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Fire: Restoring an Energy Crash in the Mountains

Posted by Joseph Anderson

FIRE: Restoring an Energy Crash in the Mountains

In June of 2008 I was on the last quarter mile before getting my team to camp 4 on Denali when things came to a screeching halt.  We were so close to wrapping up what seemed thus far a routine day on the West Buttress of Mt Mckinley and suddenly my rope team was slowing to the point that progress seemed impossible.  I looked back to see one of the stronger team members, Gary, stumbling and becoming completely incapacitated.   At seeing this I reached into the top pocket of my back pack and grabbed my last Belly Timber.  I marched over to Gary and told him to eat.  At first he refused but I told him it was not an option.  After about 15 minutes of hydrating and digesting we got up and jogged into camp. Of all of the decisions pertaining to both fitness and ones well being in the mountains, the choices and habits of providing yourself with fuel are paramount. They impact the safety, success and the enjoyment of your trip.  In the case of Gary’s experience on Denali all of the requirements for a successful turnaround were most likely present.  Here are some important points we can learn from.

Fitness:  The most important thing you can do in and out of the mountains is to maintain a healthy level of fitness throughout your life.  This doesn’t mean you need to be an athlete.  You’re body should be able to sustain prolonged levels of exercise, more than 1 hour at a time.  A healthy body is able to rebound.

Healthy Eating Habits:  Eating balanced meals on a daily basis allows your body to work more effectively and thus rebound more efficiently.  When you’re in the mountains and eating possibly less than ideal or nutritious foods you’re body will react better and process more efficiently due to your healthy baseline.

Maintain a big appetite:  Any time I’m running a big multi-day climb and someone has little to no appetite after a big effort there is a red flag. This is one of the clearest signs that this person will not make the objective.  Once you’ve taxed the body to the point that the thought of food makes you nauseous you are looking at about 5 – 7 seven days of recovery.   If you’ve put in a huge day of effort and you can’t eat without feeling like you’re going to vomit than you should call the current expedition over and start thinking about how you can better prepare on your next attempt.

Use the Bathroom:  One of the biggest mistakes I see people make, especially on shorter trips is they refuse to eliminate once nature calls.  Your body puts in extra resources towards maintaining your poop…Get rid of it.

Carry Energy Gel…But don’t eat it:  Unless you are actually running or doing some kind of cardiovascular powered race, real food is a better energy source.  Energy Gels are an attempt to mimic all of the quick recovery nutrients you’re body needs in a meal while still being able to digest while racing.  Real food is still better and lasts much longer.  Eat the gel as a last resort…it is your first aid.  Otherwise it becomes more of an addiction than a sustainer.