This Fourth of July Dr. Anna will be relaxing on a warm sunny beach on a tropical island in Florida; I, however, will be high atop a mountain in California. A beautiful beach provides solitude and relaxation, a mountain can provide solitude and a formidable challenge. Both are a profound means of renewal of the mind. Dr. Anna loves the ocean, I love the mountain!
My cousin and I have been seeking a challenging mountain scramble, hike, cross country back pack trip for several years, but have been unable to get one together. He is a Captain in the Air Force and has the fortune of having been stationed in very mountainous locales thus far in his career. First, in Colorado Springs and now in California.
In 2015, myself, Dr. Anna, my cousin, and his wife trekked up to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs, but that was the last time the group of us was able to get up a mountain together. In the time since, Dr. Anna and I have completed numerous hikes together but nothing about 7,000 feet in altitude.
I have a history of not handling altitude very well. I’m not afraid of heights, but my lungs seem to be. One trip that stands out in my mind is a seminar in Westminster, CO. Dr. Anna and I landed at Denver International Airport, rented a car, went to Boulder and drove up into the foothills and trekked around a little bit. Afterwards we went to a local Crossfit gym, did a quick workout, went to bed, woke up the next day and went for a 5K run. That was the extent of my activity for the remainder of the weekend. I found myself laid up in the hotel bed with Acute Mountain Sickness. Yes, I was only at 6,000-7,000 feet in altitude, but the (stupid) physical exertion I placed on myself without acclimatization after flying in from Chicago (altitude around 600 feet above sea level) proved to be too much for this low lander. A previous rugby trip to steamboat springs in college resulted in a similar outcome.
Since then, I have learned that when I’m attempting any type of physical exertion at altitude, I have to allow myself adequate time to acclimate.
Altitude is the ultimate equalizer. It is a fantastic way of testing your mental and physical fortitude. The physical challenge of a mountain coupled with the lack of oxygen as you ascend provides a unique challenge to your physiology. I am enthralled by the humans that are able to ascend to the top of such daunting peaks as Mount Everest (29,029 feet above sea level), Kangchenjunga (28,169 feet above sea level), or K2 (28,251 feet above sea level). I’m continually inspired by those who are willing to subject themselves to that extreme, especially considering the amount of people who don’t return from such trips. Though Everest and K2 aren’t anywhere to be found on my bucket list (as of now), Denali is on my radar…..Maybe someday.
Prior to attempting a Mt. Everest summit, George Mallory was asked why he was doing it, he famously replied, “because it’s there.” (*Note* that quote is often attributed to Sir Edmund Hillary who became the first to summit and return from Everest. This is actually not true. Mallory was the one who said it prior to his unsuccessful Everest attempt). Regardless of who said it, I love the quote. When asked why I crave these types of “vacations” my answer is “because I can, and someday I won’t be able to.”
So what are we doing? In comparison to the peaks I mentioned above, our trek will not be daunting at all. In fact, people who live at altitude regularly make treks like this on any given day. For a low lander from Chicago, it’s a little unnerving. Especially in the manner we will be doing it.
We are setting out to hike/scramble to the top of Deerhorn Mountain in the Sierra Nevada. Deerhorn Mountain is a 13,281 foot peak which consists of class 3, 4, and some 5 sections to get to the top. The trailhead starts around 9,000 feet and the total out and back trip will take several days and will total close to thirty miles. Here’s the kicker. There will be very little acclimation time. I will be landing at the airport near sea level, jumping in the car and heading to the trail head. There will be very little time to acclimate which means my preparation needs to be on point.
HOW AM I PREPARING?
I’m not concerned about putting some weight on my back and walking. Dr. Anna and I have already completed some challenging hikes this year.
And I just returned from Air Assault school for the Army which consisted of two rucks with 35 pounds and a rifle. One six miler completed in less than 1.5 hours, and a twelve miler which had to be completed in less than three hours. These were pretty easy.
What I will not have access to will be exposure to altitude. Until I get to the trailhead that is.
Since I will not be exposed to altitude prior, I will need to be in great shape prior to leaving. Here is what I am doing.
For aerobic conditioning I am following Chris Hinshaw’s programming through his aerobic capacity website. Specifically, I am following his running program “Running: developing engine and stamina.” I’ve followed his programs before and have found them to be very comprehensive in terms of general aerobic conditioning. He designs his programs for Crossfit athletes to establish an aerobic base. More research is showing the benefits of aerobic training and improving recovery both at sea level and altitude.
Anaerobic Training/Strength and Conditioning
Strength and anaerobic conditioning is essential for any type of trek. I am continuing to use the program put out by “Power Athlete” called “Johnnie WOD.” This program was developed by 11 year NFL veteran John Welbourn. Following his NFL career, Welbourn developed the CrossFit Football program, but has since departed from the CrossFit ranks and developed his own strength and conditioning program. I have used this program extensively in the past. I gain a great deal of benefit from his systematic approach to strength and conditioning and the dynamic movements they program.
I generally walk around at 215 pounds. I will bring that down to 205 for conditioning purposes. Right now I am at 209. Less body weight equals less stress on the body. Simple enough.
One means of improving the body’s ability to acclimate is strengthening the inspiratory muscles of breathing. Exercise is one way to do that. Another way is through practicing hyperventilatory breathing. Deep breaths with a shallow exhale for several 2-3 minute cycles. I practice this each morning.
Another means of training the body to acclimate to low oxygen environments is through forcing your body to acclimate to cold. I wrote a blog post several weeks back about contrast showers. I do a contrast shower each day, and once to twice a week I practice cold water immersion in an ice bath. Several studies have shown that cold water immersion can improve the physiological recovery from exercise as well as altitude acclimation. Will all this stuff work? We shall see.
Part 2 of this article will be completed when I return and will be a journal entry of our trip.
Part 3 may or may not be a blog post. I am currently trying to put together means of data collection during the trip. I intend to measure heart rate variability during our acclimation and trek. I will also be collecting pulse oximetry data, blood pressure, pulse rate, and subjective data will be gathered by utilizing the “Lake Louise Score” survey which measures symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).
If you’re interested (which if you’ve read this far, I’m assuming you are), stay tuned!