Mt. Kilimanjaro – Week 15: High Altitude Breathing

High Altitude Breathing

Mt. Kilimanjaro is the world’s tallest free-standing mountain and it stands 5,895 meters (19,341 feet) tall. To put that in perspective, it’s about 11 CN Towers stacked on top of each other, or 15.5 Empire State Buildings stack on top of each other. (Mt. Everest, the world’s tallest mountain in a mountain range, stands 8,850 meters high).

Most people can ascend to 2,400m or 8,000ft without experiencing any major problems. However, the higher you climb, the less oxygen there is to breathe, which creates a problem when participating in physical activities. I’ve been reminded: it doesn’t matter how fit you are for the climb, it’s all about how your body reacts to the higher altitude and how well it can cope with altitude sickness (AS).

To have a successful climbing experience, you must train to be physically and mentally prepared to tackle Mt. Kilimanjaro. Sure, we can all hit the gym a few times a week, weigh train, go out for a run, and chant positive affirmations to boost our confidence before climbing. Yet, it can be difficult to prepare for the higher altitude and AS.

What is altitude sickness?
“Current thinking is that hypoxia (low oxygen) in the air and blood causes the blood vessels of the brain to dilate in an attempt to get more oxygen. Something about this vasodilation causes the headache. And because there is more blood in the brain, the brain is slightly swollen. Although everyone going to high altitude has slight brain swelling, it is worse in those who develop acute mountain sickness. This swelling causes pressure on the brain as it is squeezed against the skull, and the pressure might be the cause of the symptoms.”1

What are the symptoms of altitude sickness? Headache, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, mental confusion, nosebleeds, fatigue, shortness of breath, drowsiness,  insomnia, and in severe cases, fever, loss of consciousness, and retinal hemorrhaging…just to name a few.  Altitude sickness can be fatal, and the tour guides leading us to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro take extreme precautions to ensure everyone on the climb is feeling okay.  We will take a slow route to the top: 7 days to summit, each day trekking about 6-8hrs. Trekking slowly will help everyone acclimatize.

How can climbers prepare for the high altitude? 
Climbers need to strengthen their diaphragm and increase their lung capacity which will help process oxygen more efficiently. Interval training is a great way to prepare for higher altitude as it strengthens your heart/lungs by elevating your heart rate quickly, allowing recovery time before elevating the heart rate again. For example:
– Go for a light jog for about 10 minutes
– Once your body is warmed up, run as fast as you can for 60 seconds (which will increase your heart rate)
– Then slow back down to your regular jogging pace for 3-4 minutes (allowing your heart/lungs to recover)
– Then run as fast as you can for another 60 seconds…and repeat 4-5 times.

In addition to the interval training, you need to focus on deep controlled breathing.
– Imagine the spot just below your navel
– Take a deep, slow breath, filling that spot in your abdomen with air
– Let the air slowly fill the abdomen up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon

Climbers can also complete one of the following breathing exercises to help simulate higher altitude:

fat-straws1Straw Breathing:
– Place a regular drinking straw in your mouth
– Slowly inhale through the straw, allowing your abdomen to fill with air
– Slowly exhale through the straw
– Complete this exercise for 5 minutes twice a day
– When your feel your body is used to this type of breathing and it’s not longer difficult, try a straw with a smaller width (i.e. start off with a bubble tea straw, then move down to a regular size straw, then a cocktail straw, and finally a coffee stir stick straw)





The Potato Sack:
– Lay on a flat surface
– Place a 10lb bag of potatoes on your diaphragm (this will help simulate the pressure at higher altitude, and help build your diaphragm muscles)
– Slowly inhale through your nose allowing your abdomen to fill with air
– Slowly exhale through your mouth
– Complete this exercise for 5 minutes twice a day

Fundraising Update:

As of today’s date, I’ve raised $6,771 for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation! Very close to my $7,500 goal!

Training Update:

In addition to the my average daily walks of about 7K, this week I completed the below.

June 22 – 28
Monday: 6K Run (30min) + Beach Volleyball (1.5hrs)
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Back, Arms, and Leg strengthening exercises (1hr 15mins) + 3K Run
Thursday: Shoulder and Leg strengthening exercises (1hrs)
Friday: City walk (2hrs) + 5K run (25min)
Saturday: Rest
Sunday: Rest


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s