/ Acclimatisation for easy alpine routes.

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mrgleb - on 16 Jun 2017

Hello all
Myself and partner Tracey are off to Chamonix at the end of June for a couple of weeks and hope to do some of the low grade classic mountaineering routes/Glacier hikes in the Mont Blanc Massive after doing some climbs in the Aiguilles Rouges such as the Crochues Traverse and Index in the first few days before heading up high.

We are looking at putting together an acclimatisation program so we can get up to at least 3800 meters to do the Petite Aiguille Vert, Arete a Laurence and similar routes and if things go well the Cosmiques Arete.
We are not planning on doing any 4000 meter peaks on this trip.

Can anyone recommend a reasonable Acclimatisation plan.

Any advice appreciated.


Post edited at 09:25
Tommy Harris - on 16 Jun 2017
In reply to mrgleb:

Hi Graham

Maybe the normal route up Aiguille tour, easy snow plod, small rock section, not to high either, you can also get a night out at altitude staying at the albert premier hut.. I will be out there also and will most likely be around this area for acclimatising.

Good Luck and keep safe.

thlcr1 on 16 Jun 2017
In reply to mrgleb:

To be honest stuff like the Petite Verte and Cosmiques would often be considered as acclimatisation routes because of the quick easy access and relatively low altitude. Id second the Aiguille du Tour. Pleasant and uncomplicated, not to high and a night at the Albert Premiere hut which will be useful for acclimatisation. Id probably consider doing the Petite Verte before the Tour, as its a similar height but much less time at that altitude. Also worth considering something like the Petite Charmoz traverse. slight step up from the Aiguille Rouge, same grade as the index (although a bit harder from my recollection), and spend a night at the plan du aiguille refuge first. Also if you want some glacier work and a night in a hut at over 2700m, consider heading up to the Argentiere hut. Even if you don't do anything from there its worth it for the amazing views. Be aware the approach's to this can be heavily cravassed. Its possible to combine an ascent of the Petite Verte then descended the Glacier to Argentiere hut, although the cravasses can make that complicated. On which note some cravasse rescue practise is never a bad idea. Above all stay safe, even the easy routes can be dangerous.

mrgleb - on 16 Jun 2017
In reply to Tommy Harris:

Hi Tommy

Thanks for the recommendation. I am looking at the Aiguille tour in the Rockfax book and this looks perfect for us.
We have accommodation in Argentière so it looks like a short ride to Le Tour. A night at a hut will be great.


mrgleb - on 16 Jun 2017
In reply to thlcr1:

It goes without saying that we will be spending some time on the Mer de Glace and similar areas going through glacier travel and crevasse rescue techniques until we feel happy enough before venturing onto more challenging terrain !

Thanks for the advice. I think we are heading in the right direction

kenr - on 16 Jun 2017

For those altitudes, I think you can save lots of time by using chemical methods.
Happens I'm in the midst of my sea-level preparation for Chamonix mid-altitude climbing just now.

The chemistry of acclimatization for that altitude range is non-intuitive.
Key point to grasp is that the problem is mainly the low pressure of carbon dioxide (CO2) - (not so much the low pressure of oxygen).

Which is sort of a good thing, because it takes most people about two weeks to build more Red Blood Cells to address the low-oxygen problem. Also consider that if the main problem were low oxygen, you could solve it by just climbing _slower_ -- and you would experience little or no problem while resting in the hut afterward (because at these non-high altitudes there is still plenty of oxygen available to support resting metabolism).
But that's not what happens for most people.

Problem with low CO2 pressure in the air you breathe is that it sucks Carbonic Acid out of the blood, which causes alkalosis (in this case "respiratory alkalosis") -- your blood pH goes higher, more alkaline, less acidic. Lots of important biochemical processes are sensitive to having the wrong pH, so key part of acclimatization for mid Chanonix altitudes is your body learning / changing to get better at "buffering" carbonate / bicarbonate ions in the blood.

I'm not any sort of medical professional, but here's what I've learned to try to deal with that . . .

Chemical method #1: Get a prescription for acetazolamide.
Because that helps your body more quickly "learn" to buffer carbonic acid at non-high altitudes. Not expensive, and been tested and used by climbers for several decades.
There are well-known side effects: most obviously, acetazolamide is a diuretic.
Has no significant effect on Red Blook Cells or building more of them, so taking it will not help to win a bicycle race - (but its diuretic effect is sometimes utilized by cheating racers by ingesting before giving a required urine or blood sample to be tested for illegal drugs).

Chemical method #2: Breathe Low-CO2-pressure air in advance while still at sea-level.
Reducing the _total_ pressure of the air you're at sea-level requires expensive equipment -- which is unnecessary, since the main problem for mid Chamonix altitudes is CO2.
Instead you breathe air with total pressure at normal sea-level pressure, but with most of the CO2 replaced by H2O + N2 + O2.
There are chemicals that convert the CO2 in the air into other harmless chemicals including water H2O. The most well-known is "soda lime", which has been used for decades to remove CO2 from breathed air (or typically _re-breathed_ air).

So the mechanism is to have a cylinder filled with soda lime (or some other CO2 remover) open at its wide end to ambient normal sea-level air, and a tube out the other end which you breathe into your mouth. Then block the tube with your tongue (to prevent re-breathing the same air) while exhaling thru your nose.

Turns out that short intermittent intervals of low CO2 exposure seem to work. I usually only do an interval of 6:00 minutes at a time, with say two minutes breathing of normal full-CO2-pressure air in between intervals. Total of say like six intervals, so takes less than an hour for each session. Not more than one session per day.
What protocol (of intervals and rests and how often per day) works best (or what's dangerous) has not been studied.
So I suggest start light and slow.

Key point is that this low CO2 protocol is _intended_ to produce "respiratory alkalosis" -- whose symptoms (surprise!) tend to resemble those of Acute Mountain Sickness.
symtoms include lethargy and nausea,
so not a good idea to try a session immediately before a business meeting, or before operating machinery or driving a car.
. . . (First time I tried it like five years ago, I guess I overdid it, because I immediately took a three-hour nap in the middle of the day).

Most people use only Method #1

Post edited at 16:42
alexm198 - on 16 Jun 2017
In reply to kenr:

Interesting. Prophylatic use of diamox (acetazolamide) is a bit of an ethical grey area for me (and others I know) - it seems kind of like a 'performance enhancing drug' for alpinists. But I'm totally open to having my opinion changed if you think otherwise.

The second technique you mention - is that what Ballinger and Harrington used in preparation for Cho Oyu? Again, personally I think their ascent was a bit of a soulless dilution of high-altitude alpinism, but I suppose impressive in some athletic sense maybe.

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