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Getting acclimatized

To go above 3,500 meters, climbers need an acclimatization period if they are to avoid altitude sickness. As a person ascends through the atmosphere, every breath contains less and less oxygen. Shortness of breath is what makes one breathe faster and/or deeper, but at high altitudes attaining normal blood levels of oxygen this way is not possible. By going slowly, the body gradually acclimatizes to less oxygen. The rule at levels where the body is functioning on far lower levels of oxygen (at the peak of the mountain there is only a third of the oxygen there is at sea level) is to «climb high, sleep low» – that is, after climbing to establish camps at higher levels, one must return to the camp below to sleep that night in order to allow the body to recover. As a person ascends slowly, one extends one’s zone of tolerance so as to avoid what is known as acute mountain sickness which is thought to be due to mild swelling of brain tissue in response to hypoxic stress. Symptoms are a persistent headache, loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue or weakness, dizziness or light-headedness. Another risk is fluid in the lungs or high-altitude cerebral edema. The added problem of suffering these symptoms in a dangerous place is that it impairs judgment and physical coordination, can cause lethargy or confusion and often the person does not realize they are ill. The only cure is to get down the mountain at once to the last level at which they felt well. Many a mountaineer has met his or her end due to a failure or inability to heed the warning signs. For further reading: «High Adventure,» by Sir Edmund Hillary, Bloomsbury, reissued in a new edition last year to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic first summit by the author and Tenzing Norgay. «Touching My Father’s Soul,» by Jamling Tenzing Norgay, Harper, 2002. The Sherpa’s side of the story, in a moving account of the author’s own ascent to the summit in his father’s footsteps, his view of what has happened in the Himalayas since the commercialization of the sport, and the events of the disastrous season of 1996 (also available in Greek). «Regions of the Heart: The Triumph and Tragedy of Alison Hargreaves,» by David Rose and Ed Douglas. The story of the British mountaineer who died in a storm on K2 the year after successfully summitting Mt Everest.k