High-altitude training

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I have a question concerning high-altitude climbing. Is there any set way that one can train the body to handle the lack of oxygen at a high altitude? Is there any way to simulate it? I understand that endurance is a huge part of climbing, but how does one know if his or her body can take it at, say, 20,000 ft (like while climbing Everest)?

If you have any answers, let me know. I am gathering some info for a research project and am talking to experts.

-- Lynn Guinta (wolf77@mediaone.net), March 14, 2001


No. Basically above 19,000 your body does not acclimatize and starts to break down. You may not know it or feel it, but the process is starting. Some people can acclimatize at 18,000 feet, but that is genetics and physiology. Training makes the difference to succeed above these altitudes (not aclimatizing) for those of us not gifted that way, like me! Training as high as you can does help. I have witnessed the effects on people that live above 7000 ft here in the US and train at that altitude. They were awesome when we got above 19,600 ft. I have heard that training in a low ox environment, ie. with a ox mask on in a training facility, helps. There are also low ox systems that are supposed to simulate high altitudes that you sleep in, like a tent that has a regulator that controls that ox content of the air, and I have heard that they do help increase red blood cells over time. Anyway, one never knows how their body is going to react and acclimatize until you are there. Take for instance HAPE or HACE. A climber can climb 50 peaks without ever getting it, then one day on some climb have to get rescued due to a hit. Or, I have seen climbers get hit one their first climb to 14,000 feet. These things have alot of contributing factors, but Phsyiology and genetics are a huge part of the equation.

-- Bill Tyler (wtyler@inhale.com), March 21, 2001.

Hi, 12/13/01 We build a transparent monoplace altitude chamber that can simulate altitude up to 18,000 feet. One of our chambers is being used by a university in research into the medical aspects of altitude sickness and to determine how best to precondition climbers for high altitude exposure; also how to screen for susceptabily to HACE and HAPE. Test subjects are being acclimated starting at 8000 and working p to 18,000 feet. Results are very positive regarding preconditioning. You can see our website at www.traininghigh.com that shows our chamber and give links to other research data. I believe it is safe to state that preconditioning is a definite benefit. If nothing else one will not suffer the normal general mailaise from sudden exposure to hypoxia. As the Boy Scouts say, "be prepared". I would be pleased to answer any questions. Good luck. Mike

-- Charles M. Staehle (Mike) (sst_mike@bellsouth.net), December 13, 2001.

Interesting question. As an altitude researcher, I would have to suggest that there is not alot of data on what you ask (although I would agree with the approximation of 6000meters as a general ceiling of acclimatization), and secondly, despite the fact that I am not aware of the gentleman above's data, it's been my experience after several seasons at Everest Base camp that genetic (as opposed to conditioning) begins to be more important in terms of what you can do above 6000 meters, although it is true that basically everyone ascending to this altitude is in top conditioning....

-- Jeff Gertsch (jeffgertsch@hotmail.com), September 28, 2003.

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