Rapid acclimatisation | Uphill Athlete

Rapid acclimatisation

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  • #3987

    I read the article on here about David Roeske’s very impressive oxygenless double summit of Cho Oyu and Everest:

    A Himalayan Odyssey

    What struck me was the unusual acclimatisation strategy- he just turned up at Cho Oyu ABC, rested one day then went for it without oxygen and succeeded which is incredible. I would have thought this would almost certainly lead to a serious case of HAPE or HACE.

    Most people spend weeks making progressively higher acclimatisation trips on 8000ers before going for the summit, often with oxygen.

    So how did David manage to do this? Obviously he is one seriously tough customer, but before I read this I thought this approach would have almost certainly lead to altitude sickness and failure

Posted In: Mountaineering

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    Anonymous on #3990

    As they say in the commercial: Don’t try this (what David did on Cho Oyu and Everest) at home

    BUT you can do what David did at home before his climb I can almost guarantee that you will climb like you have never climbed before.

    You are very right in your assessment of David’s toughness. That was his key to success from the first day I started coaching him. While no one we have worked with have managed togo from Base Camp to summit so fast we have seen similar and faster rates of ascent (m/hr) and O2-less ascents of 8000m peaks by several other athletes we work with. While David may indeed have some predisposition to acclimate quickly (Is he endowed with the altitude gene?) I do know that we have used similar training protocols with many athletes and seen many successes doing so leads me to ‘think’ that the key is the aerobic capacity. Allow me to explain.

    A high aerobic capacity allows you to make the most of the limited O2 you are going to find at 8000m with minimal metabolic stress. We see this in any accomplished endurance athlete at normal altitudes. That high AeT means not having to relay on the glycolytic system (which induces a great deal more metabolic stress. Systemic stress is one thing you don’t need more of at altitude. I first began to notice this effect with myself in the 70s and 80s when compared to my partners I felt more at ease at altitude. With my extensive aerobic back ground some dots began to get connected for me. I used the same principles when I started to work with Steve and we both saw the same effects as I’d seen in myself. Since then Steve and I have used these principles on many climbers and seen nearly universal success.

    As further verification, the opposite seems to hold true. It has been our observation over many years when guiding clients, or observing other climbers on big mountains who do not have the aerobic base training, that they are much more susceptible to HAP and other altitude maladies. These poorly aerobically adapted climbers were/are forced to rely heavily on their glycolytic systems for energy because the aerobic system could not provide the needed power. This disturbs the delicate homeostasis of the body’s systems not the least of which is that it greatly increases the bodies acidity. If you recall from our book; your body has a very narrow pH window in which it can optimally function. This is just one small (but potentially debilitating) part of the added stress caused by the over reliance on the glycolytic system.

    While I can’t quote any study to back up my assumption, I do have some pretty strong anecdotal evidence and the theories defining how we produce ATP support my arguments. This is why we keep beating that aerobic horse. We speak to many people each week and often hear tales of how “hard” someone is training. They “leave it all in the gym”. They do “4 Crossfit workouts a week”, or some other comment, no doubt meant to impress us with how serious they are about their training. Then they tell us they have read our book and are big believers in our training methods. You can imagine the time it takes to disabuse them of so many wrong headed ideas.

    David had a very high aerobic work capacity, this is the aerobic base we keep harping about in our book, on this website, in our training plans and with all our clients. David was already a very accomplished runner with quite respectable marathon and 10k times for a non pro runner. So, I knew the aerobic base was there along with the ability to suffer. However he was a Thoroughbred and needed to become a Clydesdale. There is not enough O2 at high altitude to power the Fast Twitch muscle fibers needed to move fast. To turn him into a plow horse required a mind shift for him to slow down and first; do a lot more vertical and much less flat/fast running. After a few months I began to add weighted climbs. If this sounds familiar it should, because it is the same stuff we talk about on every page of our book in virtually every article on this website. It is not rocket science but this shit works. Yes, very few will see the gains David did. But, very few will come into the program with his basic fitness. But EVERYONE who applies these training principles will see aerobic gains proportional to the time they spend training. This is no guarantee that you can may a speed ascent of an 8000m peak with little acclimatization. But, in our collective experience and judgement it will set you up for the greatest chance of success.

