Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Nepal 2012 Mountain Slow

Controlled by heartbeat and breathing rate, it's the pace you can sustain all day long.

Many people have asked me 'how far do you walk in a day?' and 'how fast do you walk?'.

'How far' is a flatlander perspective. I can walk many miles at a quick pace, all day long, on the flat prairies of Saskatchewan (Midwestern North America). In the Himalaya Mountains of Nepal there is no flat, so progress is measured in elevation gain, rather than distance covered. My most difficult day in Nepal covered only 2 miles(3 kms), but we climbed a vertical elevation of 3690 feet(1124 m).
'How much elevation' is the Nepalese perspective. 


At any altitude, there is physical exertion to walk and to climb. But at higher altitudes, our bodies deteriorate, muscles balk at working on 50% oxygen levels, and the brain wanes with lethargy. This is the time to learn to walk 'mountain slow'.

 Mountain slow is a style that is sustainable all day long 
without raising our heart rate
without increasing our breathing rate
without sweating
So we must adjust both our stride and our pace to accommodate.

In the low-altitude valleys on flat terrain, we can keep a pace of 3 miles/hour (5 kms/hour), with our full-length strides. Our trekking team kept close together, as we all had similar paces.

As we approach the higher mountains over rugged undulating terrain, we slow our pace and shorten our stride, and adopt our own individual 'mountain slow'. When climbing steps, I would move 6 feet(2 m) laterally to avoid a 6 inch(20 cm) rise. This saved a lifting effort, while giving my body a rest and kept my heart rate and breathing rate normal. Our trekking team had a wide range of 'mountain slows', so we often got strung out and completed our days at different times.

But at the high-altitudes above 21,000 ft (6000 m), on 60%-74% slopes, we climb VERY slowly.  
  • Plant a foot.
  • Rest 30 seconds.
  • Struggle with mind demanding GO, and legs retaliating with NO
  • Force your body to raise and plant the other foot.
  • Rest 30 seconds.
  • Check your stride. A full stride is less than the length of my boot!
  • Force your mind and body to repeat, mindlessly. For hours.

At high altitudes we are very aware of the primary functions of our bodies. We don't think.  
Consciousness is focused on the feel of our heart, and the feel of our breathing.  
If we start breathing faster or feel our heart rate increasing ... STOP RIGHT NOW! ... slow our breathing and heart rate back to normal.  It takes humility and discipline to stay at our own personal 'mountain slow' pace. Continuing to push often results in an instant, screamer, fall-to-your-knees headache (This is a symptom of Altitude Sickness, and the only treatment is to descend). Many times we see powerful young climbers push beyond their mountain slow, and are forced to descend. And we also see older not-so-strong climbers keeping their mountain slow, and methodically reach a summit.

Mountain Slow isn't a measurable pace.  
It's a humble acknowledgment of personal ability
and the discipline to stay within.


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