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!
50 steps was all it took for school pupils to experience the effects of altitude on their bodies. On the 26th June 2019, I was given the opportunity to help raise awareness about the effects of altitude alongside a wonderful charity called Para-Monte. We were invited to the eighth annual Big Bang Fair, which invited over 10,000 secondary school students from the region, to provide information about many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) areas of expertise. It was a great honour to help spread the word about altitude and increase the reach in which Para-Monte has on the public to allow individuals to understand the dangers of altitude; a message at the forefront of Para-Monte’s vision due to the tragic loss of the founders’ son (Adam Savory) in 2012 due to an altitude-related incident.
This year some of our MSc Applied Sport/Exercise Physiology students (Serdar Hussein, Sarah Pickering, Niforissa Musa, Mari-Anne Elder, Adam Crook and Harrison Collier-Bain) helped support Josie Adams, ambassador to the Para-Monte altitude awareness charity that we work closely with, in her preparations for this year’s Marathon des Sables (MDS). As part of the Environmental Extremes Lab Service, led by PhD student Gregor Eichhorn, the MSc students delivered a 4 day heat acclimation package to prepare Josie for the harsh conditions expected in the MDS in Morocco. The MDS is a 250 km gruelling multi-day race across the Saharan desert which appeals to around 1000 competitors from all over the world each year. In 2017, Josie was 7th in the event and 1st British female, so we know she has it in her!
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.
We have been a bit silent on the Environmental Extremes Lab Blog recently. In part, this has allowed us to recharge the batteries after a very busy last academic year. Nevertheless, plenty has been going on over the summer and early autumn months. We supported nine MSc research projects allied to environmental extremes, with some exciting results coming out of them to share in due course. Dr Alan Richardson and Dr Mark Hayes were interviewed as experts for a Ministry of Defence Service Inquiry into the death of a soldier during an annual fitness test at Brecon in 2016. Mark with Dr Ash Willmott presented to the GB Hockey team around pre and per cooling strategies leading up to Tokyo 2020. We supported another two Para-Monte Altitude Awareness Days for individuals heading to altitude. Well done to our own University of Brighton’s Sally Reeve and her daughter, Marianne, who successfully and safely completed their trek to Machu Picchu, passing Dead Women’s Pass on the way.
The Environmental Extremes Lab (EEL) and Para-Monte
joined forces on Wednesday 27th and Thursday 28th June at the seventh annual Big Bang Fair South East
, held at the South of England Showground. More than 10,000 students between the ages of 9 and 19 attended from 200 schools across the region.
The event was part of the nationwide Big Bang Near Me programme, the biggest single celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) for young people in the UK. Arguably, the feedback (see tweet) from the son of our very own Sarah Smith (Economic, Social Engangement & Research Administrator of the School of Sport and Service Management) meant the most to Chris and Jeannet Savory, who set up Para-Monte to raise awareness about altitude in memory of their son, Adam Savory, who tragically died form altitude illness in 2012. Continue reading
“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.
Josie Adams, 26, an ultra-endurance athlete sponsored by the charity Paramonte, approached Dr Neil Maxwell and the EEL team at the University of Brighton to aid her with preparations for the Coastal Challenge in February 2018 – a 236 km race through part jungle, over trails and up into alpine terrain. Of course, the EEL team did not hesitate in declaring their support for Josie. Rebecca Relf took the lead, organising the week leading up to Josie’s departure for Costa Rica, where temperatures during the challenge were expected to be around 30°C whilst also very humid (~60-80% relative humidity). Rebecca and three other PhD students (Jason Newbery, Greg Eichhorn and Rosie Lewis) supported Josie in completing 9 heat acclimation sessions in 6 days. Although, taking a backseat on this occasion, support in the form of spreadsheet design and heads popping into the labs by Ash Willmott and Neil was greatly appreciated.
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.
A huge congratulations to Josie Adams, who is an ambassador for the charity Paramonte that we work very closely with, and had a spectacular performance in the inaugural MARATHON DES SABLES (MDS) PERU ultra between the 26th November and 6th December 2017. Josie was first female Brit home, finishing 6th from the females (overall position 49th from 222 finishers).
The MDS replicates the original race: approximately 250 km divided into 6 stages, completed at free pace in self-sufficiency conditions in a desert environment and with the support of an organising team. The event took place in the South American Ica desert, 300 km south of Lima, which is one of the world’s driest regions, with huge dunes and sandy plateaux between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes cordillera.
Prior to Josie leaving, she was exercising in our environmental chamber in the conditions to be expected in the race and discussing with members of the Environmental Extremes Lab about some last minute thoughts for preparation. Josie was filmed in the lead up to the race (including while at the University of Brighton) and during the race and so we are looking forward to seeing the video footage when it is complete.
Josie is already planning her next ultra – The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica – in February 2018. We will again be supporting her as she prepares for the race, but our students will also benefit from a Q&A session with her in the Spring of next year.
Well done Josie!