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Acute mountain sickness?

Effects of altitude to human body, acclimatization and acute mountain sickness (AMS)

What is a "mountain sickness"? The main causes and consequences of hypoxia in the mountains.

This material is not intended to be of the scrupulously scientific validity, the author apologizes in advance for all possible medical inaccuracy. The following information is based on the personal experience of the MCS AlexClimb mountain guides working at the high-altitude routes without using oxygen.
In fact, strictly speaking, there is not enough accurate information about the causes and physiological processes in the human body in the conditions of lack of oxygen in the mountains. Searches conducted in the framework of scientific research, tend to have either military or space origin, and slightly overlap with the specificity with which deal the people who commit high-altitude climbing.
"Acute Mountain Sickness" - it is simplified name of the complex physiological disorders occurring in the human body during its stay at high altitude - this phenomenon is not pathological, it is not disease in the truest sense of the word. "Acute Mountain Sickness" - that is functional disorder associated with the body's reaction to the lack of oxygen. To this conditions the human body can adapt, but it requires compliance with certain conditions. If these conditions are not achieved - occurs functional failure, which is expressed in a variety of disease manifestations. In the most cases, when you drop down the altitude to the usual level - comfortable, all troubles are gone and no consequences follow. But let's see, with what is connected the origin of the  "Acute Mountain Sickness"?

With a sharp altitude gain, the quantity of the oxygen, which is so necessary for the normal functioning of our body, is greatly reduced. All would be good, because the construction of our body can adapt to the moderately thin air, but to do so it needs the certain conditions - time to reconfigure the functions and redistribution of the limited amount of oxygen. This process called adaptation. The altitude at which the human body cannot exist for an unlimited time, called the "zone of death." In our temperate latitudes, this level is approximately equal to the altitude of 6500 meters above the sea level. Until than altitude, normal and healthy human body can adapt to long-term stay without serious risk to health. There are even some clear facts that at altitudes of 5000-6000 meters, climbers and other people can copulate effectively and happily.
However, for many climbers, the problems with altitude begin on the height significantly lower than the "zone of death" - at, in general, moderate altitudes of 3000-4000 meters. What is the reason? Firstly, it is in the violation of the physiological acclimatization schedule - a sharp altitude gain, gaining altitude by mechanical means - a helicopter, snowmobile, cable car, a sharp decrease of activity after gaining the altitude. All these factors can lead to a variety of consequences, of which the most common - headache, nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite and sleep, a significant disability. However, apart from those listed troubles, because of the "Acute Mountain Sickness" more serious problems can occur associated with the exacerbation of chronic diseases. The fact that the "Acute Mountain Sickness " - hypoxia has no particular set of symptoms – it is a common functional disorder, which flow is more or less individual in each case- it can be said that the lack of oxygen hits the most sick and vulnerable parts of the body. Sometimes these attacks can be very serious - many cases are known when the course of  "Acute Mountain Sickness" led to the development of diseases such as cerebral edema, pulmonary edema, acute pneumonia, stroke, etc. You understand that the occurrence of these diseases in difficult mountain conditions, usually progresses rapidly and ends tragically.
How can  "Acute Mountain Sickness " be predicted and how to avoid its acute manifestations? The answer is, surprisingly, very simple. There are only few simple rules. Acclimatization schedule should be smooth, gain of altitude – gradual, loads – moderate, leisure - sufficient. To put it more precisely - for example we can take one of acclimatization programs of our Mountaineering School. Acclimatization routes usually begin at the altitude of not more than 2000 meters - this level, in most cases, is not dangerous even for people who first came to the mountains. From this altitude level the first radial climbs are done with vertical gain of 700-900 meters, which are followed by descent to the camp and total recovering. After two or three days, you will need to spend one night at an altitude of about 3000 meters - in the absence of the expressed health problems and symptoms of "Acute Mountain Sickness " – you can continue acclimatization per one kilometer higher. Recognized best sign of the successful acclimatization is normal sleep and appetite - if, for example, at an altitude of 4000 meters your body can sleep, recovering during sleep, and eat - that means that you can continue to gain altitude climb another 1000 meters up. And so on.
In the forcing the acclimatization schedule, reducing recovery time, excessive exercise, using mechanical means to gain altitude - there is a failure of the normal process of acclimatization, which can lead to the above listed consequences.
The best medicine that helps in the most cases if not avoid the "Acute Mountain Sickness ", but  at least, substantially reduce the risk of serious consequences - it's common sense and climbing experience. You should never neglect the symptoms of altitude sickness, nor try to lie down or cure them right there where they happen - these errors usually result in the worst possible consequences.
At the same time, you should not think that your stay at an altitude will not bring to you any inconveniences. That's not so. Staying in the mountains, adapting the organism to complex high-altitude conditions – that is complex physiological and psychological process, and you have to be ready to the difficult course of that and prepare yourself in advance for the most inconveniences of that process. Staying in the mountains is always connected with high stress both to the mind and to the body. Therefore, for the process of acclimatization proceed less painfully and does not go to a dangerous for health form "Acute Mountain Sickness" - you should exercise regularly, not to abuse fat food, abstain from alcohol and smoking ... But as all of us, in one way or another always violate these ideal presumptions, we can only hope on our careful attention, experience and care for those around us – it is the best way of protection and most reliable belaying against all the troubles, not only in the mountains, but also in our daily life.

