Altitude Experience, Lessons Learnt and Top Tips
During the summer, Dr Sarah Davey, a Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at Oxford Brookes University in the UK, and a former physiologist for the English Institute of Sport (EIS) and GB Rowing, set off to undertake several treks in the Cusco region of Peru (including Machu Picchu). Here is her story, which touches upon her challenges, experience and top tips for future trekkers in this region. As you will read, in spite many people having truly memorable treks to altitude that can often change their lives, others suffer the consequences, sometimes life-threatening, of the thin air. Sometimes this is due to your individual response to altitude, but others times it is combination of poor education and poor management and advice while ascending a mountain. Dr Davey fortunately new sufficient physiology that she could make the right decisions and help others. Not everybody has this knowledge to rely upon. Para-Monte is a charity that aims to educate, raise money for research around altitude susceptibility and advocate altitude awareness.
Remember, be altitude aware!
Well done to our SI627 – Expedition Physiology – students for another successful expedition, marking the 15th consecutive year since Dr Neil Maxwell started the module and the annual trip in 2004. This year, again led by Dr Alan Richardson, saw us back in Brecon Beacons where we arguably had the most spectacular weather yet. Thirty students, with leaders Dr Alan Richardson, Dr Mark Hayes, Dr Nick Smeeton, Dr Neil Maxwell and Rebecca Relf took to the Black Mountain hills of Wales donned in a multitude of outdoor gear, albeit not with as much suncream as was needed (isn’t that right Frank and Charlotte!).
On Friday 23 November, Dr Neil Maxwell and Dr Mark Hayes attended the World Extreme Medicine Conference at the Dynamic Earth Convention Centre in Edinburgh on behalf of Para-Monte. The aim was to raise awareness about the work the charity does and the importance of educating individuals about altitude illnesses. A YouTube Para-Monte Altitude Awareness Video now exists which reflects the partnership between the Environmental Extremes Lab and Para-Monte.
“In a nutshell, your advice was not only spot on, it saved us. I believe that if your words about “Headache+1” had not gone through my head on that first night, I would have toughed it out, and in Dougie’s (professional guide) words, I would have lost. How seriously? Doesn’t bear thinking about.” (John Suchet, 2018)
The Environmental Extremes Lab (EEL) hosted the Suchet family, including John (newsreader and musical host on Classic FM) and David (Hercule Poirot) Suchet, on the Saturday 17th March ahead of their trek two weeks later to the iconic and breath-taking Inca city of Machu Picchu. In collaboration with local altitude awareness charity, Para-Monte, Dr Neil Maxwell, Gregor Eichhorn (PhD student), Mel Stemper (recent MSc graduate) and Josh Pennick (current MSc student) carried out altitude screening on the six members of the Suchet family, before Neil provided education around altitude illness and ways to prepare for the trek to make it enjoyable but also safer.
Para-Monte is starting 2018 off with exciting news of the Agoncagua climb by Matt Shore, one of the participants of our Environmental Extremes Lab Para-Monte funded altitude tolerance study.
Matt is a Personal Trainer and with three of his friends, will attempt to climb this highest mountain in the world, outside the Himalayas, starting his expedition on 5 January 2018.
Matt, like others, has also been instrumental in the Paramonte Altitude Study being carried out by the Environmental Extremes Lab at the moment. He was able to take part in the 8 hrs hypoxic chamber test to find out his susceptibility to simulated altitude, which will be very important for his expedition.
Upon reaching the summit, he plans to hold a Para-Monte flag which will be a great endorsement for the charity and what it is doing in terms of altitude awareness.
Congratulations to Matt for taking on this challenge, for helping raise altitude awareness and of course we wish Matt and friends every success!!
You can follow his progress via daily videos or follow Matt on the following link.
The Sport and Exercise Science Consultancy Unit (SESCU) and Para-Monte have recently supported six members of staff from British Airways prior to their climb of Jebel Toubkal (4167m) in Morocco for Comic Relief.
They visited the lab and performed an Altitude Screening Test in the hypoxic chamber, which is able to simulate the effects of high altitude through reducing the oxygen levels compared to sea level.
The chamber was set at 3000m whilst they walked at 5km/hr and at a 10% incline, with various measures being taken throughout. This included the Lake Louise Questionnaire which assesses the presence and severity of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) through an individual’s self-reported score on five symptoms: headache, gastrointestinal symptoms, fatigue and/or weakness, dizziness/light-headedness and difficulty sleeping. The LLQ scores showed that four of the individuals were at low risk of AMS, however one was at moderate risk and one was at high risk.
Oxygen Saturation was also measured which is the percentage of oxygen in the blood that has bound with haemaglobin. Oxygen saturation declines with altitude as the atmospheric pressure deceases, however the rate varies considerably between individuals. Comparing the oxygen saturation drop to previous data indicated that five members of the group were at low risk of AMS and one was at moderate risk.
SESCU and Para-Monte also provided the team with equipment to use on their trek to assess their physiological responses to altitude and their risk of AMS. They found that those who presented the highest risk of AMS in the Altitude Screening Test also presented the highest risk on the trek.
The whole team managed to reach the summit safely and no-one reported any severe problems, nor required medical support. They believed the information they had received during the screening had implanted the self-awareness to slow down, break, take on fuel and water and slowly ascend.
“The information provided by the University of Brighton certainly helped us prepare for the challenge, and made us aware of the signs and symptoms of altitude illness”
In August 2014, a group of colleagues from Centrica Energy in Windsor visited the University of Brighton’s Sport and Exercise Science Consultancy Unit (SESCU) for an Extreme Altitude Preparation Day.
The day was in preparation for the group’s Mount Kilimanjaro challenge in October 2014. During the challenge the team raised £11,736 for Babies in Buscot Support (BIBS). BIBS supports babies and their families in a special care baby unit at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.