Oxygen is Only for Wimps, Right?

For decades serious mountaineers have been climbing Everest without supplemental oxygen, so we certainly don’t need it. Those guys climb to 29K, so we should be fine up to 18K. A few weeks ago the top of lift was predicted to be 15K all over the valley below the Miller Canyon launch. Of 8 pilots I was the only one on launch carrying oxygen, and I was feeling overly optimistic, and, if I’m honest, a bit silly. My first climb took me above 13K, and I forgot all about feeling dumb for carrying that extra weight. When I decided to go to the 2011 Red Rock Nationals in Richfield, Utah, a friend advised me to consider buying an oxygen system because we would be launching from over 11K and routinely flying above 14K. My first reaction was something like, “Really? I live at 3K, and I have spent loads of time living at 7.6K and skiing between 9K and 11K. I probably don’t need oxygen like you sea-level-dwelling creatures.” Then I did some research. It turns out hypoxia is a rather insidious condition, one that degrades your mental and visual acuity while generally making you feel pretty good about it. For many people the initial symptoms include mild euphoria. After reading a few articles I decided that I didn’t really want to discover my particular symptoms or learn at which altitudes or under which conditions they tend to occur while trying to pilot a paraglider, so I bought an oxygen system, and I’ve been using it whenever the top of lift is predicted to be above 12K. Some of the articles I read as part of my research can be found at https://www.mhoxygen.com/articles, and I encourage you to do your own research as you consider whether you might need an oxygen system. During last year’s Mingus fly-in the radio chatter was punctuated with whoops of joy from several of the visiting pilots, “This is the highest I’ve ever been!” I was pretty sure none of them were carrying oxygen. Whether it was hypoxic exuberance or just the thrill of a personal best altitude, I’m not sure, but I wanted to do something to encourage more pilots to make a conscious decision about whether to fly with oxygen when the conditions warrant it.

Mountain High Oxygen makes great portable oxygen systems intended primarily for GA and sailplane pilots, but as it happens, they work really well for us too. This small Oregon-based company is dedicated to helping pilots fly safely, and when I asked them for help pushing the PG/HG community over the edge on the oxygen front, they responded rather enthusiastically. To be sure, an oxygen system is not an inexpensive accessory. It is, however, an important piece of safety gear if you’re flying above 10K for more than a few minutes at a time. Mountain High Oxygen is therefore offering the following promotions in conjunction with this year’s Mingus fly-in:
• Donation of one complete constant-flow XCR system, valued at $450
• 15% discount on each individual order of a complete system, using promo code: Mingus
• 25% discount for any group order of six or more complete systems. AZHPA will raffle the donated XCR system.

To be eligible you must register (and pay) for the Mingus fly-in before 12:01 a.m. MST July 15th. The winner will be announced before the end of the day on July 15th. AZHPA will also place a group order to leverage the 25% discount. The deadline for participating in this order is 8:00 a.m. MST July 22nd. If we have a sufficiently large group of pilots who want an oxygen system before late July, we will place multiple orders. We will use the AZHPA store (under Resources on AZHPA.org) to accept orders for oxygen systems. Payment for the system must be made to AZHPA when the order is placed with the store. Mountain High Oxygen provides two different systems that meet our needs. The XCR is a constant-flow system with which you manually adjust the flow of oxygen based on your altitude. It also has a remote valve that allows you to enable and disable the oxygen flow while in flight. Some pilots simply set the flow level to something like 15K and then use the remote valve to switch the system on and off as they pass through their selected altitude (perhaps 10K or 12K). The retail price for the XCR is $450. The EDS provides an altitude-compensated pulse of oxygen each time you inhale. The electronic control unit for this one provides several discrete operational modes. I use D10, which causes the system to deliver pulses of oxygen whenever I’m above 10K. With this system you set the mode and then forget about it. The retail price for a complete EDS system is $775. The key advantage of the EDS system is that you will likely drain less oxygen from your tank per flight than with the XCR, and you’ll not spend any time thinking about it or adjusting the system while in flight. On a multi-day flying trip where it’s not easy to refill your tank, this matters. Please see the Mountain High web site for details on the various systems: http://mhoxygen.com/

Along with avoiding hypoxia, another benefit to carrying oxygen is warmth. At the Red Rock Nationals, most of us turned up on the first day with one or two extra layers of clothing, only to discover that once in flight, we didn’t really need them. When you’re properly oxygenated, your body is more efficient at maintaining its core temperature, so you stay warmer than you would without oxygen. My recent flight from Miller Canyon included three personal bests, one of which was altitude. I spent the vast majority of 4 hours above 12K, peaking at 15.7K, and I was warm and alert for the duration. One of the other pilots who flew without oxygen that day landed roughly 25 miles from where he told us he had landed. Whether that was hypoxia or a practical joke on his retrieve team is an exercise for the reader.

John Wolfe

AZHPA Member


Reprinted with permission of John Wolfe
Thank you John