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Water Sources and Availability

A- Virtually all mountaineering base camps are sited near easily available clean water sources. Note the words “easily available”, and “clean”. Nobody wants to melt snow for water at base camp because melting snow consumes a lot of energy (meaning fuel). So, Basecamps are normally located near mountain streams or rivers or glacial runoff. Another important attribute of that water source is it must be clean. Nobody wants to run a PUB filtration plant just for Basecamp use.

Of course, the water is first boiled and then filtered through two layers of muslim cloth by the kitchen staff before we get to drink it. Boiling water at altitudes is tricky … you can’t judge by just looking for bubbles and steam. This is because water boils at a lower temperature with increasing altitudes (due to lower air pressure). A lot of stubborn organisms require 100 deg C at 20 minutes to be killed. Just getting that 100 deg C at 5,000m might be well nigh impossible!

For our Basecamp, there is a ‘frozen river’ about 400m away and that supplies us with a source of running water. Here, we use pressurised kerosene stoves as source of heat for boiling and cooking. Nobody uses firewood – because there are no trees to be seen for miles around!

When you are lazing around in Basecamp (like me), you have to drink 100% more water than you consume when you are in Singapore – because the air is very dry here (5% RH) and more important, your blood is actually thicker because of increased amount of red blood cells. You drink water to dilute this thicker blood to assist your heart.

However, physical exertion (climbing, trekking, etc) at high altitudes mean that you MUST consume at least 300% more water for obvious reasons.

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