Why write this book?
In 2004 I came to a complete stop, early on a sunny day, just 100 vertical meters shy of the summit of Broad Peak (8047m). Besides missing the summit, I wanted to know why I flamed out. I wasn't altitude sick, I'd climbed higher before–what was the problem? Likely, dehydration from several days of under-hydrating.
But this got me thinking. While there were many excellent books on altitude illness, there really wasn't a good reference on high altitude performance. By this, I mean 'how can you reach your performance goals given the obstacle of high altitude?' Your goal may be to take your kids on a hike and get back to the car before dark, or to solo a major Himalaya climb; both require a certain level of performance.
Books such as Mark Twight's Extreme Alpinism deal mostly with training and technical aspects of climbing.
Books on altitude medicine help determine who is sick, then determine the proper treatment.
The Altitude Experience is for those who do not have altitude illness and wish to be safer/faster/stronger/smarter while traveling at altitude.
I do cover altitude illness and cold/heat injury, but my book is not meant to replace other books by medical professionals that focus on the diagnosis and treatment of altitude illness.
What's in the book?
Here are the main themes that run throughout the book:
- You are unique. Nobody else will respond to altitude like you, so it's unlikely that a simple list of rules (as found in many magazines) will allow for maximal performance.
- Travel at altitude will usually involve cold, heat, and dehydration. All of these environmental factors interact, and understanding how they do is critical.
- You can't perform well unless you understand exercise physiology, and particularly the crucial role that the brain plays in determining performance.
How to use the book
This book is designed to be useful at several levels. Some chapters are filled with 'how-to' advice, some contain a lot of science and can be tricky to understand. So here are some tips for the average reader:
- Read the Introduction and Chapter 1 so you'll know what to expect.
- Skip over anything that seems too detailed. Don't worry about understanding all of the science (in fact, just ignore it if you wish). You can always come back later and work on it if necessary.
- However, Chapter 2, pages 13-18 and Chapter 3 (Exercise Physiology) should be carefully read as these themes are used throughout the book.
- Don't look for simple rules. They probably won't work for you, even if I gave them to you.
- There are recommended readings associated with each chapter. These were stuck in the back of the book by the publisher, so don't forget them. They are the next step for more information.
- Finally, keep in mind that the science changes and some of the ideas and conclusions in this book (and any science-based book) will prove to be incorrect. Before you trust your life to any one theory, dig around and be sure that people still think it's true!