Monday, 14 November 2016

Why are Sherpas born mountaineers?

iz Quotes

Mt Everest Base Camp Trek. Chania. . Everest Base Camp Travel
Among Nature's  innumerable awe-inspiring creations, the mountains and the tall peaks  have fascinated the humans for centuries. Hence the American native Indians, Asian Indians, Sherpas and others even today associate them with divinity and  revere them.  The Hindus consider the peak Mt. Kailash (according to the Hindu mythology)  the abode of God Shiva. Ancient Greeks revered Mt. Olympus. There is no dearth of  stories of superstitions about mountains  in many cultures. Mt. Everest, the tallest peak in the world and  part of the Himalayan mountain chain is a natural wonder, considering its sheer size and height, piercing into the sky. Geologically speaking, the Himalayan  mountains are young and  were formed in the last orogeny - mountain building activities and are still slowly growing. 

1871climbing expedition-Walker family,Melchior Anderegg &Adolphus Warburton Moore. en.wikipedia.org
In 1492, Antoine de Ville, of France made the first ascent on  the Mont Aiguille, in France, with a small team, using ladders and ropes. It is believed to be the first recorded climb of any technical difficulty, and it marks the beginning of mountaineering.
Sherpa village. Mountain Tiger Nepal
In 1573 Francesco De Marchi and Francesco Di Domenico scaled Corno Grande, the highest peak in the Apennine Mountains.  In 1760, Mont Blanc in France was climbed.  Mont Blanc in France, was climbed in 1786. In 1854,  one  Sir Alfred Wills  made mountaineering popular in Britain and in 1857, Alpine Club was formed and by  the early 19th century  many of the alpine peaks were scaled. The first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 led by the English illustrator, Edward Whympermet ended with tragedy as four members of the team fell to their deaths.

In the 1800s mountaineering  in  North America, became popular. Pikes Peak (14,410 ft (4,390 m)) in the Colorado Rockies, was first climbed by Edwin James and two others in 1820. Heavily glaciated Fremont Peak (13,745 ft (4,189 m)) in Wyoming was  summitted by John C. Frémont and two others in 1842. Later several peaks in the Americas were climbed by the mountaineers, despite inadequate gear. 

It was during the colonial period in the Indian sub continent, serious steps were taken to measure the exact height of Mt. Everest under Surveyor General George Everest. Final Geodetic surveys established that Mt. Everest was  the tallest peak in the world. 

The term mountaineering is a form of sports  involving climbing to reach the highest point, hiking  and also skiing. Commonly it involves  rock climbing, as well as crossing glaciers. Mountaineering has three special areas - rock-craft, snow-craft, and skiing, depending on whether the route chosen is over rock, snow or ice. It is a risky sport that needs  experience, athletic ability, mental agility and technical knowledge to maintain safety under adverse weather conditions.

In British India several trained European mountaineers made futile  attempt to scale Mt. Everest because of several hazards and lack of safe mountain gear.  No body could forget George Mallory and his partner Andrew Irvin who disappeared near the summit in 1924. After the first ascent on the peak by Eumund  Hillary and Sherpa Tensing Norgay in 1953, innumerable expeditions have been made by teams from many countries. Women also made their foray decades ago and several world records have been made by the enterprising mountaineers. thanks to the use of modern mountaineering gear.

The expeditions to Mt. Everest were made possible for the foreign mountaineers by the Sherpas - an ethnic group native to Nepal. They also live in Bhutan and Tibet. They have amazing mountaineering skills because of their centuries-long association with tall mountains. World over, none of the ethic groups have this kind of skill and dexterity as the Sherpas have. Hence, Sherpas not only act a guides but also  as porters to transport prospective climbers gear up hill. Surprisingly, they have tremendous endurance and stamina to leap around at higher altitudes near the snow line with minimum available oxygen. Invariably, they are the ones who lead the party of mountaineers to set the route for them, taking all kinds of risks. They excel in the art of mountain climbing and no body is a match for them. Their expertise for foreign climbers is quite indispensable as  they naturally have  better  physical endurance and stamina  than others to tolerate oxygen poor environs at higher elevation.
Sherpas of Mt. Everest. The Planet D
What is the reason behind their natural tolerance and ability?    what are  biological secrets that make Sherpas the best  mountaineers? Obviously, there are some biological reasons  behind  natural climbing ability.  

