Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Ralston Peak

Where to start? Shall I chronnicle how I like/hate to torture myself or should I just write down what I set out to learn and learned instead. I'll go with the latter.

First of all the drive behind all of this is that I like to climb things. I like the physical challenge and I love the view that you don't see under any other circumstances. The bummer is that I've been having real challenges at altitude and I've been trying to figure out a way to deal with this. Also I have an awful lot in common with the kitty cat who climbs up the tree and doesn't know how to get down. Well sort of. I know how to get down I just find it a miserable, painful experience when on dirt (snow is better). If I could get a helicopter to pick me up I'd do it.

Sunday I climbed Ralston Peak (photo) which won the contest of 9000' mountains that are easy to get to (it's 9235') and semi-close to the Bay Area. The trailhead is located at Camp Sacramento on Highway 50, and took me just under 3 hours to drive there. It's a 4 mile hike in, though I wound up taking a use trail which shortened the distance, but was harder, so I went back the regular way.

I did this hike for fun and curiousity (never done it before) and to try to answer some questions about why I was having difficulty climbing. The trail starts at 6500' and climbs up to 8800' before turning off to climb the peak itself. The use trail peels off around 8200' and heads up. I started out at a very brisk climbing pace (around 2.6 mph) up a somewhat steep in places trail. I was doing great and was comfortably climbing at a pulse rate of 150-160. Then at some point in a steep section it climbed to the leg burning (anaerobic) rate of 165-170. I got through that and was ok but right around 7500' I hit a wall. Suddenly my muscles pretty much stopped working. Every step was a huge effort. What's weird was that I wasn't out of breath, and I wasn't sick. This was my experience on Shasta and it is nice to be able to replicate it fairly easily and inexpensively. This is what I came to wrestle with.

The one thing I wish I had was an oximeter to verify my theory. I've resisted getting one as well it's money and it's not like it would change my behavior and it's not really a training tool (though I may be able to turn it into one). I started to pressure breath where you take deeper breaths and forcefully exhale to get the old CO2 out of your lungs. Doing that helped and I was able to climb more but at a much more measured pace.

I came to a use trail and took it thinking it was the main trail but others thought it was and it wasn't until I was most of the way up that I could tell from my GPS that it wasn't as I was going straight up the south face and the main trail overshoots that face and goes up the less steep ridge. Now above 8000' and on a steeper non-maintained use trail, I am crawling, but had already decided that I wasn't going to stop as I'd just want to come back and, of course, I wanted to see the view from up top. Taking a break helped, but it was really frustrating watching some other hikers comfortably hike much faster. The other possibility was that it might be an endurance issue but at Shasta I'd had a night's sleep and was still slow so that doesn't seem likely.

I finally got to the top. The wind was howling and I own a huge debt of thanks to Patricia for introducing me to the Marmot Windshirt. With it I was comfortable up there and could even hang out and shoot a short video.

Then I had to hike down. The first part off the peak itself was surprisingly easy. What was hard was the long 3.5 mile slog down the steep climb with the big steps (gentle downhill is not a problem). I turned my ankle and fell and was worried about doing it again. I put on my spikes and that helped a lot and probably should have put them on much earlier. It was a struggle the whole way. Each step down took way more effort than it should have and I cried out of frustration at least once. My body was yelling at me: "why, oh why do you do this?" and I don't have a good answer for the downhill, especially downhill on dirt with big steps down (and I use trekking poles which makes it even possible.)

Good sense is telling me that I should limit most of my climbing to biking and skiing and snowshoeing (or at least hiking on snow - which is much nicer to fall on and I know how to stop "self arrest" if I fall on a snow slope), but this doesn't yet address the altitude problem. I'm nearly to the point of trying supplemental oxygen but that's not readily available.

Because I can't stop thinking about it, I ordered some more mountaineering books when I went there to order a different book. Silly but cheaper than getting hurt falling down a rocky slope.

Maybe I will get that oximeter or maybe I should just bring along that personal oxygen I already have.

But I'm not moving to Tahoe. I love it here and I'm closely identified with the ocean and large bodies of water.

If I do this again I'm just going to do up to where I slow down. That's only about 2 miles up so I would be relatively fresh coming down. Maybe after I get married - I'm still sore from this one - need time to forget and that hasn't happened yet.

Did some google research and found plenty of evidence that altitude can have a very significant effect on muscle fatigue. Here's one ref.


They and other talk about live high - train low. Unfortunately that's not going to happen with me. For someone to see a genuine adjustment to altitude (more red blood cell) they have to spend at least 20 days at altitude and more than a month is better.

Maybe I should check out supp. oxygen. [later] I did, and affordable oxygen really doesn't last that long, but I could use it occasionally. References are many and confusing and I have yet to sort them out.

I think I would like to work on this altitude issue more just so I can ski/snowshoe/snowclimb higher.

I think I'll head to Tioga Pass Rd in Yosemite while it's still open in October and try some short hikes above 8000' with out Diamox (in case that's a factor) and with an oximeter.

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