    Colin Simon on #3992

    I think David’s rate of ascent makes sense. I managed to tag my first 7000m peak pretty quickly, and I had been “training” for about 6 months before that. In retrospect I see that I made some big mistakes, like including long days that are better described as fitness utilization than fitness accumulation. I also went there just a month after returning from a 7-week Alaska trip, so I was well adjusted to mountains but not ideally prepared for peak physical performance. I just had a good opportunity and wanted to go anyway.

    I also do NOT have a respectable marathon time.

    It did feel a little bit like playing with fire, but I always felt strong enough to descend quickly by myself if needed.

    David’s article doesn’t really discuss his level of proficiency in moving across alpine terrain. I believe if you are truly comfortable moving in crampons, you are well-positioned to descend quickly should you feel the onset of altitude sickness.

    Mariner_9 on #3994

    Hi Colin,

    Please can you explain what you mean by “fitness utilization than fitness accumulation”?

    Colin Simon on #3999


    In the spring before an alpine climbing trip to Alaska I did a bunch of full-day, technical alpine climbing objectives like this:


    Or this(in winter as a mixed route):


    These both involved alpine starting at 2-3:00am, and 18 hour days car to car. I lost a bunch of sleep the day of, and felt pretty tired the day after. I think I had these two climbs about a week apart so that I would be fully recovered.

    If you consider Scott’s last post in this thread:

    Cardio: Is it better to split the long runs, or do them in a few big sessions

    The way to tell if you within your aerobic capacity for a give day’s outing is to see how you feel the next day. If you feel like you could do another day just like the last one then then you are for sure not exceeding your current work capacity. Easy to moderate aerobic work should allow full recovery within 24 hours. If you are dragging yourself around the next day and still tired 48 hours out from a long ski touring day given workout then it was probably excessive for your current training status.

    Then it is logical that these 18-hour days were definitely overexertion and not going to build fitness.

    The sleep chart that Scott Semple posted in this thread also drives home that repeatedly alpine starting might make you mentally tough but you will degrade yourself physically:

    Cardio: Is it better to split the long runs, or do them in a few big sessions

    Hopefully Scott can chime in again and make sure my perception is accurate!

    Colin Simon on #4027

    Also, Mariner,

    The “weakend warrior” article touches on this in the chronic vs acute stress part.

    The Weakened Weekend Warrior

    Mariner_9 on #4030

    Thanks for the clarification – makes sense.

    Anonymous on #4034


    The topic of Capacity vs Utilization training is one I have written and spoken extensively on. You can apply it to and sort of training. Here is an article that we adapted for rock climbers but it uses the exact same concepts and is easily applied to more aerobic based events like mountaineering or big alpine routes.

    I hope you find this useful.

    Colin Simon on #4038

    Scott, I think you forgot the actual link!

    Anonymous on #4044

    Hi Colin. I suspect Scott meant this one: https://uphillathlete.com/capacity-training-vs-utilization-training/

    Steve House on #4248

    Also remember that David was on routes, given his abilities, that if at any time he felt like he was getting AMS, HAPE, or HACE, he could turn and virtually run down to lower altitude. Remember the 3 cures for altitude illness? Descent. Descent. Descent. This same approach, done on a technical route with a difficult descent, like Denali’s Cassin Ridge, would be much riskier.

    When I climbed Cho Oyu in 2001 via the normal route I went from the summit to ABC in something like 5 or 6 hours, a descent of 2,400 meters or so (going off memory here). So it’s possible to loose altitude very very quickly.

    But this is all predicated on fitness. Thanks for posting!

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