Mountaineer Smokers

Recently my attention has been drawn to the strange fact that smoking is an aid to mountain-climbing. I first reported on the phenomenon back in December:

Cigarettes as an aid to climbing
Report, November 21 1922

Captain GJ Finch, who took part in the Mount Everest expedition, speaking at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society, London, last evening on the equipment for high climbing, testified to the comfort of cigarette smoking at very high altitude. He said that he and two other members of the expedition camped at 25,000ft for over 26 hours and all that time they used no oxygen.

About half an hour after arrival he noticed in a very marked fashion that unless he kept his mind on the question of breathing, making it a voluntary process instead of an involuntary one, he suffered from lack of air. He had 30 cigarettes with him, and as a measure of desperation he lit one. After deeply inhaling the smoke he and his companions found they could take their mind off the question of breathing altogether … The effect of a cigarette lasted at least three hours, and when the supply of cigarettes was exhausted they had recourse to oxygen, which enabled them to have their first sleep at this great altitude.

George Mallory (below) was another climber who smoked: see Robert Graves’ tale of Mallory’s Pipe.  As was Andrew Irvine, with whom Mallory attempted to climb Everest in 1928 (and probably succeeded, although he didn’t get back down) .

Last night in the Smoky Drinky Bar, more smoking climbers (or climbing smokers) came to light. Reinhold Messner, who climbed Everest without the aid of oxygen, was said to have been a smoker at the time of the ascent (although no evidence for this was produced). But mountaineer Joe Brown (below) most certainly was a smoker:

On their summit push Joe gave us some insight into the character of George Band. Joe had taken five cigarettes up with him, and smoked them all inside their tiny 2-man tent at 8200m. “Imagine being up there, exhausted, and having to share a tent with somebody smoking?”

So also was Herbert Tichy (below):

Herbert Tichy after the first ascent of Cho Oyu. His hands were so badly frostbitten that he even had to have help to enjoy a smoke (Photo: Herbert Tichy, taken from the book Himalaya, 1968)

As also was Michel Croz (1828 – 1865), Chamonix guide known for his first ascent of the Matterhorn :

Croz did not survive his successful attempt on the Matterhorn.

So it seems that there’s a long history of mountaineering smokers. But antismokers can’t get their heads around it:

How on Earth could these fellows hope to get to Everest’s summit in the rarified air up around 29,000 ft with tobacco tar coating their extremely delicate and highly important lung tissues?

This is like asking: How on Earth could these fellows hope to get to Everest’s summit in the rarified air up around 29,000 ft carrying heavy oxygen tanks that would have impeded their climbing?

Clearly the benefits of carrying oxygen tanks outweighed the costs attached to carrying them. Equally clearly, the benefits of smoking must have also outweighed any costs. But antismoking zealots are unable to believe this, convinced as they are that smoking is always harmful, in all contexts, everywhere.

About Frank Davis

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35 Responses to Mountaineer Smokers

  1. Fredrik Eich says:

    If it is true that smokers have more CO in their blood stream and less O2 then I have often
    wondered whether this is just another way of saying “smokers can go about their business with less oxygen”. We are told to assume this is a bad thing but I have often wondered if the reverse is true. If you have emphysema, maybe like our mountaineers, it makes you feel just that little bit better.

    I tried to make that argument on health stack exchanged but it was not received well!
    https://health.stackexchange.com/questions/501/oxygen-saturation-value-of-smokers/14927#14927

    • Rose says:

      I have to disagree with you there, Fredrik. I don’t think it’s carbon monoxide.

      “As expected, high altitude made blood vessels contract.”

      The nitric oxide produced in cigarette smoke acts as a vasodilator and though smoking mountain climbers carry a pack of handy nitric oxide generators with them, help is at hand for nonsmokers too.

      Beating high altitude sickness with beet juice
      2015

      “A team of Norwegian and Swedish researchers decided to see how nitrate-rich beet juice might affect acclimatization on a 39-day expedition to Kathmandu and at 3700 metres in the Rolwaling Valley, Nepal.”

