Hypoxic ventilatory response in successful extreme altitude climbers

L. Bernardi, A. Schneider, L. Pomidori, E. Paolucci, A. Cogo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A very high ventilatory response to hypoxia is believed necessary to reach extreme altitude without oxygen. Alternatively, the excessive ventilation could be counterproductive by exhausting the ventilatory reserve early on. To test these alternatives, 11 elite climbers (2004 Everest-K2 Italian Expedition) were evaluated as follows: 1) at sea level, and 2) at 5,200 m, after 15 days of acclimatisation at altitude. Resting oxygen saturation, minute ventilation, breathing rate, hypoxic ventilatory response, maximal voluntary ventilation, ventilatory reserve (at oxygen saturation=70%) and two indices of ventilatory efficiency were measured. Everest and K2 summits were reached 29 and 61 days, respectively, after the last measurement. Five climbers summited without oxygen, the other six did not, or succeeded with oxygen (two climbers). At sea level, all data were similar. At 5,200 m, the five summiters without oxygen showed lower resting minute ventilation, breathing rate and ventilatory response to hypoxia, and higher ventilatory reserve and ventilatory efficiency, compared to the other climbers. Thus, the more successful climbers had smaller responses to hypoxia during acclimatisation to 5,200 m, but, as a result, had greater available reserve for the summit. A less sensitive hypoxic response and a greater ventilatory efficiency might increase ventilatory reserve and allow sustainable ventilation in the extreme hypoxia at the summit. Copyright

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-171
Number of pages7
JournalEuropean Respiratory Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2006


  • Altitude
  • Hypoxia
  • Ventilation
  • Ventilatory control
  • Ventilatory efficiency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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