On the up
Climbers have to hurdle more than just sheer rock faces before reaching the summit--their bodies have to overcome lower oxygen concentrations too. Peter Hall and Colin Selby explains the body's response to a high altitude
- By: Peter Hall, Colin Selby
Many of us will have experienced that moment of inspiration on reaching a long strived for mountain summit. The crisp thin air adds a lot to the special atmosphere as you gaze at a stunning view. The obstacles have been overcome, but at altitude it is not just climbing that provides the challenge. Your body itself must cope with lower oxygen concentrations. It can in fact do so with amazing fortitude due to complex systems of physiological adaptation.
This first recorded description of the adverse effects of high altitude on humans dates back to 30 bc, when Tsee Hsn Shoo described the journey along the Silk Road in Karakorm.
Today, despite advances in the field of high altitude medicine, there is much morbidity and death due to high altitude. The primary cause of these problems is a shortage of oxygen available, or hypoxia. An increase in altitude changes the atmospheric