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J Wilderness Med. 1993 Feb;4(1):17-26.

Acclimatization and tolerance to extreme altitude.

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Department of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla 92093-0623, USA.
UCSD, La Jolla, Dept Medicine


During the last ten years, two major experiments have elucidated the factors determining acclimatization and tolerance to extreme altitude (over 7000 m). These were the American Medical Research Expedition to Everest, and the low pressure chamber simulation, Operation Everest II. Extreme hyperventilation is one of the most important responses to extreme altitude. Its chief value is that it allows the climber to maintain an alveolar PO2 which keeps the arterial PO2 above dangerously low levels. Even so, there is evidence of residual impairment of central nervous system function after ascents to extreme altitude, and maximal oxygen consumption falls precipitously above 7000 m. The term 'acclimatization' is probably not appropriate for altitudes above 8000 m, because the body steadily deteriorates at these altitudes. Tolerance to extreme altitude is critically dependent on barometric pressure, and even seasonal changes in pressure probably affect climbing performance near the summit of Mt Everest. Supplementary oxygen always improves exercise tolerance at extreme altitudes, and rescue oxygen should be available on climbing expeditions to 8000 m peaks.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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