Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cold Acclimation

This winter is actually working out very well for my everest preparations. Sunday was an interesting day. When I went outside in the morning it was 4 degrees Fahrenheit and it didn’t feel too bad. One moderate layer jacket was enough. No gloves were necessary for traveling from car to building. I don’t think I have ever been this comfortable at 4°F. 

Then in the evening I went out to eat with a friend who was spending his last night in town. I walked home well after dark in 2 degrees Fahrenheit wearing jeans, a tee shirt and hoodie and with one bare hand holding my leftover pasta at all times. My fingers did get cold so I changed hands a few times, but overall, it was not very bad. I could have walked farther. The fact that I was wearing so little clothing and nothing on my fingers in 2°F weather is surprising to me. Yet I have spent more time running in sub 20°F weather this winter than ever before. We have had dozens of very freezing runs so far. Yes, I did run on the coldest day of the year, although the warmest part of the day, outside when the temperature was -11°F and the windchill was -35°F. All of the runs, trips from cars to buildings, walks downtown, and even time in my sometimes frozen van are contributing to me being acclimated to the cold. I am withstanding temperatures that were mind boggling to me only weeks ago. 

I still get cold, but this is really great preparation for Everest. I think that while we focus on the altitude acclimation, the cold acclimation is a big part of success on 8000 meter peaks too. Better acclimation to cold means doing the little things like tying boots, taking pictures, clipping safety lines, just a little more efficiently because you are less affected by the temperature than a lesser cold acclimated person. 

In Pakistan in 2009 I felt that the actual temperature was kind of irrelevant most of the time. If it was cold, I put on more clothing. If I was hot, I took off layers, my hood, or unzipped my jacket. Since there is less atmosphere the temperature swings seem more dramatic. At camp two, at 20,300 feet in the dark in the morning my -50°F boots did not warm my feet up very fast, yet in my tent the day before I would be laying there shirtless hiding from the sun! However, when you are preparing for below zero temperatures, 55°F seems like a hot day on the beach. 

The one thing I have been doing is going gloveless a lot more often than a sane person would in these temperatures. I even run with snowballs in my hands when the temperatures are in the 20s and 30s. My hands could easily mean the difference between life and death. Making sure that my body can adjust to cold weather and keep my hands dexterous and thawed at all times could mean success, or "failure" in the strictest sense of making it to the top or not.

People on focus on the material preparation, or the aerobic and strength preparation, but it seems few give any thought to longer term metabolic or circulation changes, like running with snowballs in my hands. I would drink antifreeze if it would not kill me and I thought it would make my body able to operate at -40°F wearing only a tee shirt and jeans. Extreme, I know, but the point is by moving the baselines in which I am comfortable and safe, what was deadly is now tolerable. Let's face it, Pheidippides probably died because he hadn't trained well enough. I don't intend to make a similar mistake.

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