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!