Every time we do Aconcagua ascents, we expose our bodies to extreme conditions that require good preparation. We are aware that physical wear is more significant as we increase the level in which we move, and we know that altitude sickness is always latent, but why does the human body suffer so much in the heights? How does it work in our body in these conditions? To fully understand how our body behaves at altitude, it is essential to consider several definitions and concepts.
First, we must ask ourselves how to climb Aconcagua and then talk about atmosphere, atmospheric pressure, air composition, and partial pressure of oxygen. The atmosphere and atmospheric pressure: A gaseous envelope surrounds the terrestrial globe: the atmosphere. This layer of air of about 100 km thick exerts by its weight (thanks to gravity) pressure on the earth’s surface: atmospheric pressure.
All the meteorological phenomena that influence living beings occur, such as winds, rain, and snow. In addition, the troposphere concentrates most of the oxygen and water vapor. Its thickness varies with latitude, about 17,000 meters at the Equator and only 7,000 meters at the poles.
In a proper place, the atmosphere pressure coincides with the weight of a static column of air, extending from that point to the upper limit of the atmosphere. Air composition: in the troposphere, the air comprises 21% oxygen (O2) and 78% nitrogen. In a smaller percentage, we also find gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and others. The relative proportion of O2 and Nitrogen is almost invariable. If you try to do an Aconcagua 360 route, you will experience this in your body. The partial pressure is the force that a gas exerts against the walls of the container that contains it, regardless of whether it is part of a gaseous mixture or a liquid mixture. The partial pressure is about the individual force of a gas and not the total forces of the gases. It is valued in mmHg (millimeters of mercury) preceded by a p and the chemical symbol for the gas.
In this way, if we want to mention the partial pressure of oxygen, we have to write down: pO2. If it is carbon dioxide, it will be pCO2. If the atmospheric pressure at sea level is 760 mmHg, 21% of that pressure is exerted by oxygen gas. This is what specialists mean when they talk about the partial pressure of oxygen, symbolized as pO2. And I refer to this gas because O2 is the element with biological activity that makes human life possible and interests us in principle to understand what happens at altitude. The pO2 value at sea level is 160 mmHg. Please remember that the safest thing is to do an Aconcagua Guided Climb, well trained and with all the safety measures.
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