A British services expedition plans to conduct pioneering medical research into the effects of altitude on the human body while attempting to make a lightweight ascent of Dhaulagiri 8167 m - the seventh highest peak in the world.
The team will climb at extreme altitudes without oxygen. Following six weeks of acclimatisation they aim to make the summit around the 20th May.
The main team making the gruelling 8167m ascent will be involved in two studies; looking at the effect of an injection of iron on the body’s response to low oxygen levels and measuring heart rate and rhythm during the climb. In addition to its relevance to sport and exercise science, it is hoped that this data may provide insight into how the heart behaves in the face of disease or illness.
The study involves the use of an innovative Medtronic Reveal device – a two-inch monitor which is implanted under the skin on the chest by a minor surgical procedure that stores and uploads data of each heartbeat during the expedition by satellite link. This technique will allow the team to collect unique data from the heart during exercise at extreme altitude at low oxygen tensions, never previously achieved by a military study.
Expedition leader, Surgeon Commander Adrian Mellor, said: “Until recently it has only been possible to collect heart rate data at rest due to the size and difficulty of obtaining a clear electrical recording from the heart at extreme altitudes. Now that we are able to do this, for the first time we will have accurate and sustained readings that will help us understand what happens to the heart rhythm during times of very low oxygen supply. This and other studies in conjunction with Leeds Beckett and Oxford Universities will help us better prepare soldiers for deployment at high altitude and understand the body’s response to critical illness.”
The British Services Dhaulagiri Medical Research Expedition (BSDMRE) also signifies a new approach within military mountaineering. Until now military attempts on such high mountains have been attempted 'siege style': usually involving repeatedly carrying loads and establishing camps ever-higher on the mountain, often supplemented with bottled oxygen. BSDMRE will instead climb in a lightweight 'alpine style'
The team will arrive in Kathmandu at the end of March and acclimatise on Damphus and then Tukuche peaks (6060m and 6900m respectively), before making a fast and lightweight ascent of Dhaulagiri without oxygen from two intermediate camps over a five day period, along the northeast ridge (Normal Route).
DMM are providing the BSDMRE with climbing equipment that includes bespoke Fly axes with Raptor picks. DMM's Sales & Marketing Director, Simon Marsh, said: "We're very pleased to be supporting this expedition and its groundbreaking medical research that will help increase our understanding of adaption to altitude, contributing to the prevention of high altitude illness."
You can find out more about the BSDMRE on their website with detailed information about the research projects being undertaken over the course of the expedition. Follow their progress via Facebook and Twitter.