The Outside Blog

Adventure : Oct 2012

The World's Hardest Rock Climb Goes Down

The world's first 5.15c route is here—and it's not in Spain. Adam Ondra pushed the grade scale a little higher this morning when he sent his project Change, a severely-overhanging 180-foot sport line in Norway's Flatanger Cave for which he's proposed the highest grade ever given to a route. If the rating sticks—and it likely will, based on Ondra's track record—it will be the hardest rock climb in the history of the sport.

As recently as last week, Ondra's chances of pulling off the send seemed slim. The weather around Flatanger was gloomy, and Change was wet enough that filmmaker Petr Pavlicek, who's been traveling with Ondra, said that trying to scale it was "more swimming than climbing." Ondra, 19, made it as far as the last crux before falling near the finish.

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Adam Ondra Climbs 5.15c

Czech climber Adam Ondra pushed sport climbing standards a little higher on Thursday morning when he made the first ascent of what's being called the world's hardest rock climb. The route, called The Change, climbs about 180 feet up the roof of Flatanger Cave in Norway and has been tentatively graded at 5.15c—harder than any other existing climb. The 19-year-old pro came close to sending the project last week, but slipped off wet holds near the top. Ondra has the most extensive resume of any elite sport climber, with ascents of some 19 5.15 routes to his credit.

Via Outside Online

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The Science of Survival: Heat Stroke

In many sports, heat is treated as a nuisance instead of a threat. Runners race on 110-plus days, and cycling races are often run no matter the temperature. That's a dangerous mistake. Even the most experienced, record-breaking athletes can succumb to heat stroke, as ultrarunner Michael Popov did when he died in Death Valley this past August.

Part of the problem lies in differentiating heat stroke, which can kill, from its milder cousin, heat exhaustion. The issue is that the symptoms aren’t all that different to the untrained eye, says Dr. Douglas Casa, chief operating officer of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut. In fact, the majority of symptoms are shared: decreased performance or weakness, collapse, muscle cramps, nausea, and headache being the most obvious.

The difference is that heat stroke victims experience central nervous system dysfunction—irrational behavior, irritability, emotional instability—and a rectal temperature greater than 104 degrees, something that is understandably difficult to measure in the field. Compounding the difficulty, heat stroke can strike when it isn’t entirely expected, like on milder days, if athletes don't get enough water or are out of shape.

WHAT HAPPENS: You’re creating more heat than you can dissipate. “Your core temperature gets so high that your cells are damaged,” says Casa. “Organs like the kidney, brain, and liver start to malfunction. If the body is above 105 degrees for more than 30 minutes, that’s when you run the risk of permanent complications or death.”

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS: While symptoms like irrational behavior can be a tip-off, “rectal temperature is really the only way to be sure that the reason they’re having CMS dysfunction is due to heat stroke and not due to some other reason,” says Casa.

PREVENTION: Hydrate properly and don't exercise in serious heat if you're not properly acclimated.

TREATMENT: “Cool the person as quickly as possible, and as soon as possible, usually with whole-body ice immersion,” Casa says. “If that’s not possible, use rotating cold, wet towels to cover as much of the body as possible.”

THE MYTHS: You stop sweating. If you’re hydrated, you’re safe. Ice baths are bad.

THE REALITY: Nope, heat stroke victims keep sweating. It can occur before you have time to become dehydrated.  And ice is good, says Casa. “There used to be people thinking that cold water immersion as actually not good because you’d shiver or have peripheral vasoconstriction,” he says. “They’re wrong.”

THE BOTTOM LINE: You’ve got 30 minutes to get your temperature under control. Do whatever it takes to make that happen. Cool first and get to the hospital later.

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The Science of Survival: Lightning Strike

It sounds like an outrageous way to go, but lightning kills with regularity. In fact, over the last 30 years, lightning injuries have trailed behind only flash floods and tornadoes as the leading cause of storm-related deaths in the U.S. Worried about hurricanes, super-volcanoes, or earthquakes? Lightning kills more people each year than all of those threats combined, according to the National Weather Service.