Mount Everest is the ultimate testing ground for  adventurers  to stretch their limits of human endurance in an oxygen - starved atmosphere. Being  the tallest peak in the world at 8,847 meters above sea level, low oxygen at that altitude is major hurdle for the mountaineers. But, it is not for the Sherpas who, on the high mountains,  tolerate such low levels of oxygen with ease, a trait that keeps them apart from others. 
Xtreme research team conducting  experiments  at the base camp, Mt. Everest. edition.cnn.com
It was in  2013, the 'Xtreme Everest' research team led by Denny Levett, a consultant at Southampton hospital and  a founding member of the team  conducted medical experiments on Sherpas and other volunteers at high altitudes to figure out the reasons behind Sherpas' ability to  thrive at such heights. The aim was to know  more about hypoxia --  a situation when not adequate oxygen reaches the body's organs -- a condition that affects many intensive care patients.
Sherpas the true heros of Mt. Everest. The Cosmosphere

The study was conducted in  the research lab set up at the base camp of Mt. Everest and was based on the various tests carried out, using 180  volunteers that included 116 healthy volunteers living in low land locations and 64 Sherpas, during and after a climb to Everest base camp. The volunteers were subject to further tests at 3400 level and above 5000 meter levels above MSL.

 The following  are the conclusions  made by the researchers:

01.  The secret behind this ability lies in their cells;  The Sherpas have unique  mitochondria - human cells that respire to give energy; this means they use oxygen very efficiently. So, their inherent ability lies in their cells and their  mitochondria were much more efficient at using oxygen at higher levels.

02.  Regarding genetic reasons behind the Sherpas' adaptations to high altitudes, we have to take inference from Darwin's theory of natural selection  and adaptation. For centuries, they have adapted to living on the high mountains, so breathing  comes easily for them in the thin air.

03. With  Oxygen levels at its summit just one third of those found at sea level, according to Levett, fewer than 6% of humans are capable of making the climb without supplementary oxygen.

 04. Altitude sickness will set in at  higher levels. When non-Sherpa  climbers reach 3500 meters, following morning, they may feel sick or have fever or hang over. Sherpas do not experience this because of adaptation and  better survival at high altitude.
 

 05. The Sherpas' mitochondria function more effectively at different higher elevations. They  get more energy for less oxygen in-take, unlike us. Among non-Sherpas, this adjustment was not noticeable.

06. Yet another important  factor is micro-circulation  - blood circulation  that occurs in the smallest blood vessels and determines how well oxygen reaches muscles, tissues and organs. Sherpas have normal micro blood circulation, whereas others do not have good circulation within the small veins.

 07. When blood flows easily through small veins more oxygen gets to the  tissues and it maintains the energy efficiency  of mountain climbers. Chris Imray, professor of Vascular and Renal transplant surgery at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire gives importance to the value of blood flow through small veins.

08. At higher elevation increase in blood flow  in the brain  caused by low oxygen level may lead to swelling as blood fails to drain out as fast as it goes in.

09. Sherpas' amazing physiology and its adjustments on higher mountains is a subject of great medical interest and will be of use to mankind in the near future.. 


Tit-Bits - Some records made by the Nepalese:

a. Apa Sherpa holds the world record for most successful climbs on  Mount Everest with 21 ascents. Sherpa, Phurba Tashi, is the other joint record holder.

b. Lhakpa Sherpa: seven times.  Most ascents by a Napalese woman      

c. Ang Rita:  Ten times. Most summits without supplemental oxygen - May 23, 1996

d. Pemba Dorje:  8 hours and 10 minutes - Fastest ascent from Everest South Base Camp without supplemental oxygen. May 21, 2004.

e. Kazi Sherpa:  20 hours and 24 minutes -  Fastest ascent from Everest South Base Camp without supplemental oxygen.

f. Babu Chiri Sherpa:  21 hours -  Longest stay on the summit.  May 6, 1999.   

g. Min Bahadur Sherchan: 76 years 340 days - oldest man from Nepal. He climbed Everest in 2008.

Surely, when it comes to hop around the tall, rugged mountains, none can compete with the Sherpas of Nepal  and, indeed, they are extraordinary humans.


For further reading:

The biological secrets that make Sherpas superhuman mountaineersBy Meera Senthilingam, for CNN;Updated 1139 GMT (1939 HKT) October 7, 2016 or
http://edition.cnn.com/2015/11/11/health/sherpas-superhuman-mountaineers

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/pop_ups/03/sci_nat_everest_anniversary/html/3.stm