DAY 25 - Rotation

Published on 4 May 2022 at 07:42

Morning! All going well and the rest break in Kathmandu is allowing me to get some proper sleep, recharge with an abundance of fresh food and reset my body batteries ready for the ultimate finish to this expedition.

My own experience of high altitude mountain climbing is, apart from the obvious of it being a massive feat of determination and endurance, it’s also about being smart and responding to the machine that propelling you up the hill - your body. There’s no award or accolade for exhausting yourself beyond your bodies capabilities, by showing you can be first up or endure more than others, no the smart play is to keep an eye on the whole game and react accordingly, if you can rest then rest, if your can eat than eat. This is about preservation of the resources you have and deploying and restocking as you go to complete the task, everyone’s different and everyone must deal with their own needs — Nims for example I’m sure hangs out with the other planetary superhero’s whilst we’re all sleeping but the rest of us mere mortals must work differently to achieve our goal and its rest, eat, sleep, repeat for me whilst we hang out in Kathmandu. 

A few people have asked me about the rotation phase of the expedition and what is it for and what does it do. If you think of the expedition as split into two phases - Phase 1 is the trek from sea level to Basecamp at 5,365m elevation and Phase 2 is Basecamp to Summit at 8,849m elevation. Phase 1 normally starts with a flight up to  Lukla in the valley at 2,860m elevation and then a long trek from there normally carried out over the course of 6 to 10 days, broken down into daily 5 to 7 hour treks with a few rest days that allows you to slowly acclimatise to the rising elevation as you go, some won’t acclimatise at all and will have to go down but in general most make it to basecamp tired and exhausted but good enough to get their photo by the basecamp trekkers point stone and see into the Khumbu icefall before returning the route they have worked so hard to come up with their photos and memories.

Climbers going higher get themselves set up in the team basecamps and spend several days letting their bodies adjust to the altitude, hoping their blood oxygen levels will get above 90% and stabilise and thus they are ‘acclimatised’ to the basecamp altitude and daily tasks start to become more normal rather than the Herculean effort they were when you arrived as your body struggled to circulate enough oxygen to your muscles to get you moving - this process just takes time, nature takes it’s course and the body adapts.

After this your attention turns to Phase 2 wondering how you are going to get up to 8,849m, people will do it differently, some will go all the way to the summit without any supplementary oxygen (a task that will take them right to the very edge of human capabilities) , some will start oxygen as low as Camp 2, some at Camp 3, each using a flow rate to suit to get them to the summit. Before switching to oxygen though we need to go higher into the mountains to altitudes where  new red blood cells will be created that will increase the flow of oxygen around our bodies enabling us to normalise our heart rate and regulate hyperventilation. These red blood cells last around 120 days but its no exact science how long the actual acclimatisation lasts, so we climb up to new levels, spend some time and come back to  basecamp to create this process and slowly we become acclimatised to the higher levels and are able to operate without extreme exhaustion, historically there would be at least three major rotations to hike up to around Camp 3 level and back down to base camp to acclimatise but Nimsdai, our exped leader has adopted a single rotation approach, we push up hard as high as Camp 3 sleep two or three nights at Camp 2 and then descend and that’s our rotation preparation done, it’s pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and is hard work but that’s the system we are on, our trust in Nims that it’s going to be enough for us.

As I mentioned the red blood cells last for around 120 days so our six days in Kathmandu shouldn’t affect our acclimatisation (hopefully) but there’s still a little anxiety around it as the only way we will find out is when were back on the mountain, freezing, sucking down oxygen and avoiding avalanches! There’s another side to it also that the rotations give you some experience up part of the route, once done it’s easier to go again, in my experience, with less surprises and you’re more able to judge the distance to go than the soul destroying trek of climbing over ice wall after ice wall and seeing no end in sight, your confidence grows as you reach Camp 1, Camp 2 and then Camp 3 - maybe getting a bit of the Nimsdai superpowers yourself!


Fingers crossed x

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