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January 20th, 2010

The Argentine Study Concludes


Update: 2-14-10 --
"Congratulations to Dr. Bruce Johnson and his team for taking Mayo Clinic research to new heights - under the extreme conditions atop the tallest peak in the hemisphere. The data collected will advance our understanding of human physiology." -- John Noseworthy, M.D., President & CEO, Mayo Clinic

On the summit - Luke Johnson, left, Diane Van Deren, right

Update: 2/12/10 -

Mayo researchers made it to the top of the highest peak in the hemisphere, gathering data from extreme athletes and explorers under extreme conditions. The goal achieved: to gather data to help understand the physiology of these optimally healthy individuals in order to better care for patients. Team members are re-acclimating to lower elevations and beginning to return to their home countries. Now the work begins to analyze the data as part of Mayo's Extreme Medicine Program.

Update: 2-11-10 - The team reached the summit Tuesday! - We received word late last evening that everyone is fine and the view was outstanding. Diane says it was "incredible"...Team is now working its way back down to Mendoza. We expect more details later today.

Mt. Aconcagua - study site, alt. 22,000 ft.

Benegas and Luke wait out the wind

Jacob, Robert Fry, Diane Van Deren, Luke Johnson

Update 2-5-10 -- 4 p.m. Received this message from Dr. Bruce  Johnson:

At  18,000 ft the cold and winds picked up causing us to retreat back to base camp (14,000).

We are focusing on monitoring Diane and Willie Benegas (the elite climber-guide going with Diane-also North Face athlete) and working through our equipment.  It is not easy doing science without a laboratory, when temps are below zero, winds are high...   The goal with the first ascent is really to acclimatize everyone, particularly Diane for the speed ascent which is suppose to be on the 12th.  

For this we will set them up (Diane and Willie) with 3 devices, a nonin wrist ox, a body media device and a Hildago system.  We will also use the New Leaf system.  In all we will measure heart rate, respiration rate, core temperature, skin temperature, metabolic rate, oxygen saturation and gas exchange (oxygen consumption, carbon dioxide production, ventilation and end tidal CO2 and O2).  

We will instrument them on the 12th. The speed ascent will start around 4 p.m. and then they will go continuously up to the summit and down the other side of the mountain.

Luke will do some baseline measures with New Leaf and then ride a mule up to base camp to make some measures there and Paul will do a quick ascent around the other side of the mountain to capture measures at camp 2 and to check devices and may follow to the summit.  We will also have an altimeter and GPS to go with our system.

I am not sure our goal as a Mayo team is to get to the summit, it is really to do good science.

In the end we will have some great data on the folks from North Face and the newspaper executive from Argentina - Hector D’Amico – Editor and Chief of La Nacion.  A great man also writing about us.

All is well, testing is good. Most will try for another ascent on Monday.  -- Bruce

Update 2-5/10 -- 11 a.m. Received this message today from Diane Van Deren:

At base camp keep prayers for all this mt is massive  love you docs are working super hard di

Update: 2-4-10 --- Waiting for word on location of the team. They appear to be near the top judging from the photos we've just received.

View from near 20,000 feet

High Altitude Camp, waiting out the winds

Diane Van Deren (R) and Dr. Bruce Johnson

Personal updates from Base Camp -- (Willie and Kasha are other climbers who are involved with the project):

Update 1-30-10: Message from Diane:

Wow what a day! I was going to try and call but it’s either a phone call or a shower! Sorry, this girl needs a shower before we head up the mountain. So, what a day today I have to share with you. Mayo Clinic here and Willie going over our different training we need to be doing for speed attempt. Willie took me to 18000 ft today…all my oxygen saturation levels and heart rate etc are perfect today! Was really special because Mayo went over emergency meds I have etc. with Willie and how my wirng system is showing all signs. It really was so great to feel awesome climbing to 18000 feet! Willie knows people on the mt. and we did see some high altitude sickness. Med teams came for them quickly. When Willie and I got to 18000 feet at Camp Nido we had lunch with the med staff there and they will assist us on mt if emergency is needed for Willie and me. So great to meet the staff. It was stunning to be on top of the mt on a crystal clear blue sky day and you could see forever! I told Bruce and Luke that I think this is a glance of what heaven is going to be like. It was great to climb and feel in my element. No headache, no tightness of lungs etc. As we know there can be lows also but when it all comes together its wonderful! Tomorrow we will take gear to camp one and we will not have contact for maybe 6 7 8 days as it depends on weather conditions on the mt. No summitting today because of the winds. Well love to everyone and keep prayers for everyone…start the summit tomorrow xo Di

Update from Kasha Rigby – “As we bathe in the alpenglow of this evening we forget the storms of the last few nights. we are all at plaza de mulas, our basecamp, and feeling well. the weather has been predictably unstable – sunny and clear in the mornings but by mid day clouds building with electricity and rain. we had one clear night where we were able to identify the southern cross and watch a magical moonrise, but the last couple nights have been rain down lower and snow higher, mixed with gropple and hail. the infamous andean winds have luckily not hit us yet.

willie arrived this morning after running in from the highway in 3 hours – a journey that took us two days. we were starting to worry he might have to winter over in antarctica. he arrived feeling fresh, before those of us languishing on a rest day had even begun breakfast. he brings the news that weather should improve for at least the next 4 days giving us time to establish ourselves higher on the mountain.
in the meantime we eat and drink and rest. acclimitization and hydration are such critical pieces for success higher on the mountain. monitored by our mayo clinic doctors we have all become compulsively interested in our heart rates and blood/oxygen saturation. today we all weighed in and each have lost between 2-5 pounds and we have not even really started the climb. we have been going through a series of resting and step tests to see how our bodies react and recover

we are a formidable group – 22 now with willie, but moving together with an amazing efficiency that can only be attained with each member being highly conscious of working as a group. it is impressive to be with such skilled and professional individuals, each adding their unique perspective and experience.

tomorrow we take a load to camp one, a steep scree climb, and then come back to basecamp for one more night.
being here with diane and her team of mayo doctors/scientists is such a great honor. watching diane pace herself and the focus of the team is a treat and an inspiration!

