Medical Screening on Aconcagua

I haven’t updated my blog for some time now about Aconcagua itself, so it’s about time that I did. Firstly, in case anyone is wondering whether I am still doing it, I can report that I most certainly am. I had a feeling a short while ago that I might not be though, and will explain more below.

West face of Aconcagua
Firstly though I can say that Aconcagua will happen this December. I am probably in terms of overall training more or less where I need to be. There are issues though. I have for example, done a lot less gym work this year than last, so my core strength and upper body strength are way behind where they need to be. This is a problem, because on Aconcagua the climb is not supported past the half way mark, and I therefore will have to carry around 20kg (or more, but basically everything that I need for the trip). Looking then at the picture above of the west face of the mountain fills me with a bit of dread, as it does not exactly look like a walk in the park (who am I kidding, it looks ridiculously hard). On the other hand, my legs are in pretty good shape, at least as far as performace on the flat is concerned, and that is essentially due to running.

Now running is not something that I thought I would ever be talking about on my blog. The simple reason for that is that (until this year) I have never run at all, and never in fact been able to. There were three reasons for this. Firstly, I could never, as far back as I can remember, run distances at all. Even as a kid at school, I was the one who hid behind a building somewhere when they did the cross country. I was just hopeless. Secondly I had asthma for most of my adult life, and when I tried to run I smply got out of breath and had to stop. Thirdly, I just never really tried. I had a sedentary lifestyle, and smoked too, and that’ll put the lid on most activities you ever try. Stopping smoking (about four years ago now) was the best thing I ever did for me. It simply changed my life for the better.

I now in fact find myself in serious training for the Great North Run, a half marathon (the world’s biggest I believe, with 56,000 participants), which takes place later this month. I’ll blog more about that in a later post, but am glad to report that I am now up to running about 50km a week (or should I more aptly say I ran, or jogged, a total of 50km last week for the first time).

Anyway, the reason for me talking about even the possibility of not going to Aconcagua, and indeed the title of this post, is blood pressure, and specifically, high blood pressure. I should explain quickly that I don’t suffer from it, or haven’t in the past, but was recently slightly alarmed by a letter that I received from Jagged Globe, with whom I am making the Aconcagua trip. The letter was titled “Medical Screening on Aconcagua, and went on to say that the Argentinian Park authorities have recently introduced a ‘superficial’ screening programme based upon blood pressure measurements at two of the camps on the mountain. It further explained that if you ‘fail’ the test on the mountain, then you will be refused permission to proceed.

This was a shock it has to be said. It seems it was to Jagged Globe too. The reason the test has been introduced is that the park authorities have ‘decided’ that high blood pressure is a precursor to potential altitude sickness. There seems to be some medical debate on this matter, and indeed a divergence of opinion altogether as to whether hypertension can be linked to altitude sickness at all. Jagged Globe even sent a medical paper along to support what they describe as an over zealous policy. However, regardless of whether they agree with it or not, they rightly point out that it would be rather a good idea to get your blood pressure checked out beforehand. Obviously if you have high blood pressure at sea level and not under the strain of either exercise or high altitude, then you are likely to have the trip end in severe disappointment without even a chance of attempting a summit of the mountain. More is explained in the link to the medical journal below:
I therefore searched online to find someone who could do a full medical exam for me. Going to your GP is hardly going to give you piece of mind either way as far as I am concerned, and Bupa came up trumps. They offer a full fitness assessment, where they test blood pressure, VO2 max, and all manner of other oxygen intake/uptake levels under duress. The tests were pretty rigorous, and involved being on an exercise bike with various tubes in my mouth and electric diodes around my body for an ECG test at the same time.

I’m very happy to say that I passed the tests with flying colours, that my blood pressure was ‘normal’, and that my VO2 max (predicted, not a full test as it turns out) was 46.9. Furthermore, the ECG revealed ‘no irregularities’, even under duress at an anaerobic state. I was pleased with the results, and therefore it means that there are no reasons now why I shouldn’t go to Aconcagua, not that I was looking for one in the first place of course.

So meanwhile my training needs to step up a gear or three. I fly to Argentina in less than 13 weeks from now. It’s going to be the biggest, and hardest by far, adventure of my life. I need to get very seriously into the right zone……