      Nitric Oxide Key
      “One aspect of successful acclimatization is that the blood vessels are able to deliver enough oxygen throughout the body. But normal blood vessel function depends on the body’s ability to naturally produce a compound called nitric oxide (NO).

      In healthy people at sea level, production of adequate amounts of NO is not a problem, but with the reduced oxygen availability at high altitude it is a challenge, simply because natural NO production requires oxygen.

      But the body has a “back-up system” for NO production at altitude, and it is here that beet juice can help. The secret ingredient in beet juice is high levels of nitrate, which the body can then convert to NO.”
      https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151012083808.htm

      These days a search on nitric oxide and high altitude gets you lots of references, ten years ago they were rare.

      • Fredrik Eich says:

        Ah Yes,
        I am sure NO plays a part! I did not mean to give the impression that CO plays a part, I was just more interested in the idea that more CO could mean less O2.
        This here is an attempt to paint it NO as a bad thing

        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12215243

        but we know that smokers tend to have lower blood pressure, which is a good thing!

      • nightlight7 says:

        As with many other benefits, this miracle medicine works in this case via multiple effects. The hormetic effect of long term low dose CO upregulates oxygen transport systems, and it is known that smokers an edge not only in mountain climbing but as firemen and in survival in fires.

        Besides the mentioned CO & NO effects, there is another helpful in low oxygen conditions that was discovered recently, via insular cortex in the brain:

        From its’ early usage, nicotine has been used to treat respiratory disorders. It increases respiratory drive, promoting better breathing.
        https://health-matrix.net/2013/01/21/nicotine-the-insular-cortex-and-empathy/

        • Rose says:

          it is known that smokers an edge not only in mountain climbing but as firemen and in survival in fires

          I’ve experienced that one myself at a cooking demonstration when the green chilis caught fire, what I assume were the nonsmokers quickly had to flee, but the few smokers managed to wait in their seats, despite deep discomfort, until the demonstrator had managed to put out the fire and could accompany us out of the now smoke filled school hall.

          I remember how delighted the antis were when it was discovered that damage to the insula could stop people smoking, I was concerned for a while that they might start wandering about armed with hammers.

          Does insular stroke disrupt the self-medication effects of nicotine?
          Summary
          2010

          “This paper explores the relationship between insular stroke and the disruption of tobacco use.
          A functional analysis of the role of the insula in maintaining homeostasis suggests that the insula monitors hypoxia and applies dyspnea to motivate the individual to regulate breathing. From its’ early usage, nicotine has been used to treat respiratory disorders. It increases respiratory drive, promoting better breathing. Insular stroke likely interferes with this self-regulation. A new self-medication model is proposed for tobacco use. The effect on public policy is discussed.”
          http://www.medical-hypotheses.com/article/S0306-9877(10)00121-0/fulltext

          Sadly you have to pay to read it in full, but I have reservations about the use of the name Nicotine.

          From your link –
          “In the late 1800’s, physicians used tobacco products to treat asthma”

          From a time when doctors and scientists still remembered that nicotinic acid was first discovered through the oxidation of nicotine.

          TREATMENT OF ASTHMA BY NICOTINIC ACID
          BY G. Melton
          1943

          Results –
          “The effects of nicotinic acid in 16 of these patients was to produce definite improvement in at least one of the attacks for which the drug was given. In 8 cases the relief was practically complete; in the others there was residual wheeze for many hours. In all cases adventitious sounds persisted in the lungs – a fact noted by Maisel.Improvement usually began to manifest itself within a few minutes of the injection, the patient falling asleep in many instances and awaking in the morning much relieved.”

          Click to access brmedj03990-0011.pdf

          The name was changed from Nicotinic Acid to Niacin in 1942 at the suggestion of the American Medical Association so that the public would not be “misled” about the origins of the nicotinic acid that they intended to put in white bread to prevent pellagra.

        • Frank Davis says:

          Smoking used to be prescribed as a treatment for asthma.