Update 1-31-10: From Willie Benegas

we brought a load of hard gear, food and some tents to camp one yesterday, just over 16,000 feet. our group of 22 represents el salvador, argentina, chile, the us, uk, and venezuela so at this point many of the group are at a new high point with each step – for many their first real climb of a mountain. it brings a sweet freshness to our climb.

we have moved into a high pressure weather system with the full moon but with this comes evidence of winds up high. last night we were treated to a ridiculous sunset and then full moon rise over the ridge of aconcagua.

diane and willlie strike out ahead of the group each day and were headed out again early this morning while the rest of us sorted gear and rested at camp. on their accelerated acclimitazation program they went to over 18,000 ft today. kasha has held full yoga classes each afternoon with the the peak on one side and the crashing of seracs on the other – breathtaking surroundings in which to practice. damian is madly keeping things organized and flowing smoothly for our giant group with such mixed experience and objectives, we will run through another set of tests with the mayo doctors this afternoon.

and tomorrow we head up the mountain. our plan will be to set three camps on the mountain over 4 days and then head for the summit. with good luck and weather we hope to summit on on the 5th and be back in basecamp maybe that night or the next day. no dispatches while we are on the mountain but we will take heaps of pictures to share.

we are headed out! the winds of yesterday turned most people off the summit but look like they have settled down a wee bit. wish us luck!

More photos:

Base Camp

Uphill from here on out

Starting out -the first ascent

Update: 1/31/10 - The latest is that the initial climb has been successful thus far - but high winds have become an issue. Over the next six days they hope to complete the ascent. Diane notifies us via Twitter that her "numbers" are right where they should be. Team members are now going over equipment and reading for a second speed ascent, but that won't happen for a while - until the first ascent is complete and participants rest. Dr. Bruce Johnson tells us some winds are approaching 90 mph.  Everyone doing well and in good spirits.

Update: 1/29/10 - More images from Argentina:

Luke and Hector discuss the ascent

The Mayo Research Team

Dr. Paul Anderson explains equipment to climbers

Update 1/28/10 - The team is making good progress, part way up the mountain. Below is an excerpt from a message from Dr. Bruce Johnson:

Limited (email) access here at base camp.  All is well, still strategizing with Damian, Willie, Diane and us.  Altitude is 4000-4500 meters.  Our team is many of The North Face South American Leadership, guides, porters, mules.  A rest day today, but about a 1000 m climb tomorrow. no more mules. We spend our time now acclimating and pushing gear up higher and higher to camp 1, 2, 3.  We have lots of footage, interview, etc.  We also have with us a high ranking executive of the largest newspaper in Argentina, La Nacion.  He did an interview with us today.  They all love Mayo Clinic!  There is much to learn in field studies, but so far so good.  Diane is doing extra training each day.  This has been a bad year for cerebral edema on the mountain, but not sure why at this point.  Possibly related to large changes in pressure.  Most of us have lost 3-5 lbs.

Dr. Bruce Johnson testing Diane at base camp prior to 1st ascent

the team heads for the mountain

Update 1/25/10 - The team has begun its trek up the mountain after doing some basic physiology tests with Diane at the base lodge. The team was without e-mail access for about a day and a half - details and photos are beginning to come in and we will share here through the day. All going well.

Update 1/23/10: A message from Dana Sparks, from Mayo Clinic Public Affairs, who is facilitating the film crew and communications from the scene:

Sun is shining and cooler temps this morning. Last night was a team dinner with over 20 climbers from all over the world! Diane said North Face has identified some of them to be stationed at different points on the mountain for safety, when she and Willie do the speed ascent. Everybody is loading gear into trucks right now for the trip to Penitentes where Dr. Johnson will do his orientation describing the research equipment and the teams plan to monitor Diane on the climbs. Our camera crew has more gear than the 3 climbers combined! We’re on the trail…will update soon and when we can get reception. Oh- I just asked Diane if she has a message and she asked for everyone to keep all the climbers in their prayers for a safe journey.


This latest text message from Diane Van Deren:


Members of the Mayo research expedition to Argentina are beginning to arrive in country for this weekend's launch of the ascent of the hemisphere's highest point. Extreme athlete Diane Van Deren, the focus of Mayo's science, sends this message from the southern continent:

Good Morning Argentina!  What a great way to start the morning and head out early with a small breeze and sunshine begging to rise.  It’s 70 degrees here this morning and coming from Colorado with a high of 40 degrees and snow…it’s a heat wave here!  I’m running in this huge park that’s miles in length and width and I got lost even though it’s not far from the hotel! Every time I asked for directions  the louder and more excited folks got! But I made it back…had a wonderful breakfast…what a treat to be here!  Leaving, now, for a trek around the city.  Yes, I have my map.  Adios!  Di

Watch Advancing the Science for more can also read more about Diane,  this Xtreme medicine research project and Mayo's investigator Bruce Johnson on page B11 in today's New York Times. Here is John Branch's story "Medical Miracle Nears a Milepost" in the online Times.

Tags: Argentina, cardiology, Diane Van Deren, People, physiology, Progress Updates, research



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