The good news? Ninety percent of lightning strike victims survive, though your chances depend on the kind of strike. Direct hits are, predictably, pretty fatal. But contact (when the victim is touching an object that was struck), side splash (where the current jumps to the victim from a nearby object), and ground strikes (where the current travels through the ground) are survivable.

WHAT HAPPENS: “You’re in a channel,” says Dr. Katie Walsh, an expert on lightning and director of East Carolina University’s athletic training program. “A charge comes up from the ground and down from the sky at the same time. Anything that’s in its path it will go through. Typically, your heart stops. Then you stop breathing. If your heart doesn’t stop, you feel this big giant buzz.” And if you survive, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the clear. “It’s almost like the concussions where people don’t ever really feel 100 percent again—your brain changes or you have neurological tingling or don’t sleep well,” says Walsh. “Your whole life is changed. The majority struggle. They’re short-circuited.”

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS: Generally the symptoms of a lightning strike are pretty self-evident but they can be misleading. “We have found people naked and dead because they were sweating,” says Walsh. “They were hiking, lightning hit them and blew their clothing off. People think it’s an assault. It’s not.”

PREVENTION: Avoid water, open spaces, high ground, and solitary trees. Be proactive: “Don’t just check the weather, talk to a local who can say, be up by noon and back by two,” says Walsh. “A local will know that, say, around three every day a storm rolls in.” If you’re trapped in the storm, make your way to safety as quickly as possible. Your best bet is a building or car. Short of that, squatting in a densely forested area or hiding deep in a cave is best.

TREATMENT: If the victim's heart has stopped, perform CPR. If not, get them to the hospital.

THE MYTHS: Strike victims are dangerous to handle. If lightning hits the ground nearby, you’ll be safe. If you’re dry, you’re good.

THE REALITY: Strike victims are perfectly safe to touch. When lightning hits the ground, you’re not safe; it spreads out along the surface and can injure you if you’re close enough. And just because you’re dry (say, in a tent) doesn’t mean you’re safe. You need to be in a real building, with real plumbing, or a car.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Plan ahead, and “if you can hear thunder, you should be running,” says Walsh.

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The Science of Survival: Hyponatremia

It used to be that you weren’t supposed to drink when you ran. Then, you were supposed to drink at every opportunity. Now, experts say you should drink only when thirsty. What gives?

Also known as water intoxication, hyponatremia became well known after a woman competing in a “Hold your Wee for a Wii” contest run by a radio station died after consuming way too much water in a very short period of time. But while it might seem like over-hydration is something only Darwin Award competitors need worry about, it’s a real threat for a certain subset of outdoor enthusiast: the recreational athlete, says Dr. Douglas Casa, chief operating officer of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut.

“Elite athletes aren’t the ones getting hyponatremia,” he says. “An elite marathoner doesn’t have the time to overdrink. You see it in the recreational person who stops at every aid station.”

WHAT HAPPENS: You’re drinking too much water over too long a period of time. And for some reason, your brain thinks you’re dehydrated and stops urine production. You keep sweating, but it’s not enough. Soon, your tissues become bloated, then the brain swells and pushes against the skull, cutting off blood supply. If it affects the parts of the brain that control breathing, you’re a goner.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS: Somewhat similar to heat stroke. Headache and nausea, vomiting, altered mental status, bloating.

PREVENTION: If you're not thirsty, don't hydrate. “For recreational athletes, drink to your thirst,” says Casa. “Not beyond it. And for elite athletes, develop a hydration plan.”

TREATMENT: Drink less water, eat salty foods, consume oral hypertonic saline.

THE MYTHS: It’s impossible to over-drink because you'll pee it out. Water intoxication occurs only during exercise.

THE REALITY: You can over-drink. Hyponatremia can occur hours after exercise if lost sodium is not made up for.

THE BOTTOM LINE: If you're not thirsty, don't drink.

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