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Surviving Denali See text links below for navigation
 
Body Breakdowns
by Gay Mohrbacher

Body


Intro | Head | Eye | Nose | Cheek | Lips and Arm
Throat and Chest | Stomach | Calf/lower leg | Foot


Climbing at high altitude can be nauseating, dizzying, and it can kill you. It's cold up there, and let's face it, humans have evolved to live in relatively warm climates. If had we had evolved to live in constant cold, our bodies might have grow thick hair all over, we might store more fat, and our body shape might be rounder and shorter to prevent heat loss. In addition, Denali is one of the highest mountains on Earth. And the higher you climb, the thinner the air is and the harder it is to breathe.

Weather on Denali can be severe—with white-out snowstorms and winds at 100+ mph. Temperatures can feel as frigid as -100° F. The ability to recognize and treat cold and altitude injuries can mean the difference between a dream trip or a nightmare.

Click on different parts of this climber's body and check out just SOME of the things he could be experiencing. How would you like to be in his (cold, damp) shoes?

NOVA Want to see what's happening to John Grunsfeld's body right now on Denali? Then check out How Hot Is John?

If you want to know what other kinds of dangers you can face on Denali, then check out Survival Skills.



Head

Symptoms
Headache that doesn't go away. Feel drowsy. Face looks puffy.

Problem
acute mountain sickness (AMS)

What do you do?
Drink fluids, rest. Stay put at camp for a few days until you get adjusted to this elevation.

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Eye

Symptoms
Eyelids swell and ooze.

Problem
snowblindness (eyes are actually sunburned)

What do you do?
Wear eye protection with lenses that filter out more than 90 percent of harmful rays. Eliminate chance of burning the corners of your eyes by wearing side screens, too.

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Nose

Symptoms
Skin looks white or waxy. Feels hard.

Problem
frostbite

What do you do?
Warm up skin immediately; put hands over nose. Best treatment is re-warming skin in warm water.

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Cheek

Symptoms
Red, tender skin. Cracked, scabbed and bleeding skin.

Problem
sunburn

What do you do?
Wear sunblock on every inch of skin not clothed. Apply it under chin and nose, too. Reapply often. Avoid exposure during the middle four hours of the day when two-thirds of the sun's ultraviolet radiation happens.

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Lips and Arm

Symptoms
Speech is slurring. Muscles are shivering.

Problem
hypothermia

What do you do?
Your body needs to be warmed up! Replace wet clothing with dry. Get out of wind. Drink hot fluid. Add layers of insulation. Apply heat.

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Throat and Chest

Symptoms
Harsh, dry cough that's worse at night. Lungs rattle with fluid.

Problem
high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE)

What do you do?
DESCEND to a lower altitude. Stay warm. If this goes untreated and you become oblivious or unconscious then you've got high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and could die within hours.

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Stomach

Symptoms
Intense cramps (with diarrhea).

Problem
giardia

What do you do?
Boil water to destroy the contaminates you're picking up from melted snow. Wash hands regularly.

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Calf/lower leg

Symptoms
Swollen and painful. Pale or even bluish.

Problem
clot (or thrombophlebitis)

What do you do?
Loosen the clothing around the leg. Take aspirin. You'll need to be carried down the mountain.

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Foot

Symptoms
Looks swollen/shiny and spotty. Feels numb and wooden.

Problem
trench foot (or immersion foot)

What do you do?
Air dry feet, then keep dry socks on. Check feet daily. Recovery can take weeks and be extremely painful.

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