Monday, December 14, 2020

“Mountaineering and health” (4)

Advice from a mountaineering medic of the silver age

Fatigue is a condition that the mountaineer cannot wholly escape. To a great extent he can prepare himself by carefully regulating his pace and the length of his expeditions, allowing due intervals of rest, until he has brought himself into good condition. Without entering into any physiological details, it may be pointed out that fatigue is a complex condition involving something more than the mere tiring of the muscles. 

Ordinary walking is an action so familiar that it becomes automatic, and the mind is not conscious of making any effort; but directly extra work is entailed, as in walking up hill or climbing, or wading through deep snow, the automatic mechanism ceases to be sufficient, and an effort has to be made; the will, in short, has to be called in to stimulate the muscles to do their work. 

At first the mind simply becomes conscious of the muscles; later on this consciousness amounts to discomfort, and then to a sensation of pain. In other words, the unduly exerted muscle becomes recognised and the tired muscle becomes painful. Additional exertion, that is, additional will power-is required to overcome the sensation and to stimulate the activity. This expenditure of energy involves waste, and in a measure explains fatigue. 

That the mental factor is a strong element may be seen any day on the mountain-side. A man who seems utterly tired out, if placed in sudden peril or confronted with something unexpected, becomes immediately capable of great exertion. 

The practical outcome is that the keen and determined men are able to make their muscles do more work than the apathetic, and the men who on the mountainside find constant employment for their minds, whether in attending to the details of the route, enjoying the beauties of the scenery, or in pursuing some scientific aim, will go better than those who treat a mountain as a treadmill.

The expenditure of energy has to be made good in two ways – by taking in oxygen through the lungs, and by the ingestion of food. The natural inclination of the tired man is to stimulants, or at any rate to drink, for fluids are rapidly absorbed, and relief, therefore, is brought about more quickly. Unfortunately, the benefit is only transitory. 

The great point with a tired man is to feed him. When you have a weak man in the party, it is well to feed him early, while he can still eat, and feed him often. If a man is utterly tired out, it is better to let him rest till he can eat, however little, than to attempt to stimulate that which is incapable of response. 

One of the worst possible things to give a man when in this condition is brandy, though it seems to be considered a universal panacea. A little champagne, however, will often provoke an appetite in an exhausted man. Thirty to sixty drops of 'sal volatile' in a little water answers almost equally well. 

It cannot be expected that the digestive powers will be in perfect order after severe exertion, and the traveller who arrives at an inn somewhat tired, at night, will do best to take very light food and abstain from wine altogether. When the entire body is in need of rest before anything else, it is injudicious to throw on it the labour of digesting a heavy meal. 

On the other hand, if no food at all be taken, that best of restoratives, sleep, will keep aloof. Weak tea for those who can take it, or soup of not too rich a nature (and many of the tinned soups are extremely rich), will probably prove more efficient in inducing sleep than a meal of meat. Hot bread and milk is an excellent light supper.

Many of the slight intestinal derangements that travellers in the mountains experience might be obviated by the adoption of simple precautions. The chilling due to rapid evaporation from the surface of the skin is one of the commonest causes of these troubles. 

From anatomical reasons, chill of the surface of the abdomen provokes very directly derangements of the viscera beneath. There is no better preventive of trouble than a cholera-belt. Immediately on arriving at an hotel after a walk, it is wise to bathe in tepid water and to change the damp clothes. If at a bivouac or hut, a vigorous dry rub, with a change at least of flannel shirt and stockings, will serve almost as well.


C T Dent’s Chapter III in the Badminton Library Series on Mountaineering, third edition (1901).

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