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driftpeak

I’m shifting from food to altitude to sophisticated blog posting from the highest mountain on the planet. First a short altitude 101 lesson to create the appropriate ambiance (pun intended).

I took the above winter mountaineering photo from the summit of Drift Peak, high in the Tenmile Range of the Colorado Rockies. Drift Peak is a little over 13,900 feet, making it one of Colorado’s centennial peaks (the 100 highest summits, all over 13,800 feet in elevation).

If you’ve ever wandered around at high altitudes (above 10,000 feet), you know that as you ascend it becomes more and more difficult to do anything in a hurry. Your legs feel heavier, your respiration increases and you might even feel nauseous or develop a headache. That’s because you’re not breathing in enough oxygen and the consequences can go from mildly annoying to life threatening.

I won’t go into too much detail, but the higher you go, the more the body has to adapt to less air pressure, therefore less oxygen intake. Here’s where it gets confusing. The percentage of oxygen in the air is the same whether you’re at sea level or on top of Mt. Everest, which is 29,000 feet. Our atmosphere is made up of 21% oxygen at any altitude. There isn’t less oxygen as a percentage of gases at 29,000 feet, it’s just that the higher you go, the less atmospheric pressure there is. With less air pressure the oxygen molecules scatter into a larger volume of air. If I’m standing at sea level that same 21% of oxygen molecules is being pressed down around me so it’s much easier to breathe and get the oxygen I need to do whatever it is I’m doing.

Our bodies do adjust somewhat and depending on our individual physiology, we adapt and acclimatize to varying degrees. To begin with, our breathing increases and our movement slows down. Heavy breathing (the altitude-related kind) allows us to take in more oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. Our heart rate goes up to deliver the oxygen to our brain and muscle tissues. There’s also a lot going on with our kidneys when we increase elevation. Have you ever noticed that as you get above treeline you have to go to the bathroom more often? Darn, no bushes to hide behind — that can get a bit tricky if you’re a girl (especially in the winter). Men have it made.

Here’s what happens (to make a long, complicated story short). Your kidneys know you need more oxygen so they conspire to get rid of extra water so your blood becomes thicker and can carry more concentrated oxygen. Aren’t we just amazing little creatures?! All the more reason to honor our bodies and take care of ourselves.

I’ll leave it at that and get on to the point of this post, which is about dispatch-blogging at super-high altitudes. I just wanted to set the stage as I often find it difficult to write a wimpy little post while sitting in my office, listening to music and sipping tea. Think about doing it on Everest. It’s hard enough just to breath, let alone create glorious dispatches such as these.

I’m a Mac girl, so I love the idea that they’re using MacBook Pros to do their Himalayan blogging. I’ve been following the progress of this expedition and their daily dispatches since they started several weeks ago. I’ll explain why later and keep you posted as the team expects to summit in a few days.

Go forth (or up) and have fun!
Melissa

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17 Responses to “dispatches from above”

  1. Cid says:

    Melissa,

    I’d need a lot of coconut ice to munch on before attempting that climb :) We sea level dwellers can only look on in awe and admiration.

    Cid

  2. Melissa says:

    Cid,

    Well, this post is definitely “off subject” but I’ve been following this team of climbers since they started (in fact, I’ve been following one of them for 3 years). I found the dispatch explanation fascinating and since we’re communicating with each other from all over the world, I thought I’d throw in a round-about post from Mt. Everest. But, I had to tie it into my world and since I’m into exercise science, sports nutrition, and wilderness pursuits, this was my method.

    :-)

    Don’t look on in awe, come and visit! I’ll promise you a vista such as the one pictured here.

  3. Cid says:

    Melissa,

    Wouldn’t it be great to see a shot of two mad women hiking up that mountain ahead of the team… dragging our cardboard cut out of Ray Mears behind us to ward off any ferocious wildlife :)

    I very much fear I’d be a drain on your resources Melissa if we were to run up that hill… mind you stranger things have happened so I’d best get on with training just in case.

    Cid

    p.s. I’ve had a coconut oil hair pack today… marvelous stuff. Made a facial scrub with aloe gel and organic semolina which was very gentle on the skin and not oily to remove. Perhaps you could substitute a similar soft grain not in the wheat family?

  4. Melissa says:

    Cid,

    Hmmm? I thought I responded to this comment, but it appears I must have been imagining our hike with Ray in tow. Unfortunately, there are no mushrooms at this altitude, so GDave’s foraging guide will have to provide alpine tundra knowledge. And don’t worry, we won’t be “running” up any hills, there will be plenty of time to scan the plant life as we catch our breath. I’d love to take you on a tour and I’m quite adept at preparing trail food. We can hide our coconut hair under trendy vintage bandanas.

