HEALTH & SAFETY
S2 guides are dedicated to ensuring your health and safety. We provide personal guidance and instruction prior to your departure. On the mountain, we manage risk through strong situational assessment, avoidance and mitigation. Our philosophy of mountaineering embraces a team dynamic that values vigilance, judgment and training. Join us and you'll learn the fundamental skills necessary to enjoy the high alpine landscape.
Our risk management plan is premised on thoughtful preparation, avoidance, mitigation and close communication with our members. S2 requires that guides be professionally trained and certified in wilderness first response. In addition, staff have specialized training in the assessment and management of health conditions common to high altitude. Your senior guide will be prepared to provide care in the event a health condition arises and, if necessary, employ protocols for removal from the area for advanced medical care.
High Altitude and Acclimatization
High altitude has a relative meaning. However, for our purposes we adopted the following measurements.
High Altitude is 2,500 to 3,500 meters or 8,202 to 11,482 ft.
Very High Altitude is 3,500 to 5,500 meters or 11,482 to 18,044 ft.
Extremely High Altitude is 5,500+ meters or 18,044+ ft.
People react differently to high elevation. Although there is significant research on the subject, the question of exactly who performs well or doesn’t perform well at altitude is evasive. There is agreement, however, that performance is largely dictated by personal physiology and experience at high elevation. The high alpine environment is a spectacular place to visit, but humans are generally unable to survive above approximately 17,000 ft. for any significant length of time due to a reduction in available oxygen. As elevation increases, available oxygen decreases. Consequently, a climber advancing up a mountain will experience greater and more acute fatigue as elevation increases. A climber at 17,000 ft. may survive for months while a climber above 23,000 ft. may survive for only hours. Remarkably, reports of people suffering from altitude at only 6,000 ft. are common in the Western United States.
Air at sea level comprises about 21% oxygen, while the barometric pressure averages about 1 bar (1000 mbar). As altitude increases, the oxygen concentration remains the same, but since the pressure falls, the number of oxygen molecules per breath is reduced. At 11,500 ft, the barometric pressure is only about 630 mbar (depending on weather), so there are roughly 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath. In order to supply an adequate amount of oxygen to the body, breathing must increase. This extra breathing increases the amount of oxygen in the blood, but not in comparison to sea level. Since the amount of oxygen required for activity is the same, the body must adjust itself to coping with less oxygen. This process is known as “acclimatization.” Failure to give your body sufficient time to acclimatize can lead to a dangerous condition known as acute mountain sickness.
Experienced high altitude mountaineers are familiar with their unique physiology and the rate at which they can advance up a mountain safely using the acclimatization process. Based on experience and strong personal awareness, these mountaineers understand how their bodies react to altitude. They also understand their limitations. Experienced mountaineers frequently have their acclimatization schedules and performance factors down to science. For example, a high performance mountaineer understands how much altitude they can achieve in a day (e.g. 3,000 ft.) before requiring time to acclimatize and continue to higher altitude. Further, the informed climber understands what amount of food and water must be consumed from base-summit-base to remain healthy. It takes years of experience to understand individual physiology and acclimatization. To achieve a full appreciation of the acclimatization process, mountaineers must also be familiar with common conditions that result from exposure to high altitude described below.