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Pre acclimatization

Preliminary acclimatization before climbing to 7000m

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MCS AlexClimb Mountain Climbing School

Recently, there have been many questions about the use of the concept of the "pre-acclimatization" before high-altitude ascents. This idea is actively promoted as a way to significantly reduce the time of high-altitude ascents - for example, remove the acclimatization block before climbing Peak Khan-Tengri or Peak Lenin. 7 days instead of 18… Tempting, right? Unfortunately, the idea of outwitting your own body is not as valuable as it might seem.

Base camp under Lenin Peak, expedition of MCS AlexClimb 

Based on my own extensive experience, I can confidently state: climbing Elbrus (Kazbek, Ararat, Demavend) immediately before climbing any 7-thousander is a completely meaningless idea, which does not increase, and possibly even reduces the chances of success of the main ascent. I will explain.

Northern slope of Mount Elbrus, climbing by MCS AlexClimb 

Let's start with the fact that climbing Mount Elbrus or Mount Kazbek does not give you acclimatization even at the level of 5000 m. This is just a one-time entering of a critical altitude, seriously devouring your energy supply. Acclimatization does not occur at all during a quick ascent to a five-thousander, for this, you need to spend at least a week at a certain altitude in order to stabilize the state of your body. A fast rut to 5600 m does not give anything in this regard. Moreover, for Mount Elbrus you need acclimatization not for the 5000 m, but only for 4000 meters - to the altitude from which you will attempt the summit. And many climbers neglect even this.

On top of East Elbrus, climbing by MCS AlexClimb 

But to climb Lenin Peak or any other seven-thousander, you will need acclimatization not even at 5000m. You will need it for 6000 m - to the altitude from which the final push will take place. That is, it turns out that in the case of a preliminary ascent of Mount Elbrus, you will not have any acclimatization at all for an interval of 4-6000 m. In addition, if these two ascents are separated by a short time interval, then you will not have time to recover after the first ascent, and you will go to the second with a reduced level of energy and strength, which will not shorten, but rather increase the necessary acclimatization time for high altitudes.

At the top of Lenin Peak, MCS AlexClimb expedition  

Based on my own experience, I came to the unequivocal conclusion: there is no such thing as "pre-acclimatization". There are two physiological phenomena - acclimatization and adaptation to the physical load. Further - in more detail.

Communism Peak (Somoni), MCS AlexClimb expedition  

The idea of pre-acclimatization before high-altitude ascents is far from new. Its essence is to save time on the planned acclimatization on the route of the main high-altitude ascent by taking an intensive acclimatization course in another, more accessible area some time before the main ascent. 

Pobeda Peak, MCS AlexClimb expedition 

It was my own attempts to use the idea of pre-acclimatization that allowed me to understand quite well how and why this technique does not work. I definitely want to clarify - I am not a doctor and I use some medical terms only to refer to general physiological phenomena, without reference to any official clinical data. However, no one has conducted clinical trials of the body's response to successive changes in high-altitude horizons under the influence of a complex of intense and diverse loads. So, maybe my experience is generally the first attempt to formulate the essence of future scientific experiments, why not?!


In order to understand why exactly the idea of pre-acclimatization is not applicable to high-altitude ascents, it is necessary to clearly separate two physiological processes – altitude acclimatization itself, and adaptation to the load in general.

On the top of Elbrus, climbing by MCS AlexClimb  

What is the high-altitude acclimatization? This is a reconfiguration of most of the physiological processes of the body in accordance to the unusual external conditions. It should be clarified that these conditions are not only a lower oxygen content that differs from the usual level. Also, this is a different level of physical activity, climatic features, humidity, air temperature, unusual food. Often a different time zone. That is, your body is being rebuilding globally its processes, reacting to the numerous features of the new location.

Mount Kazbek, a classic route from the south.  

Climbing by MCS AlexClimb Of course, the main thing we are talking about is the high-altitude nature of the unusual load, the main factor to which the body must adapt is the low oxygen content. After going through the acclimatization period, the duration of which is individual, a person gets the opportunity to work effectively and without risk to health at the high altitude in the new environment conditions. 

Climbing Elbrus on the southern slope, MCS AlexClimb 

The main property of high-altitude acclimatization is that it has a very short duration after the descent. That is, after returning to the usual altitude zone, the reverse process of adjusting the body (reacclimatization) occurs very quickly. Altitude acclimatization lasts no more than a week, and it is locally tied to those additional conditions that I mentioned above. This axiom has been tested on the hundreds of ascents.

Elbrus, Eastern slope. Climbing by MCS AlexClimb  

Adaptation to a load, including high-altitude one, is a different process in our body than acclimatization. Adaptation to the load is the training of our body, a well-developed algorithm for responding to an increase of a load and changes in external conditions. The speed and safety of the altitude acclimatization depends on the availability of this training. 

On the summit of Mount Bazarduzu, climbing by MCS AlexClimb 

As an example, if you have never doing any sports, then go running for 10 km you can put yourself in bed for several days with back and knee pain, and a general loss of energy. But if you run a kilometer every day, then after a single run of 10-20 kilometers, nothing will (most likely) happen to you.

The same happens in the mountains. If you go to the mountains regularly, make ascents of various steepness and complexity at least once a month, and once for every six months you go to the more serious ascents - in this case, your high-altitude acclimatization will be much faster than for people who go to the mountains for the first time.

Base camp at the foot of Peak Korzhenevskaya, expedition by MCS AlexClimb  

Load adaptation has a much longer term, especially with regular support and training. That is why, I have always suggested to my clients not to focus on one difficult high-altitude ascent per year, but to add to the training program several simple trips, related to being at altitude. In this case, acclimatization before a difficult ascent will be much faster and safer.

Ascent to Camp II on Lenin Peak. Expedition MCS AlexClimb 

This is where the benefit of going to Mount Elbrus of Mount Kazbek will be, albeit without climbing the summit, but with an intense load and staying at the altitude for several days. Or climbing Mount Bazarduzu in June. It's just an altitude workout. In this case, you will not have any acclimatization left in a week. But the body will remember its reaction, and if in August you go to the 7000 meters, most likely, your acclimatization will be faster and less painful.

The highest mountain of the former USSR - Communism Peak  

That's all on the topic of "pre-acclimatization". I wish you good luck and nice weather in the mountains!

The author of the text and photos - Alex Trubachev

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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.

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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.