remained in the low range throughout. Ballinger climbed to the top of Everest without an oxygen tank.

In the sports physiology lab at UC Davis, which is involved in Ballinger’s preparation, it was determined that when the climber’s heart rate reaches 115/minute, his metabolism switches from fat-based to carbohydrate-based. So, in an emergency, the carb mode is activated. At the same time, with Ballinger’s successful climbing partner, Richards, this only happened at 163/minute, writes a according to article Index.

This means that if a person operates on a carbohydrate basis, but is unable to eat continuously, his body will shut down after a while, in other words, the person will die beyond a certain point.

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