Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Elevation and Altitude

Elevation and altitude have shaped much of my experience in South America over the past several weeks.  Because of this, I thought I would share some of the heights at which I have been and will be later on this year.  I have also included a few other locations to help give perspective.
Sea Level:  0 meters (0 feet), 20.9% Oxygen
Charlottesville, Virginia:  170 meters (557 feet), 20.5% Oxygen
Ashburn, Virginia:  240 meters (787 feet), 20.3% Oxygen
Mile-high Stadium, Denver, Colorado:  1,609 meters (5,280 feet), 17.4% Oxygen
Machu Picchu, Peru:  2,430 meters (7,970 feet), 15.4% Oxygen
La Paz, Bolivia:  3,631 meters (11,913 feet), 13.2% Oxygen
Tungurahua Volcano, Ecuador:  5,023 meters (16,480 feet), 11% Oxygen
Everest Base Camp, Nepal:  5,360 meters (17,590 feet), 10.7% Oxygen
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania:  5,895 meters (19,340 feet), 10% Oxygen
Mount Everest Summit, Nepal:  8,850 meters (29,035 feet), 6.8% Oxygen

*Technical Note: The oxygen percentages stated are not the actual concentration levels, which always remain at 20.9%.  They represent the theoretical, effective concentration levels due to a decrease in the number of oxygen molecules available per breath.

At higher elevations, temperatures drop dramatically and, more importantly, the body is forced to adjust to a lack of oxygen.  During my recent climb of Tungurahua Volcano, for example, the temperature averaged 15 degrees Fahrenheit and I had to stop to gasp heavily for air about every 15 steps.  Of course this is nothing compared to climbing Everest, where temperatures reach as low as -76 degrees Fahrenheit at the summit and almost no one climbs without an oxygen tank.  (Don’t worry Mother I’m only climbing to base camp.)

If you have some extra time, I recommend Googling elevation, altitude and some of the surrounding issues related to travel and climbing.

New pictures.  My time in South America has come to an end.  Africa begins soon!

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