        • Philip Neal says:

          I used to get asthma as a boy but it vanished as soon as I started smoking.

          By the way, is that the Nightlight who used to post as Nightlight Noctiluca?

        • Frank Davis says:

          Almost certainly.

      • RdM says:

        Does insular stroke disrupt the self-medication effects of nicotine?
        You can get the full pdf from here…
        http://sci-hub.la/10.1016/j.mehy.2010.03.009

    • RdM says:

      Not received too badly though, and thanks for the (re?) introduction to the site.
      Try to keep the arguments going?
      I notice in the post above yours there,

      In addition to this, there are other changes that can occur in longtime smokers. This study from 1983 found that in females and smokers over 50 have associated increases in red cell volume and reduced plasma volume. This suggests that the body adapts to the decreased O2 count by producing more RBC’s. While this sounds like a great adaptation, it also means that with the reduced plasma volume, the blood is “thicker”, which means that the heart has to work harder to push it around.

      Is this a bad thing? Cardio Training, Cardiovascular Training, all over the web.
      Developing, working, the heart muscles …

      You were very subtle and courteous in those posts.
      Presenting a case. Like to see more.

      Let’s keep going!

  2. Fredrik Eich says:

    BTW Frank,
    I also posted some stuff on health stack exchange about black lungs here

    https://health.stackexchange.com/a/14792/12429

    I used references from your black lung lie post

    https://cfrankdavis.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/the-black-lung-lie/

    but I noticed that a link is broken from

    “And furthermore smokers’ lungs are routinely used in lung transplants:”

    This link

    http://www.webmd.boots.com/lung-cancer/news/20120529/lungs-transplanted-from-smokers-are-better-than-no-transplant

    is redirected on the server to an anti-smoking missive

    https://www.webmd.boots.com/asthma/guide/picture-of-the-lungs

    and the old page about transplants is missing or moved. This can only be done on their server and would have been deliberate. Whether or not they did it because of your post or not we will never know but I would say that the ‘picture-of-the-lungs’ bit gives us a clue given the content of your original post! And given that that post is one of your most popular , I would guess that they have had a lot of hits courtesy of you and I assume without your knowledge!

  3. Rose says:

    OT
    An interesting article on how the tobacco template is now being applied to power companies in California which, reading through the whole article, I felt gave me something of an insight into the earlier activities of anti-tobacco and the MSA.

    The Smoking Gun: Liberals Only Believe In Climate Change Catastrophe When It Suits Them
    Jan 20, 2018

    Recently a rash of lawsuits have been filed by California municipalities targeting energy companies. The claim these lawsuits make is that these California communities face imminent adverse environmental impacts due to climate change, caused by energy producers, which will force them to spend billions on infrastructural projects to mitigate weather- and sea level-related disasters. They claim, in fact, that the magnitude of these impending natural disasters is predictable, based on scientific modeling of the effects of climate change. Thus, these energy companies should fork over vast sums to the affected communities, to compensate them for their prospective woes.

    The holes in this logic are so numerous and copious that, if these lawsuits were ocean-going vessels, they would all long ago have foundered and sunk to the bottom of the Sea of Self-Delusion. Now, though, it appears that even the municipalities in question are inclined to scoff at their own predictions. How do we know this? A recent analysis of information provided by these communities in connection with their sale of municipal bonds proves that, in fact, they haven’t a clue how climate change will affect them, or whether it will affect them at all. Their claims to the contrary are at best opportunistic, and at worst brazenly mendacious.

