I am blogging today at an altitude of 4500m and temperature of 17 degrees C while in Eastbourne! I am engaging in Altitude Testing!
You would be correct in thinking that there is nowhere in Eastbourne that nears the height of Mont Blanc as I am sat in the University of Brighton Altitude Chamber.
I am a participant in a study being carried out at the University of Brighton and funded by www.paramonte.org.
Paramonte is a local charity that is passionate about raising awareness about Altitude Sickness, High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACE).
The study looks at susceptibility to Altitude Sickness using a batch of tests including a 6 minute walking test performed both in normal conditions and at altitude in the chamber.
So far I have completed 2 x 90 minute sessions which included the walking tests at both conditions.
Today I am in for the 3rd and final part of my testing which simply involves being in the chamber for 8 hours at a simulated altitude of 4500m.
Every half hour I am recording pulse rate, Oxygen Saturation using an Oximeter (simple finger based device that measures pulse and Oxygen Saturation), body temperature and relative perceived exertion.
I am also completing the Lake Louise Questionnaire (LLQ) which is a very useful tool for assessing the degree of Altitude Sickness. It can also help identify risk of the more serious HAPE and HACE which are both conditions that can lead to death if ignored.
Every other hour I am also taking blood pressure and so the old sport science student within me is being well and truly woken!
Awarness is a Powerful Thing.
With the expedition to Aconcagua drawing ever closer and having never really been to truly high altitude before I wanted to give myself the best possible chance of getting to the summit and of course returning safely and in good health.
For that reason I contacted the University in the off chance any studies were taking place or whether I could pay to do a session in the altitude chamber to give myself an idea of how I am likely to respond when out on the mountain.
As luck would have it the university was running a study and here I am. Perfect timing!
From my own perspective the process is invaluable.
If I end up being able to handle altitude well, my confidence on the mountain will be high. If it turns out I don’t handle altitude so well (and fitness has very little bearing on how we tolerate high altitude hence the need for studies like this one) It means I know I will need to take it easy, move slowly and take my time acclimatising.
Either way, it’s a win win situation and one that leaves me feeling informed, more aware of the symptoms of Altitude Illness, how to recognise them and what to do if symptoms persist or worsen.
In myself I am feeling good. The change in oxygen content in the air is noticeable. I am breathing a little more than normal and I am aware of the faintest of feelings of fuzziness in brain, but no dizziness.
My pulse is elevated above resting (48-50) to around 56 to 65 and my oxygen saturation which was at 98% is coming out at around 80-88% so far. Temperature is normal and blood pressure has gone up a little.
All in all this is a very positive and useful experience.
Paramonte – Beyond the Mountain.
The Lake Louise Questionnaire is a very useful tool that can be used to assess yourself on the mountain and can either be printed off from www.paramonte.org and laminated and kept with you or downloaded as an app from their website.
I will be taking the questionnaire myself to Argentina and have just purchased an Oximeter to measure my Oxygen Saturation while out on the mountains – both of which will be invaluable in making my time at high altitude safer.
Paramonte are a charity established by Emma, Chris and Jeannet Savory who sadly lost their son and brother, Adam, to Altitude Sickness when traveling in Peru.
Their great work continues to increase awareness about Altitude Illnesses and the risks and dangers of high altitude.
Well it seemed my body responded well to the 8 hours at Altitude. No real side effects apart from occasional bouts of shortness of breath which would last for 10 seconds or so. No headaches, nausea or fatigue and really, apart from feeling a tiny bit “fuzzy” the lack of oxygen in the air didnt really affect me up to this height.
So I am feeling positive in that it seems I can handle altitude fairly well, at least up to 4500m. A huge boost mentally and reducing the uncertainty of how well I will respond in the first week or so of acclimatisation.
On top of the mental boost I am now also a great deal more aware of the symptoms of High Altitude Illness and knowing the facts means I can not only help myself better but also others whom I come into contact with.
The expedition draws nearer and the excitement is building!