Winter Alps; tips for dealing with altitude & extreme cold

Over ninety percent of all of my mountaineering experience has been gained from climbing on Mount Blanc in January. The first time I donned crampons in anger it was walking off Aguille de Midi January 3rd 2004 after a night sleeping rough in Chamonix. In the following few days I learnt a lot about living in the cold – the first lesson being after 5 minutes; a platypus hose is utterly pointless.

When getting my annual cold-fix I typically fly out from London on an early morning flight and, by 5pm, I am dug in to the side of the Mt.Blanc massif with enough supplies to stick it out a week. Its pretty cool – however being prepared for the cold and sudden increase in altitude is pretty important.

Climbing in the Winter Alps, especially if your sticking it out for extended periods is generally tough and, from what people experienced in Summer Alpine climbing say,  it is incomparable. In the summer 2 routes in a day can be a blast but in winter, when contending with the environment and it’s effects on your body, if you get 2 decent routes in a week and you haven’t done badly.

Dealing with the cold

The weather in January at 3,800m is generally pretty brisk, and I have experienced everything from sunny pleasant mornings where it feels like +5°C (until any wind picks up) to bitter cold in the regions of -35°C or lower. The general temperature is -15 to -20 and it is often very windy meaning the wind chill can be severe enough to freeze exposed skin and make talking difficult due to the cold’s effect on your mouth and face.

Long term exposure in temperature likes this, especially while on routes means a high risk of cold injury. Typically in the form of frost nip or frost bite but the cold dry air can also accelerate dehydration. If you have the right clothing hypothermia should not be a likely problem unless you end up in a very exposed bivi in bad weather/very extended belay.

Nathan Murphy
Back in the day.. 2004

Sleeping:

  • In winter it is so cold a down sleeping bag is generally fine – not much is going to melt on to it – so it is unlikely to get wet very quickly
  • It is good to melt tomorrow’s water in the evening – put it in a platypus or water bottle and put it in your sleeping bag – this can really make things toasty
  • Sleep with anything you do not wantContinue reading “Winter Alps; tips for dealing with altitude & extreme cold”

Hydracare – Idea to IP sale

Hydracare was a project which aimed to reduce dehydration in hospitals and care homes – a problem sadly still poorly addressed. It started while at university and the patent/surrounding IP was eventually sold in 2012.

I came across the problem of dehydration after obliterating my foot in a climbing accident that required me to spend 8 days in a French hospital. After leaving the hospital with a rucksack and directions to where I could purchase crutches & injections I was prescribed to inject myself with – I made my way to Paris and hitched a lift back to the UK where I started to research my injury with the precision of someone who has a 30% chance of not walking properly again and with a job that was not taking up all of my time.

If you break your Talus in half there is a chance the bone will die causing you life-long problems.

I cannot remember where, but there in an online medical forum a woman was writing about how her husband, after under going reasonably significant surgery almost died from dehydration – which caused further surgery to be carried out at (I think) a loss of a limb. Again after that operation he became dehydrated and further complications ensued. All the man needed was water on a regular basis – but somehow this was not being administered.

It turns out that dehydration can significantly slow the progress of recovery, and if serious can cause further complications. In need of a project for university and sensing I was on a rich vein I Googled ‘Dehydration problem’ which I suspect today will have people asking the same questions and pointing out the same issues.

Dehydration is a big problem – especially with the elderly.

My research at the time shown the dehydration problem to cost 80,000 bed days in the UK alone (one bed day is estimated to cost £600+) and costs even more through dehydration caused illnesses and accidents. In the US, Medicare paid out over half a billion dollars for patients diagnosed with dehydration, in one year; dehydration is a global problem.

 Elderly patients often don’t want to drink due to poor thirst mechanism, water is often changed by cleaning staff and, with nurse shift changes it is currently very difficult to monitor patient water consumption. The elderly, especially, need constant reminding and monitoring, if the carers don’t notice a patient not drinking, within a short time it can lead to a long hospital stay, from which many never fully recover.

 In hospitals dehydration causes post surgery complications and can reverse a patients condition, again it’s very hard to prevent. If hospitals used this product it could save millions of pounds just from bed-days saved resulting from improved recovery rates.

 At home the elderly need to be reminded to drink, staying hydrated prevents dizziness (caused by low blood volume) and falls upon standing. Elderly with care support could be given independence for longer preventing them from having to move in to nursing homes.

Project..