    Take, for example, the City of Oakland, which in its climate change lawsuit alleges that, by 2100, the community will face a “100-year flood…once a week[!]”, a sea-level rise of 66 inches, and tens of billions of dollars in property damage. And yet in its municipal bond prospectus it offers the bland assurance that “The City is unable to predict when…impacts of climate change or flooding…could occur…and, if any such events occur, whether they will have a material adverse effect…” Quite a change in tone! The difference, of course, is that when the City of Oakland is suing energy companies, it wishes to present climate change catastrophe as a certainty. When it is reassuring potential purchasers of its bonds, however, it wishes to present the ill effects of climate change as distant and entirely speculative. Talk about disingenuous!”
    https://townhall.com/columnists/nicholaswaddy/2018/01/20/the-smoking-gun-liberals-only-believe-in-climate-change-catastrophe-when-it-suits-them-n2435868

    • beobrigitte says:

      My personal translation of:
      Take, for example, the City of Oakland, which in its climate change lawsuit alleges that, by 2100, the community will face a “100-year flood…once a week[!]”, a sea-level rise of 66 inches, and tens of billions of dollars in property damage.
      Hey, there is a way of wringing cash out to keep the man-made climate change industry in prosperity!

      And yet in its municipal bond prospectus it offers the bland assurance that “The City is unable to predict when…impacts of climate change or flooding…could occur…and, if any such events occur, whether they will have a material adverse effect…”
      Oh cr*p! We’re not paying out for e.g. dams etc.

      We’re all aware that our planet does what it has always done periodically, even long before humans were around.
      Just taking 2 super volcanos close to us:
      https://watchers.news/2017/07/12/mount-vesuvius-on-fire-tourists-and-residents-evacuated-italy/
      https://www.volcanodiscovery.com/laacher_see.html
      I don’t think the latter is close to eruption but we all know it is “doing something”.
      Over the big water there is the Yellowstone Park super volcano bulging and so on.

      I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry:
      “Many scientists are keeping an eye on the Agung eruption in Bali,” said Alan Robock, a professor of climate science at Rutgers University. “Volcanic eruptions serve as an analogue for the idea of humans creating such a cloud.”

      Satellite measurements of eruptions have only recently become precise enough to exploit volcanoes as models for geo-engineering.

      That was impossible, for instance, when Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted in 1991 and blew about 20 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere, the second biggest eruption of the 20th century after one in Alaska in 1912.

      Mount Pinatubo had a cooling effect on the Earth because the sun-dimming sulphur spread worldwide.
      https: //www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientists-look-to-bali-volcano-for-clues-to-curb-climate-change/

    • RdM says:

      OT to further absurdity, comments fun too:
      https://wattsupwiththat.com/2018/01/20/new-york-times-forwards-climate-propaganda/

      Rose, I’m behind on responses, gardening to come (& pests, & TMV!) soon.

      • Rose says:

        RdM
        I’ve just been eating Sunday lunch watching half crown sized snowflakes fall lazily from the sky and settle on the tree branches, slowly covering the garden in a deeper coat of white.

        18 years earlier –

        Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past
        2000

        “Snow is starting to disappear from our lives. Sledges, snowmen, snowballs and the excitement of waking to find that the stuff has settled outside are all a rapidly diminishing part of Britain’s culture, as warmer winters – which scientists are attributing to global climate change – produce not only fewer white Christmases, but fewer white Januaries and Februaries … Global warming, the heating of the atmosphere by increased amounts of industrial gases, is now accepted as a reality by the international community … According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit of the University of East Anglia, within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”. “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” he said.”

        Click to access snowfalls-are-now-just-a-thing-of-the-past-the-independent.pdf

        January 1997

        LETTER : Freeze points to need for climate action

        “Sir: Paradoxically, a severe cold spell is a very appropriate moment for a robust lead article on global warming (4 January). However, the article implies that the recent cold weather is probably a natural variation from the trend of gradual temperature increases. That is certainly possible, but it could just as easily be a perverse consequence of global warming itself.

        The extra heat trapped by greenhouse gases changes the circulation of the atmosphere and may even disrupt major systems such as the Gulf Stream. If the changed circulation means that Britain gets more of its weather from the Arctic than from the Caribbean, global warming may cause local cooling.

        Such predictions are hard to make and even harder to verify. However, they illustrate the point that global warming will lead to changes in weather patterns that leave some places colder, most hotter, and many facing instability, storms, floods, droughts and other “weird weather” events. Sadly, many politicians still cling to the more comforting idea of vineyards in Suffolk and pavement cafes in Manchester.”

