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DenaliNOVA just rebroadcast their episode called Deadly Ascent which explores the difficulties of climbing Denali (Mt McKinley). The show highlighted some intriguing parallels between mountaineering and trading.

Experienced climbers describe Denali as not a technically daunting mountain. Climbers can make the ascent without having to scale huge rock faces or ice falls, the kinds of things you see when they do the Eiger or K2. The thing about Denali is the environment: That beautiful massif pushes up into the sky, and the volatility is the weather combined with the altitude.

A local guide talks about the deceptive qualities of Denali in particular, about how a group of climbers will make the ascent safely in good weather, come back down and tell their friends how easy it was, and the friends will put together a team, make the attempt and die.

The NOVA team was composed of a man and woman, both experienced mountain guides, and an astronaut, John Grunsfeld. One of the technologies they used to explore the effects of altitude and cold was a "thermister" pill, a small thermometer that is swallowed and then transmits data on the subject's core body temperature. An important part of the data-gathering effort was to track external weather conditions, as well as the internal body temperature of the climbers making the ascent.

There was an interesting comparison between the astronaut, Grunsfeld, and one of the experienced guides, Caitlin Palmer. The thermister readings showed that when Grunsfeld was climbing, his core body temperature would spike to as high as the 103-104 range. Then, when he stopped and rested, his core temp would plunge rapdily to as low as 95, near hypothermia. Caitlin Palmer, on the other hand, maintained a narrower range of 100-96, with slower changes of temperature. She was able to function more effectively in the extreme conditions. Grunsfeld eventually had difficulty at their camp at 17,200 and descended with Palmer, without making the summit.

George Zachar adds:

Thinking of volatility, and of the markets in the last two weeks, I enjoyed looking at these photos of a monster roller coaster at Cedar Point.


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