Text — Alexey Trubachev, founder of the MCS AlexClimb mountaineering and climbing school.

Our Principles

AlexClimb Rule #1 - Safety First

From the very beginning of our activity, here nearly 16 years, the first Principle of work of School of mountaineering and rock-climbing of MCS AlexClimb is the Safety Priority. On the basis of this Principle all process of training is based, all programs and rounds are developed and carried out only within this main principle. We consider that at professional approach to development of programs, at personal discipline and correctly put motivation - occupations by mountaineering and rock-climbing are COMPLETELY safe. And from the return - all troubles and accidents in our sport come from nonprofessionalism, from ignorance or neglect by elementary standards of safety, from irrational motivation, from revaluation of own forces and opportunities. All these prerequisites we COMPLETELY EXCLUDE in our work - ours Rock-climbing, Ice climbing and Mountaineering are based on one Principle - the Safety Priority. In rock-climbing, mountaineering and ice climbing, the Priority of Safety of MCS AlexClimb-is your personal security and comfort irrespective of, than we are engaged - we train muscles and we work technology of the movement in the sports hall and on the rock climbing wall, we make the way through snowstorm to top or we relax on golden sand of the Caribbean beach after hot day of trainings on rocks. The Safety priority - the main credo of School of mountaineering and rock-climbing of MCS AlexClimb.

AlexClimb Rule #2 - Leave No Trace

Closely interacting with Nature, working with the active programs in mountains, woods, lakes and rivers, we perfectly understand the importance of carefull and respectfull bahavior towards the Nature, for its resources. From the very beginning of our outdoor-activity we adopted rules of  Leave No Trace technique - the standard of behavior of the person accepted in all the civilized world in relation to environment and especially - to the wild nature. After all on the relation of people to the nature near which they exist, itself can draw dalekoidushchy conclusions on the relation of these people to... Where and as we didn't travel - we don't reserve any garbage, we try to reduce whenever possible our influence on environment to a minimum. We clear earlier zagryazyonny tourist parking of the left garbage, we take out and we take out to utilization places that to us other people left there. We consider that only thus, at personal individual consciousness of each citizen, each tourist, climber or autotraveller, we will be able to keep the nature surrounding us in its state, natural, suitable for life, - in it pledge of the healthy future for ourselves and our children.

AlexClimb Rule #3 - Sober Concious

The position of AlexClimb Mountain and rockclimbing School regarding healthy lifestyle is quite clear - we consider that only sober consciousness is capable to fill sincere emotions,  to sympathize, to enjoy life in all its variety. Bright various enjoyable life is possible only on condition of keeping the absolute sobriety and purity of consciousness. Any way of obscuring our perception of reality is intended to do harm to our consciousness and bring harm to our physical health, to replace the true values by false ones, to destroy us physically - to turn us into flabby, weak, senseless, gray herd with empty hazy eyes. We don't force anybody to our point of view, everyone has a God's gift of making his own choice and to destroy himself if that is what he wants... But in AlexCilimb Mountain Climbing School we accept quite certain and very simple set of rules: neither alcohol, nor drugs.