All year the Kili trekkers have been busy preparing for our 19,334ft Kilimanjaro climbing challenge. We have been Beacons bound, fundraising as well a sourcing equipment and medication for the climb. Altitude has always been the unknown factor in the preparation equation with Diamox being our best option for counteracting the affect of reduced oxygen on our bodies. That is, until a few weeks ago, when we received the following message from Velindre and Professor Damian Miles Bailey from the University of Glamorgan:
"We are extremely fortunate in having a fantastic resource on our doorstep, something that could make it a little easier to achieve our goal of climbing Kilimanjaro. In Pontypridd at the University of Wales Science and Sports Department there is an oxygen chamber – the only one in the UK able to carry out this type of research.
We have been granted exclusive use of the chamber in the weeks leading up to our departure.
The oxygen chamber can replicate conditions on the mountain – in fact up to 30,000ft, and will improve your chances of conquering Kili.
When we are climbing Kili, less oxygen is available due to the decrease in barometric pressure (the weight of the atmosphere). If the ascent rate is too rapid, we all have the potential to become ill and develop a condition known as acute mountain sickness (AMS). This can be particularly uncomfortable since it is characterised by severe headache, nausea, tiredness and insomnia.
The research we would like to carry out revolves around how we respond and adapt to the physiological challenge posed by a lack of oxygen, and we will measure the blood flow to your brain using specialist equipment based at the Neurovascular Research Laboratory. This equipment (Doppler Ultrasound) measures the speed of blood travelling to your brain using a high-pitched sound wave that comes from an ultrasound probe. This probe is covered in a clear jelly and placed at the side of your head just above your ear. It is perfectly safe and is not painful.
We would also like to measure you “brain-power” using questionnaires (mini-interview) and amount of oxygen in your circulation using a probe placed on your finger tip (pulse oximeter). We will repeat all tests (except for brain blood flow) during our ascent.
Our research has identified that there is less oxygen in the brains of mountaineers who are more susceptible to AMS during expeditions to high-altitude. We think that those people with the lowest brain blood flow at sea-level will be more susceptible to AMS on Kili and brain-power will also be impaired due to a more marked reduction in oxygen.
These simple tests may serve as a “screening tool” to identify those individuals who are “at-risk” when travelling to high-altitude.
This is important information for the expedition doctor who may need to keep a closer eye and indeed treat the “susceptibles".
We can also develop special treatments to reduce AMS and thus improve your experience and ultimately summit success. This is especially important for us given Kili’s extreme height and easy accessibility given the high incidence of AMS.
Interestingly, many human diseases are characterised by a lack of oxygen (eg. heart and lung disease) and this model can provide unique, indeed alternative insight into mechanisms and possible treatments."
Unfortunately I had to miss the test as I was on annual leave but hopefully they will be able to carry out the test once the Professor returns from a Conference in Peru next week. The Kili-Turbo session started last week with 4-5 participants training for 30 minutes in the chamber at any point in time. They have 5 step boxes set-up within the chamber with a metronome set to 90 beats per minute.
At sea level we breath in air with an Oxygen content of approx 21%, week 1 in the chamber was set at 16% (approx 7000ft), week 2 has dropped to 14% (9000ft) followed by 2 weeks at 12% (approx 14,000ft).
As you can see Kili is going to be around 10% and we've already felt the effects of reduced oxygen. At 14% the metronome has been reduced to 80bpm and talking whilst stepping has proven to be a breathless experience.
I've complete 2 sessions this week, here are some pics of fellow trekkers Madeleine, Steve & Andy with Helen who looks after us whilst we are undergoing the Turbo sessions.
This piece equipment shows that the Oxygen level is set to 14.4%:
Let the stepping begin:
The control system monitors the Oxygen level (14.1% Blue), the humidity (50.3% Green) and the temperature (18.7°C Red).
Thirty minutes later and we're done with the next group ready to get going, Alan Morgan & Peter Philips from West Wales arrive for their session:
We are so privialeged to be involved in the research taking place at the facility as well as benefiting from this training opportunity. We are all hopeful that this last training boost will help each of us reach the Roof of Africa. Look out for an update on how we cope in the chamber once it's set to 12% Oxygen.