“It was not until this expedition that the team came up with the idea to start tracking metrics and trying to merge my love of science with my love of climbing,” Schmidt said.
Partnering with Schmidt on this next summit is Jake Quartuccio with JQ Scientific, Simone Erchov with Research Solutions Consulting, and Patrick McKnight with George Mason University.
The Air Force strives to create environments for Airmen to train how they may be required to fight. This provides the best training for real world situations. However, preparing warfighters to battle drastic changes in altitude with decreased oxygen levels, all while accomplishing various missions, is difficult to accomplish in low-elevation areas of the United States. In AFRL, researchers bring their interests in basic science into military environments, and outside-the-box thinking is encouraged.
“When we saw that there is very little information about the efficacy of a long-term training plan with the hypoxic tents (using them for months rather than days), we thought we saw a gap in the literature that we could begin to answer by developing a training protocol,” said Schmidt.
To prepare for this climb, Schmidt and his team began sleeping in altitude tents that slowly decrease oxygen levels so that their bodies could adapt to what they’ll experience on Mount Aconcagua.
“We have been measuring blood oxygen saturation levels (Sp02), resting heart rate, heart rate variability, sleep and a subjective self-report of wellness,” Schmidt explained.
Schmidt also discussed the necessity for a strong cardiovascular base.
“We have been training, doing three-hour sessions on the Stairmaster with up to 70-pound packs as well as runs, bike rides and core days,” he said.
“During the climb, we plan to continue to monitor our Sp02, subjective self-report of wellness, location as well as a battery of cognitive measures,” said Schmidt.
In a recent article on Livestrong, a clinical lecturer from the University of Edinburgh reports that “for every 1,000 feet that you ascend in elevation, a loss of about 3 percent of oxygen occurs. High altitude is defined as starting at 8,000 feet, where there are about 25 percent fewer oxygen molecules available per breath. This drop can have a negative effect on the body and the body must find ways to compensate for the lack of oxygen.”
This is part of Schmidt’s research as well. He will be gathering data to assess if the use of altitude tents can better prepare warfighters across all branches of the military to acclimatize their bodies to these high-altitude environments.
For further information or to track Schmidt's climb, watch the AFRL Facebook www.facebook.com/afresearchlab page for updates and a personalized blog on his climb.