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“Hypoxia expedition” successfully completed

With Nancy Hansen (r.) and Ralf Dujmovits in the DLR hypoxia chamber

And suddenly the call came from space: “Here is Alex”. At first Ralf Dujmovits did not know who was talking at the other end of the telephone line: “Alex? Then I suddenly recognized the voice I had heard two days earlier during the broadcast of the rocket launch.” Alexander Gerst inquired from the International Space Station (ISS) about the condition of the German climber and his Canadian partner Nancy Hansen in the hypoxia chamber of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne. “It sounded like he was sitting next door.” For a quarter of an hour, Ralf, the first and so far only German climber to have scaled all 14 eight-thousanders, spoke to “Astro Alex”, the first German astronaut to take command of the ISS. “He was very interested in our experience in the lab. That was great.” Of course, Nancy talked to Gerst too. For both climbers it was a “real highlight”, says the 49-year-old Canadian.

Date

18. June 2018 | 15:16

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Prince and princess in the hypoxia chamber

Visiting Ralf Dujmovits (r.) with mask

Bottled oxygen on a mountain has always been out of the question for me. On principle. Today I made an exception – for a “virtual mountain”. To be able to visit Ralf Dujmovits, the only German mountaineer who has scaled all 14 eight-thousanders, and his partner, the Canadian climber Nancy Hansen, it is mandatory to use a breathing mask. After two weeks in the hypoxia chamber of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne, the two test persons have reached the simulated target altitude of 7,112 meters. The percentage of oxygen in the air, normally 21 percent, was gradually reduced to eight percent by adding nitrogen. “It’s like climbing a mountain. The acclimatization is almost done, now we’re heading for the summit,” says Ralf. “The time on the summit will be of course much longer.”

Date

31. May 2018 | 0:23

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Dujmovits: “We are in good hands here”

Ralf Dujmovits and Nancy Hansen

The doors have closed behind Ralf Dujmovits and Nancy Hansen. The so far only German climber who has scaled all 14 eight-thousanders and his Canadian partner moved in a 110-square-meter hypoxia chamber of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne on Tuesday. As reported, the two mountaineers are participating in a study conducted by DLR in cooperation with the University of Texas to investigate whether extreme hypoxia can also have a positive side effect for human beings. US researchers from Texas found in two experiments with mice that heart muscle cells devided when the animals were exposed for two weeks to oxygen deficiency corresponding to conditions at 7,000 m. In mice which had previously been triggered myocardial infarctions, cardiac function improved after two weeks of hypoxia.

Medical control around the clock

Monitor in the control room

Ralf and Nancy, both healthy, are the subjects of the pilot study. They are to stay in the hypoxia chamber for about a month. In the first few weeks, acclimatization as on a Himalayan expedition is simulated. The oxygen percentage in the air will be gradually lowered and temporarily increased only twice in between – as if the two climbers would descend again to breathe thicker air. The last two weeks, the 56-year-old German and the 49-year-old Canadian are to  spend in a simulated height of 7,000 meters. The experiment can be stopped at any time in case serious problems arise. A DLR research team monitors Dujmovits’ and Hansen’s state of health around the clock. The daily schedule includes heart and lung function checks, blood and urine tests, fitness checks and so-called “cognition tests”, which check the reaction and perception of the subjects.

Yesterday, I visited the two climbers in their new “home”. That was possible on Wednesday for the last time without breathing mask. After more than half hour in a simulated altitude of about 3,700 meters, I felt a little bit dizzy. I preferred to do the interview with Ralf subsequently in thick air, by phone.

Ralf, you can not get out, there is no daylight, and the oxygen is lowered. That does not sound like a holiday apartment.

Date

17. May 2018 | 15:49

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Before Kibo expedition: Into artificial altitude

Hypoxia training at home for Mount Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro is calling. In three weeks I will set off for the highest mountain in Africa. Of course I want to reach the summit at 5,895 meters. But that’s not the only reason for the “Kilimanjaro Summit Challenge”. The other 23 expedition members and I will also participate in a research project of the Philipps University Marburg on altitude sickness. The doctors who will accompany us will take blood samples and examine us daily. Also psychological tests are planned. The risk of suffering from high altitude sickness on Mount Kilimanjaro is quite high. Finally, the summit aspirants overcome an altitude difference of more than 4,000 meters in just a few days. About 70 percent of the Kibo tourists say they suffered from symptoms of acute altitude sickness.

Breathing thin air at home

Immediately after training: oxygen saturation 87 percent, five minutes later 98 percent again

I live in Cologne at about 50 meters above sea level, the Alps are about 600 kilometers away. So I miss the opportunity to just climb a mountain and breathe thin air. Even before my previous expeditions, I had good experiences with hypoxia training, back then in special gyms. Now there is a generator in my home, which I can specifically use to filter out a part of the oxygen from the air. Through a mask I inhale the oxygen-poor air thus simulating a higher altitude. So I am not only able to breathe thin air during training and at rest, but even sleep in a special small tent in “high altitude”.

Thomas Huber, Jost Kobusch …

Date

28. January 2018 | 0:06

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Wedge pillow in the backpack?

Olympus Mons, giant mountain on Mars

Compared to the highest peak on Mars, Mount Everest is a dwarf. Olympus Mons rises 26 kilometers above the surface of the red planet. However, this is not the reason why the German Aerospace Center (DLR) deals with high altitude sickness. For a – as I find, very interesting – study, the DLR is looking for mountaineers, who will ascent in the period from 7 to 20 August after a night on the Gnifetti Hut (at 3,647 meters) to the Margherita Hut. The “Capanna Regina Margherita” is located on the summit of the Signalkuppe in the Valais Alps and is, at 4,554 meters, the highest building in Europe. The DLR scientists want to find out whether it helps against high altitude sickness if climbers are sleeping with a raised upper body. The test persons will use wedge pillows, which ensure that they are raised by 30 degrees. In intensive care units in hospitals such pillows have been used successfully for a long time.

Mountaineers who want to participate in the study at the Regina Margherita mountain hut in August can either register by email at ams@dlr.de or register at the valley station in Alagna or the Gnifetti Hut with the DLR study supervisors. I have talked to Dr. Ulrich Limper who heads the study. The 35-year-old doctor has been working at the DLR for three years.

Dr. Limper, why is an aerospace center interested in the health problems of mountaineers? Are there similarities between astronauts and climbers?

Date

6. July 2017 | 0:11

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Mountain bikers and runners needed for study on Kibo

Kilimanjaro

According to the statistics, Kilimanjaro is one of the top mountain destinations in the world. Every year tens of thousands of people tackle the highest mountain in Africa. In 2016, reportedly, more than 30,000 visitors have reached the highest point at 5,895 meters. The “Kibo” is said to be a trekking mountain, several easy routes lead to the summit. Only during the rainy seasons in April/May and October/November the tourist flow decreases a bit. Many operators offer hikes to the roof of Africa as a week trip – this short stay also ensures that the mountain is so popular. However, it is less known that every year several hundred tourists suffering seriously from high altitude sickness have to be rescued from Kilimanjaro, and about two dozens of them die, in some years even significantly more.

Date

7. April 2017 | 9:21

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