This past Wednesday, Chris Davenport ramped up his Colorado fourteener backcountry skiing quest by making a high quality descent of Kit Carson in the Sangre de Cristo range in the southern part of the state. Sangre peaks are hard to find in skiable condition, though all are usually skiable for a few weeks in spring. To get Kit Carson in December is exceptional. Congratulations Chris and his partner Ted Mahon! Full trip report at Dav’s website.
While quick stabs at 14,000 foot peaks don’t usually result in altitude caused health problems, if you spend a long day up high or have to emergency bivouac you can be in for some hurt. I’m not particularly prone to altitude problems, but do have some discomfort when doing things such as going from home (6,000 feet) to spend the night at a high altitude Colorado hut. To learn more about this issue, my wife and I attended an interesting presentation in Aspen last evening at the Given Foundation.
I’d seen another Peter Hackett lecture a while back, and knew he has a dry sense of humor and vast experience (medical doctor, Everest, 10 years doing research on Denali) that combine for amusing and informative talk. This time Hackett was lecturing more in his role as a medical doctor and researcher, so I wondered if it would be too stuffy or technical. Not to worry. Hackett spoke to the professionals in the audience, but was careful to translate medical terms for the layman and keep things practical.
|Peter Hackett M.D. at the Given Foundation in Aspen last evening.|
Of particular interest was Hackett’s work with the ginkgo biloba herb in limiting the adverse affects of altitude. Hackett’s project involved taking college students who live at around 5,000 feet elevation up to the summit of 14,115 foot Pikes Peak, where they spend the night and let the miserable effects of altitude sickness ensue. One group of students takes ginkgo, and one takes a placebo. According to Hackett, during one study the ginkgo group did much better, and during another study there was virtually no difference. He said they had the ginkgo analyzed, and sure enough the amount of active ingredients varied so much that it appeared to have compromised the study. Take home idea: try ginkgo, but check brands at Consumer Labs and buy product that has consistent amount of active ingredient.
Other ideas Hackett covered were using drugs such as Diamox and Viagra to prevent or treat altitude sickness. He mentioned taking a single small dose of Diamox for easier sleeping during the first few nights at altitude. That sounds like something to consider for Colorado hut skiing. As for Viagra, his quip that it “dilates two bodily organs, and one is the lungs” got everyone laughing. But in all seriousness, it’s known that doses of Viagra do help with altitude, though word is that the dosage is below that required to dilate the other organ. Another important tip from Hackett was to simply avoid alcohol during the first night at altitude, something we Colorado hut skiers should take seriously if we want to enhance the quality of our trips. Hackett was also adamant about how beneficial caffeine is for dealing with altitude, which received many “thank God’s” from the audience.
Always good to learn more about any aspect of mountaineering, and this was no exception. If you get a chance to attend any Peter Hackett lecture you won’t be disappointed.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.