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Acclimatiazation before climbing Aconcagua, Ojos del Solado with the altitude exceeding 6000 m

Acclimatization process at the altitudes above 5000 m - practical advises

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Acclimatization at the altitudes above 5000 m, climbing Aconcagua and Ojos del Solado

Returning to the eternal question– preparation for climbing at altitudes exceeding the "zone of asymptomatic adaptation". I use this term to describe a level of altitude that is different from the habitual horizon of life, and which does not cause problems with activity for the most people. These are absolute horizons 1500 – 2500 m.

The next, after this zone, is the level of elevation from 2500 m to 6000 m), which unequivocally cause certain unusual or uncomfortable conditions for the people who do not have experience of being at an altitude – prolonged stay at this level requires acclimatization. This is the "zone of necessary (symptomatic) acclimatization."

Further, starting from the level 6500 m – 7000 m begins the "death zone" - the level of altitude at which the oxygen proportion in the air is insufficient for the functioning of the human body. In this zone, acclimatization is impossible and the time of safe stay is extremely limited. Usually climbing in the "death zone" requires using oxygen.

Acclimatization at the altitudes above 5000 m, climbing Aconcagua and Ojos del Solado

The conversation will go on about the middle segment – "a zone of necessary acclimatization"; on the example of Aconcagua, Ojos del Solado, Huascaran. Being currently in Argentina, I again faced the need to answer questions related to acclimatization at the altitudes of 5-7000 m.

Within these limits, I can rely on the experience of my own numerous ascents (without oxygen, of course) in South America, Africa, Central Asia, in mountainous regions with various climatic conditions. In this article, I will share my knowledge of the acclimatization process before climbing Aconcagua or Ojos del Solado in Argentina, Huascaran in Peru and other peaks that exceed 5000 m and require a relatively long time on the route.

In general, the following text applies to most of the world's mountainous regions, with a few minor adjustments according to the characteristics of the regions.

Acclimatization at the altitudes above 5000 m, climbing Aconcagua and Ojos del Solado

Let's start with the fact that the altitude factor in South America is much easier to bear compared to the mountain systems of Eurasia. This is due to the geophysical features of the Earth's atmosphere and the heterogeneous proportion of oxygen content at absolute altitudes in the different geographical latitudes. A comparison on this topic will be offered to your attention in another article.

As you know, the restructuring of the physiological processes of our body for its normal functioning at altitude, with a low oxygen content, requires some time and following a certain schedule of altitude gain, ideally, alternating with descents for rest and recovery. This graph is called the "acclimatization saw". This is a generally accepted tactic of acclimatization and preparation for any mountain ascents at altitudes from 3 to 7 thousand meters – above that, this tactic loses its meaning, as the use of oxygen begins.

The principle of acclimatization is unchanged and can be adjusted only depending on the level of training of the participants of the climbing team and the features of the ascent route.

Acclimatization at the altitudes above 5000 m, climbing Aconcagua and Ojos del Solado

Starting point and height of the "teeth" of the "acclimatization saw" – the question is quite individual, but the limits of this individuality allow in most cases to approximate the process. That is, for "normal" human – with average physical fitness, without pathological reactions to altitude, the need to pass the "acclimatization saw" schedule happens in South America at the average altitudes of more than 3500 - 4200 m (2500-3200 in the mountains of Eurasia). This is an altitude, which causes discomfort for those who come from the plains, close to the sea level – that is, with altitudes less than 1000 m.

The human body always reacts painfully to sudden changes in altitude (and, consequently, atmospheric pressure). But in the mountain climbing it is almost impossible to avoid these sharp drops – in this case, hundreds of kilometers of distances would have to be covered on foot. In this unlikely case, no acclimatization would be required, but the idea of climbing the peaks after such approaches would never occur to anyone...

Acclimatization at the altitudes above 5000 m, climbing Aconcagua and Ojos del Solado

So, with the help of various transportation means, we find ourselves several kilometers above the starting point of the journey, without making any significant physical effort. For example, in the case of Huascaran, an airplane from Lima (sea level), after two hours of flight, drops us off in Huaraz at an altitude of 3700 meters – we do not descend below this mark during the entire ascent program.