As a Brunel Industrial Design student – for me it was important to build a product of some kind. These days, if I wanted to make a tangible difference I would probably lean towards lobbying and trying to change how dehydration is viewed on a legislative level. Either way I designed a product and through entering competitions IKB Awards I was able to get low-cost access to a Patent Attorney who patented they key basis of the product; a drinks container with a monitoring and alarm means.

Hydracare simply reminds patients to drink and alerts staff if too little water is consumed. The product can be used in hospitals and care homes as a bed side unit, or can be used by the elderly in the home potentially with family, day carers or the elderly person themselves using the devices’ feedback. In a care setting carers are able to identify those who are not drinking within one day; preventing serious problems and possible legal action from the patient’s family. The design was shaped with significant input by care professionals with the aim for it to be a simple and inclusive design although admittedly it is fairly over-engineered from a commercial/production point of view.

The project I won a few competitions including a Medical Futures Innovation Award a grant from UnLtd and a couple other minor cash wins (IKB Award, Bright Ideas Award, Reliance Prize of Prizes Award) which in the most part went on the project or went into future ideas.

Dehydration Prevention

I could have moved faster on the product – but it took several months before the Tech Transfer department at Brunel renounced their claim to 75% of my IP; a ridiculous practice considering I am a fee payer not an employee – I was pissed off to say the least. After University, and a bit of travel, I made attempts Continue reading “Hydracare – Idea to IP sale”

Free climbing on The Nose

Ok – so Oli Lyon and I arrived in Yosemite for what was to be a month long trip and we started out hitting up a few shorter valley routes, a bit of sport climbing and we were struggling to adjust to the style of climbing – we needed something to toughen us up a bit. So, more-or-less on a whim, we decided to climb The Nose – probably the most famous rock climb in the world – an incredible line up the prow of El Capitan.

El Capitan; The Nose approximatey taking the line of the shaddow

The next day we started getting things ready; food shopping, preparing water bottles and organising gear.

The gear for climbing the route was the usual generic stuff as in the typical-gear-shot picture below; and the other stuff we took was as follows:

Sleeping: 2x roll-mats, 2 sleeping bags + bivi bags, portaledge with fly
Living: Spare teeshirt, down jackets, synthetic jacket, rock shoes, trainers (for jugging), sun glasses, sun cream, camera (cannon g12 & oli’s pimp one), go pro, speakers/mp3, torch, lip balm
Cooking: MSR Reactor, two plastic spoons & forks, pen knife, lighter x2, 1 mug, 1 med gas canister (NOTE: CAUTION I would never use an MSR reactor again – they have a tendancy to break and be totaly unfixable – in some places this is game over!)
Climbing: Approx 40 cams (as we planned to free climb needed a few more), nuts, some hooks, mini trax, 1 set of aiders, jumar straps, belay device & gri-gri each, 2x daisy each (& other generic climbing hardware) topo, 70m climbing rope, 60m trail line/ab line (half rope), 100m haul rope (sponsor English Braids), tape (we accidently got shit stuff so basically didn’t use it), chalk
Food & water: 3.5ltr/day + a can of coke each per day, tea & coffee, mike cartons (free from deli), 1 pop-tart each/day, 5x lunch, 4x dinner, 4x breakfast
Shitting: Toilet paper, duct-tape for sealing it up

Breakfast (for two): 2 pop tart, 2 sachets of oats
Lunch (each): 2 cliff bars, half a bag of dried fruit/sweets
Dinner (for two): Packet of cous-cous, half jar of sause, 1/4 block of cheese (or 1/2 a salami sausage or tuna can).

Our mighty 52 cam collection (thanks to friends!)

So – we planned to spend 5 days on the route – but fixed ropes to Sickle Ledge the day before to make it even easier. We were going to aim to free climb as much as we can so we were in no rush to do the job. My first trip to Yosemite we only speed climbed – it was awesome – but now to get a flavour of hauling and doing it the slow way.

The other aim was to get some cool photos for supporting brands Rab & English Braids Ropes.

The next morning we got up – geared up – and got to the base of The Nose ready to free climb the first 4 pitches. We roshambo’d for the lead – Oli won and fancied leading second – so I got the first two pitches. The first pitch was actually pretty tough compared with the 5.10d grade – although early mornings and first lead of the day is never that great. The pitch is up a crack/pin scars – which have been ground smooth by countless aid placements. I messed up one sequence and took a small fall on a RP.

My climbing improved after this – less sloppy – and the 2nd pitch – which goes around a corner and up a steep crack was burly, a bit harder, but went really well – feeling more ‘in to it’ and climbingContinue reading “Free climbing on The Nose”