        CLIVE BATES

        International Institute for Energy Conservation
        http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/letter-freeze-points-to-need-for-climate-action-5407010.html

  4. Clicky says:

  5. beobrigitte says:

    Reinhold Messner, who climbed Everest without the aid of oxygen, was said to have been a smoker at the time of the ascent (although no evidence for this was produced).
    I did try and find some evidence but unfortunately was not successful.

    So it seems that there’s a long history of mountaineering smokers. But antismokers can’t get their heads around it:

    How on Earth could these fellows hope to get to Everest’s summit in the rarified air up around 29,000 ft with tobacco tar coating their extremely delicate and highly important lung tissues?

    This is like asking: How on Earth could these fellows hope to get to Everest’s summit in the rarified air up around 29,000 ft carrying heavy oxygen tanks that would have impeded their climbing?
    There is a lot of things the anti-smoking advocates can’t get their heads around. Not only were a lot of climbers smokers, they also climbed in days when there was no high tech gear to help them.

    George Mallory (below) was another climber who smoked: see Robert Graves’ tale of Mallory’s Pipe. As was Andrew Irvine, with whom Mallory attempted to climb Everest in 1928 (and probably succeeded, although he didn’t get back down) .
    Considering that back in these days the weight of the gear carried by the climbers was about twice that of the gear carried now, the anti-smoking advocates have another fact to choose to ignore.
    The 1953 expedition had climbers carrying loads approaching 44 pounds apiece. Today, ultralight gear cuts significant weight from a climber’s load—often half the weight, or less, of Mallory’s pack load.
    https://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/features/everest/gear-edmund-hillary-hilaree-oneill/
    Not to mention the clothing worn in 1928 to climb Mount Everest!!
    Mallory’s body was found eventually on 1.5.1999. He had fractures to the right leg.
    https://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/ng-adventure/170720-mount-everest-sherpas-climbers-rescue?source=relatedvideo

  6. Philip Neal says:

    I read somewhere that the same thing is true of freediving (diving without breathing equipment), particularly to great depth). Alas I have lost the reference – it was years ago, and internet searches these days return pages and pages of ‘trustworthy sources’.

  7. RdM says:

    Frank;- I think your post quote is not complete.
    You wrote, quoted:

    Joe had taken five cigarettes up with him, and smoked them all inside their tiny 2-man tent at 8200m. “Imagine being up there, exhausted, and having to share a tent with somebody smoking?”

    But the full quote was

    On their summit push Joe gave us some insight into the character of George Band. Joe had taken five cigarettes up with him, and smoked them all inside their tiny 2-man tent at 8200m. “Imagine being up there, exhausted, and having to share a tent with somebody smoking? But George never said a word to me – he must have been the most tolerant man in the world!” When they reached the West Ridge they stopped for something to eat just 100 metres or so short of the summit. He showed us a photograph of himself sitting on the West Ridge with Kangchenjunga’s sister summit Yalung Kang rising up behind. “Now isn’t that the world’s best picnic site!” he said.

    Let’s emphasize that!

    But George never said a word to me – he must have been the most tolerant man in the world!<

    • Frank Davis says:

      I read the passage. But I didn’t think that George was an especially tolerant man. It’s just that the world is full of intolerant people these days, in ways it wasn’t back then.

    • beobrigitte says:

      But George never said a word to me – he must have been the most tolerant man in the world!
      Back in the days it wasn’t tolerance, it was NORMAL to share an enclosed space with 1 or more smokers. Nobody minded until they were scared into believing that passive smoke harms them in some miraculous ways it had never done before.

      Fear is a great manipulator. Thanks to fear we have replaced our god(s) with the new god of health, although it’s definition is somewhat diffuse and new things threatening this new god are invented on a daily basis.
      As a physically healthy person I begin to find life and praying to this new god utterly utterly depressing simply because I remember a time of laughter, innovation, and NO WORRIES.

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