    Melissa

  5. Melissa says:

    Oh, one more thing, Cid. I’m wondering about grinding flax seeds or teff for a facial scrub. Very interesting ideas you have. I do wish you were a little closer. That “pond” is a bit of an obstacle, otherwise I’d be visiting often.

    :-)

  6. Cid says:

    Melissa,

    I will look forward to a visit from you when ever you’re in the UK. Lincolnshire is perhaps a little off the beaten track but there are trains that run from Lincoln city that connect to other areas. Car hire is the easiest for convenience though.

    GDave’s foraging guide strikes me as a prime candidate for alpine tundra knowledge…. our team could do its own documentary covering all manner of subjects including alpine skin care on the run :)

    Your part of the world is beautiful and I’ll bet you never tire of it.

    Cid

  7. greedydave says:

    Melissa,

    The sheer quality of footage that expedition teams like this and natural history people are bringing to us these days is mind-blowing. We are so spoiled. Seeing some of the beind-the-lens work just goes to make us appreciate it more.

    Thank you for the explanation about altitude and oxygen. I can now see where the term ‘thin air’ comes from. Very informative! I will appreciate my every breath of H2O all the more. :)

    GDave

    PS. Oooh you’ve posted again.

  8. Melissa says:

    Cid,

    If I do car hire, the car better come with a driver as the last time I drove a car in Scotland, I was continually looking the wrong way at intersections and weaving all over the road. I’m much better off on a train or on foot.

    I do love it here, especially on days like today. Clear, cool and sunny. It’s just beautiful. But I have to say, I’ve been equally impressed with the British countryside. Although quite different, it’s beautiful in its own right.

  9. Melissa says:

    Yes, this expedition posting has been so amazing. The past two years, they sent daily audio dispatches, this year we’ve been treated to artistic video with music. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

    You better be careful, my friend — you don’t want to be breathing in H20. Choke, gargle, spit. You want 02. I’m sure you knew that, I’m guessing you were just taken with the footage.

    ;-)

    Melissa

  10. Liz says:

    Wow. I had no idea that there is no less oxygen at high altitude, but that the molecules scatter in more air.

    Unfortunately, I’m super sensitive to high altitude and headaches abound. I think I just need more trips to Colorado get more used to it. :)

  11. Cid says:

    GDave,

    Are you available as a high altitude forager? It’s just that we have to keep costs down and you might be cheaper than the internationally renowned experts we usual ‘hang’ with :) Also are you sherpa material because it’s my guess that Melissa and I will be carrying a lot of coconuts :)

    Cid

  12. greedydave says:

    Cid,

    You already know my failure as a forager. I’ll probably come back with a child’s shoe, an inside-out umbrella and a damp copy of Razzle and expect you to cook me up a banquette! I’ll do the Sherpa thing by all means, as long as I can have 2 halves of coconut shell to knock together so I can pretend I’m on horseback. :)

    GDave

    PS. H2O joke stolen from the 80s American spoof movie ‘Amazon Women on the Moon.’ :)

  13. Melissa says:

    Liz,

    HOW are you? And how’s my favorite Henry?

    Lots of people have issues with altitude. You’ll just have to come out here and give yourself some time to acclimate. I can help you with the right fluids and food!

    :-)

  14. Melissa says:

    Cid,

    I’m wondering if it’s a good idea to have GDave carrying your coconuts.

    And now I have this imagine of you hiking above treeline with GDave behind you carrying your bag and making Monty Python clip-clop sounds with the coconuts. I’m not sure how Amazon Women on the Moon fits into all this, but when you two get going, it takes no time before I’m laughing out loud.

    :-)

  15. Not completely off topic … the basis is exercise science–one of your many specialties, Melissa! Your photo blows me away per usual! I enjoyed the video, too. I could see following that daily. That ladder over the crevice shot … yikes.

    Shirley

  16. Melissa says:

    Shirley,

    Long story as to why I’ve been following this expedition team, but I check the daily dispatches and have really enjoyed it. They are now stuck up on the mountain waiting out bad weather. Ugh!

    Thanks for the comment about my photo. I appreciate it! I think I must have taken 25 shots from the summit that day. I had a hard time choosing which one to use. I’m better at taking photos of scenery than I am food.

    :-)

  17. Cid says:

    GDave,

    How long do you think this trip is likely to take? In my own mind I’m thinking about an hour or so then a spot of tea and a coconut, then the chair lift down? :)

    Cid

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