Sunday, July 28, 2013

High Altitude Success Secret: Beards

THIS ARTICLE is based on a study done by the Wisconsin Institute of Physiological Performance Science in which oxygen utilization by mountaineers on Everest was examined. The oddball result of this:

By 7,500 metres, the bearded sample showed, on average, a 7.3% rise in ORI compared to the clean-shaven mountaineers, by 8,000 metres, the gap had grown to 10.7% and on the summit, bearded climbers were processing oxygen almost 15% more efficiently, a differential which could mean the difference between life and death in Everest's harsh climate.
So apparently, there is a positive effect of allowing your beard to grow out while on a mountain. Since the subjects of the study were encouraged to grow or not grow facial hair, the potential for chicken/egg effect was diminished. In this case you would be left wondering:

  • A) do climbers who allow their beards to grow become more efficient at utilizing oxygen?
  • B) are climbers who are better at utilizing oxygen naturally more inclined to let their facial hair grow?

Letting my beard grow for the cause

Trail running at 9,600' with facial hair for better oxygen utilization
Since I had my first over-exposure to a biting cold wind on Rainier in April of 2007, I have had to allow my beard to just do its own thing. I trim it with electric clippers to a very short 1/32" about every two weeks In the meantime it can become as long as 5/16" if I'm eating normally. I think protein consumption and exertion or training levels do have some impact on this.

I have to say that on every one of my speed runs on a Colorado 14'er I have been a bit on the shaggy side. I have also had great success on Kilimanjaro, Orizaba, and Carstensz with a fair amount of facial hair. Based on my own anecdotal evidence, I suspect there is something to this theory. I hope to hear more positive mountaineering results obtained from other lapses in hygiene...

Resting in the tent to allow the best possible facial hair growth