Blog » Boulder rocks!

7 Jun 2005

Boulder rocks!

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 9:31 pm

Boulder really is living up to the hype so far! It’s the end of day two of my month here, and two stunning days they have been. Apparently there were tornados (!) in the area on the weekend, but except for a few drops of thunderstorm yesterday, it’s been perfect weather.

We’ve been spending most of the days indoors in lectures, but the evenings have seen a trip to a local bar ($2 beers, which might interest some…); a cheese and wine reception on the top of a tower on campus which has an excellent view of the Rockies; and tonight I went rock climbing at a local climbing gym. One of the Harvard students, Michelle, drove here from Boston (!!), with some climbing gear, and was looking for a partner. Add an excellent Indian dinner, and I’m about ready for some more lectures tomorrow! Unfortunately from next week it looks like we’ll be having informal sessions in the evenings too, so the holiday will be over.

What I’ve found most unexpected so far is the way that the plains and Rockies meet. I’m used to mountain ranges being preceeded by increasingly large foothills. Denver and Boulder, however, are at the end of some of the flattest plains I’ve seen, which I believe stretch for most of the central part of US. About a kilometre west of us the plains suddenly end, and the mountains rise up. From here we can even see perpeptually snow-covered peaks.

And boy, I’m really benefitting from having grown up at about the same altitude as Boulder (abour 1800m, or 6000 feet), judging by the way some of these people are complaining…

Exercise for the reader: Come here. Hey, a meal without ANY mention of string theory would be quite a novelty…

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  1. My brother and I grew up at an elevation of ~875 ft, not exactly a breathtaking altitude. Recently, my brother went to a conference up in Utah at some ski resort-type place (at least, it was somewhere up in the mountains near Salt Lake City). He was only there for a few days, but he found that the altitude had a big impact on how he felt. I wonder, how long does it take to get used to living at a higher altitude like that? Can one truly get used to it?

    Also: Take some pictures! If you don’t have a camera, you could grab a disposable one.

    Comment by Adam — 8 Jun 2005 @ 12:13 am

  2. Your body adapts its ability to take up oxygen by altering the configuration of a protein in haemoglobin to encourage binding of an additional oxygen molecule into the protein. That takes in the region of 2-4 days to occur, and likewise for the reverse.

    Although there are differences in lung capacity as well which obviously don’t change easily.

    Comment by Paul F — 8 Jun 2005 @ 1:06 am

  3. Well done Paul, you are discovering the joys of geology:)

    Comment by Lou — 8 Jun 2005 @ 2:59 am

  4. dude, there’s a army-navy surplus store on pearl street. they sell the best zip up fleece jackets ever. like $15.

    Comment by suavisimo — 8 Jun 2005 @ 5:03 am

  5. Heya Bob,

    Couldn’t resist :)

    The fact that you grew up at high altitude probably wouldn’t help much if you’ve been spending time (eg months) at a much lower altitude. You’d probably get a benefit for about a week or so when moving from high to low.

    Primary mechanism of adjusting is for the body to simply re-regulate the red blood cell count based on energy requirements. Hence the haematocrit change over time when you move from one elevation to the next.

    Have to agree with Lou, too…geology rocks (oh my…was that another pun?!)

    Comment by Chris — 8 Jun 2005 @ 9:01 am

  6. I think it must just be ur 1337 phitness ski11z.

    I tried going thru that LA bike route mentally, and it took me at least 3 1/2 hours.

    Comment by Spleen — 8 Jun 2005 @ 11:00 am

  7. Elevation kicks ass. Spent a summer at 6225′ at South Lake Tahoe and had a perfect comparison at each end – i.e. twice getting off at the wrong stop and having to drag luggage eight blocks.

    Inbound, I nearly died. Outbound, I didn’t loose my breath. I felt like Superman, it was so cool…

    Comment by xaosseed — 8 Jun 2005 @ 11:44 am

  8. Wow! Seems the readers of this blog are quite a knowledgeable group! Except for one Spleen, who apparently has difficulty with visualising a straight bike path…

    Anyway, since you’re on a roll, here’s another question: for a day or two after arriving in Boulder, or Johannesburg for that matter, it feels like I have a very slight cold (my nose runs, mostly). Now that could just be a slight cold from the airplane, but it could also be an altitude and/or low humidity effect. Any ideas?

    Comment by paulcook — 8 Jun 2005 @ 12:23 pm

  9. Some interesting research has also been done on the natural selection aspect of living at high altitude. For example, the three major populations living at high altitude (in Ethiopia, the Andes, and the Himalayas) exhibit three different levels of blood-oxygen adaptation to altitude, likely in proportion to the number of generations each has inhabited their particular area (the most ancient population, in the Himalayas, seems most perfectly adapted, while the 16,000 year old Andean population are slightly less well-adapted, and the most recent population, the Ethiopians, are essentially no different than sea-level folk– as the article notes, this is interesting in light of the Ethiopian’s great running success…)

    Likewise, Tibetans have significantly higher levels of an antioxidant enzyme, and another enzyme that improves cellular energy production. Tibetans also possess fewer mitochondria, and breathe more per minute than people who live at sea level.

    [And now, Paul, you’ll have something other than string theory to talk about at meals, to perpetuate your widely-erudite image with a new group of people ;) ]

    Comment by L'el — 8 Jun 2005 @ 5:48 pm

  10. So, I read Freedom in Exile by the Dalai Lama back during college. Unless I’m mistaken, many of the refugees from Tibet that ended up in India died because of problems associated with moving from a high-altitude, arid region to a low-altitude, tropical region. I highly, highly recommend reading Freedom in Exile. If you’ve got other things on your list of books to read, put this book among the top few. It’s really well written, enjoyable (not all of it is about the tragedy that is China’s treatment of Tibet), and very interesting.

    And speaking of mitochondria, I recall reading an article last year (?) about a study looking at the relative efficiency of mitochondria in different ethnic populations. Some populations that came from colder regions (e.g. Anglo-Saxons) had less efficient mitochondria than populations from hotter regions (e.g. Africans). The theory being proposed was that inefficient mitochondria produce more heat (either directly or indirectly, can’t quite remember). Now, while this is a trivial thing in a single mitochondrion, multiply this by roughly 10-100 trillion cells, and multiply by however mitochondria per cell, and you might get enough of a difference to allow someone to survive easier in a cold climate. Similarly, efficient mitochondria –> less heat –> better able to handle a hot climate. Now, I’m not going to comment on the validity of that study, but I think it’s an interesting concept.

    Comment by Adam — 9 Jun 2005 @ 2:03 am

  11. So I really think we need more geology (there’s too much string theory being knocked about here). Now, from my limited knowledge of American geology (I only know about meteorite craters and volcanoes, sorry), the Rockies were formed by a subduction zone (Pacific Plate hitting the North American Plate). Now that doesn’t entirely explain your flat plains, which intrigued me even more than your ghastly pun…

    Now we need your help Paul. Go outside. Look at the shape of the valley leading to the mts (you may need a helicopter to do this). If they are u-shaped, then there was some glacial input. Which would explain your “flat plains” leading directly up to the mountains. If not, then we’re screwed…

    And yes, Geology does rock. If you in-schist.

    Comment by Lou — 9 Jun 2005 @ 6:39 am

  12. Yay! I’m so glad you love Boulder. I heard all about the cheerleaders from my mother. It’s hilarious.

    Comment by Holly — 13 Jun 2005 @ 5:08 pm

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