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Technical climbing at altitude

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Postby rhyang » Thu Apr 22, 2010 5:42 pm

A friend mentioned melatonin last weekend. Apparently he sometimes takes it to help him sleep at altitude (sleep seems necessary for acclimatization). I usually don't have problems sleeping if I've had a strenuous enough day beforehand.

I'm still thinking of experimenting with it .. the sleep research center at Stanford did a study several years ago that had to do with melatonin and people with fairly complete cervical spinal cord injuries. According to them, melatonin is naturally produced by the pineal gland in the brain, and this gland is somehow wired down through the cervical spinal cord. At the time I talked to the doctor in charge of the research, and he said that my injury probably wasn't enough to damage this wiring. Probably ..

Anyway, I did a forum search and found a few older threads. Any thoughts on melatonin since then ? Brands, dosage ?
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Postby CClaude » Fri Apr 23, 2010 5:16 am

Dosage, Brand..... sticky subject. Supplements aren't regulated by the FDA unfortunately. Look for things that conform to cGMP standards even though they don't need to since the supplement field doesn'tg need to comform to such rigor. What yesterday may be awesome in the supplement field may be crap today (had this discussion of why having the FDA being such a sticklier at label claims is a good thing even though it cost manufacturers $10M or $1B of dollars since I'm at a conference today).
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Postby rhyang » Sun Aug 15, 2010 8:58 pm

It's strange now to think that I was worried about being able to lead above 13000' this time last year. But I managed to lead the crux pitches on BCS N Arete and the Swiss Arete this summer.

I seem to acclimatize more slowly than before my accident. So for some of these routes that people might do in a day I go in and camp, both to acclimatize and reduce the approach distance, since I have less stamina than before. And where some people might be able to do the climb and pack out in a day I might spend the night at high camp before hiking out. My left leg gets kind of wobbly after enough talus-hopping and/or sliding around in slushy afternoon snow.

Sometimes I have trouble sleeping above 11000' or so, and sleep seems critical to acclimatization. Melatonin seems to help, as does diamox (though I try to use it sparingly). The dosages recommended to me by friends seem to work.
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Re: Technical climbing at altitude

Postby NReyes » Thu Oct 28, 2010 8:56 am

I hear a lot of people talk about medicines etc. but never about the use of oxygen. I never used medicines or other methodes for quick acclimatization (so I know how AMS feels like). The best thing to prevent AMS or worse is taking the time to acclimatize. But there are a lot of (cheap) oxygen bottles available. Are those of any help at high altitude?
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Re: Technical climbing at altitude

Postby asmrz » Thu Oct 28, 2010 5:49 pm

Robert, there are so many things to enjoy in the outdoors, so many things to do. Some of us just should not go very high! Aclimatisation is genetic. Some of you are Olympic level athletes at elevation, and you might not even know it. Others will just not be able to aclimatize, no matter what we try. I have had serious athletes friends who could not handle altitute, incredible rock climbers, who just could not go high. Others, slow as the rest of us in the Sierra, would run at 25,000 feet, away from all of us. So why not do the activity that provides most safety while giving us the most fun and challenge? If the body keeps saying no when going high, listen to it?

On the other hand, if you feel ok, you can get better by going up there often. We used to try to force the body to adjust, by driving to the Sierra Friday night, climbing to 14k on Saturday and back to sea level on Sunday. We did this for many years and it became totally routine, with less and less symptoms. But I have never had issues (OK at least not with altitute) and neither did my close climbing buddies, so what do I really know.
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Re: Re:

Postby rhyang » Thu Oct 28, 2010 8:10 pm

Vitaliy M wrote:
rhyang wrote:I managed to lead the crux pitches on BCS N Arete and the Swiss Arete this summer.

Melatonin seems to help, as does diamox. The dosages recommended to me by friends seem to work.


Are you planning to come back one day and do these routes free of performance enhancing drugs?


Yes, in my next life :D But with my luck I will be reincarnated as an alpaca :shock: :shock: :shock:
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Re: Technical climbing at altitude

Postby Kai » Fri Oct 29, 2010 7:01 pm

What altitude do you live at?


rhyang wrote:I'm slowly coming to terms with the possibility that technical routes above about 12000' are not realistic for me. Despite my best attempts at acclimatization, usually by 13000' I'm moving extremely slowly. Scrambling and snow-climbing seems to work out, if I schedule enough time .. but I can't imagine trying to lead, say, 5.7 feeling like that.

I've read that the autonomic nervous system is routed through the upper spinal cord, above T6 (my injury is somewhere below C4). I wonder if control of heart rate / breathing at altitude is somewhat compromised. I don't seem to have a problem at lower elevations, but am somewhat weaker than I used to be. Maybe altitude simply exaggerates this..

The first thought I had was diamox, but I wonder if that would really help .. AMS is not a problem, sluggishness is.

On a related note, do people find that they have to downgrade their lead level for altitude ? Let's say you lead 5.10a at the crags .. do you prefer to lead 1 or 2 levels down in the mountains ?
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Re: Technical climbing at altitude

Postby rhyang » Fri Oct 29, 2010 7:47 pm

Hey there Kai and Alois -- thanks for the notes, but for my purposes this thread is done -- problem solved. I just hope it can be of some help to others in the future who are facing similar obstacles.
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Re: Technical climbing at altitude

Postby fatdad » Fri Oct 29, 2010 10:13 pm

Rob,
I'm glad you had your successes this summer. Very late chiming in but I do believe that Diamox can be (depending on who's taking it) a big help. I've seen that personally with my wife.

I'm not sure whether someone's mentioned this already, but your fatigue at altitude may just be a result of you not scaling down the difficulty compared to what you climb at much lower elevations. If your limit is leading 5.8 at the Valley, that same 5.8 at 13,000' is going to do a smack down on you. For that reason, many people approach routes on things like the Diamond, which tops at over 14,000' with lots of respect. With the altitude, the cold, fatigue from the approach, etc., you're not going to perform nearly as hard up there.
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Re: Technical climbing at altitude

Postby rhyang » Sat Oct 30, 2010 3:00 pm

fatdad wrote:your fatigue at altitude may just be a result of you not scaling down the difficulty compared to what you climb at much lower elevation


Probably true in theory, but in practice I did not find this to be much of a factor, at least if I made sure to acclimatize decently and minimize the approach. Maybe more true at higher grades or for more sustained routes I'd guess.

Every spinal cord injury is unique -- it's a complex picture, because it doesn't just affect certain muscles, but the entire body. Things like talus-strewn approaches and descents are actually more tiring to me than the actual climbing, for whatever reason. My left leg is weaker than the right, and certain lower leg muscles get fatigued quickly by those kinds of things. I think that's what psyched me out last summer.

I did Bear Creek Spire's North Arete this summer as a three day trip. A lot of folks can do it as a day trip, but I can't. When I got back to camp at Dade Lake I was done, exhausted. I wobbled my way back down the talus.

Part of my success this past season has been finding partners willing to go at my slower pace who I can swap leads with. I am not willing to lead newbs up alpine routes -- I am just not strong enough.
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