The first sign of the need for acclimatization, in all cases without exception, is a violation of night sleep. Sharp and vivid dreams, tangible discomfort, the impossibility of full recovery during a night's rest – these are the first signs of the need for acclimatization. It is important not to ignore the signals of our own body – neglecting these signals can lead to serious problems, up to a threat to life. The main idea of acclimatization – forcibly initialize the process of oxygen distribution in our body to perform physical exercises in the new conditions of rarefied mountain air.

It could be just walking with a moderate load (a light pack) or something more specialized – yoga, gymnastics, rockclimbing, running – the main thing is that the level of activity need just to slightly exceed the usual rhythm of loads, without passing into the phase of exhaustion.

Acclimatization at the altitudes above 5000 m, climbing Aconcagua and Ojos del Solado

The generally accepted norm is the altitude gain limit of about 1000 meters per day. This figure is individual and approximate, depends, among other things, on the features of the relief – in some cases, for example, on Kilimanjaro, this tactic is not available due to too gentle and extended slopes.

By the way, that's why I always suggested to the participants of the "Roof of Africa" ascents the more comfortable and effective acclimatization on the mountains adjacent to Kilimanjaro, based on the impossibility of correct acclimatization on the route of the main ascent.

Acclimatization at the altitudes above 5000 m, climbing Aconcagua and Ojos del Solado

In any case, moving on to the next acclimatization segment – “saw tooth”, is advisable to do it only after the signs of lack of acclimatization disappear as much as possible – sleep disturbance, headache, lack of appetite, loss of strength, palpitations in the rest condition. Until these signs disappear, it is necessary to repeat the acclimatization cycle without further altitude gain – ascent from the starting point for 800-1000m, overnight, descent, rest.

As a rule, at the initial stage of acclimatization, 1-2 such cycles are enough to get rid of the initial discomfort.

Acclimatization at the altitudes above 5000 m, climbing Aconcagua and Ojos del Solado

Important. Neglecting signs of lack of acclimatization can lead to very serious and sudden deterioration in health and dangerous pathological reactions – edema, strokes, malfunctions of the cardiovascular system.

All these signs must be monitored individually, immediately seeking help in case of deterioration. In case of any serious deterioration in health, climbing activities must be stopped immediately. Most pathological reactions to altitude disappear without consequences in case of timely descent and subsequent recovery – remember this axiom and believe, you should not check its truth on your own experience.

Acclimatization at the altitudes above 5000 m, climbing Aconcagua and Ojos del Solado

So, if everything goes well, you sleep well at an altitude of more than 4000 m – this is a great chance to move on to the next "acclimatization saw tooth" and reach the level of 5000+ meters above sea level. This altitude is felt by 99% of climbers, being at this level without the necessary acclimatization is definitely dangerous for health. On the other hand, the acclimatization process, correctly initiated from the very beginning of the route, then proceeds in a more comfortable physiological form. The body adopts a given algorithm and follows a standard schedule, every day decreasing its response to low oxygen conditions.

Acclimatization at the altitudes above 5000 m, climbing Aconcagua and Ojos del Solado

Standard errors when going through the acclimatization schedule are:

1. Access to the first segment of the "acclimatization saw" in a state of fatigue (often after long flights or transfers), with signs of colds or exacerbation of chronic health problems.

2. Exposing the body to additional physiological stress during the first phase of acclimatization – alcohol, drugs, heavy or unusual food – all this can interfere or seriously slow down the physiological processes associated with acclimatization

3. Forcing the acclimatization schedule on the background of euphoria caused with a change of scenery, new and beautiful landscapes, on a deceptive absence of symptoms of hypoxia in the first days at the altitude in unknown latitudes. Climbing above the physiological norm can lead to sudden and dramatic deterioration in health. Often, the body needs some time to initially react to the new altitude conditions (inertia) – it is important not to miss this moment and not to get higher the required initial level – the reaction of the body may be too sharp in this case.

4. Neglect of the pathological signs of health deterioration, moving to the subsequent phases of acclimatization in the presence of signs of lack of acclimatization at the previous stages – this is the worst thing, something that can lead to fatal consequences. Be careful and take good care of your health, especially in the mountains.

Mountains have always existed and will never not go away – as we definitely do. Don't skip the basic tips. The price for this experience has already been paid, and many have paid too high price – do not repeat the mistakes of others.

Acclimatization at the altitudes above 5000 m, climbing Aconcagua and Ojos del Solado

Author of the text and photos - Alex Trubachev

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