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Jonathan Stull | 07.31.2017

To ascend and to descend: These are the basic actions we take when we gain and lose elevation. When we descend, it is into darkness or chaos; when we climb, it is to success against trial or tribulation. This is language we learn from nature, and for this week’s installment of the #52WeekAdventureChallenge, we celebrate the change that we bring when we gain and lose elevation.

In the outdoors, the change that comes from the tick of the altimeter can be just as dramatic. The Himalayan Mountains rise just 5 miles above sea level, and yet behind the range is an arid rainshadow 1,000 miles long. At a depth of 600 feet in the oceans off of the Indian coast, as elsewhere, there is too little light for photosynthesis to occur. On the earth’s surface, it is common for temperatures to fluctuate over 60 degrees between day and night. Dig just 2 feet underground, and that temperature fluctuates by one degree.

For us bipedal creatures, the idea of such adventures poses a threat to our health. Mountaineers believe the body can’t adapt to life in the “death zone” above 26,000 feet, where they speculate that there isn’t enough oxygen to feed the body. Humans have survived for two years at 19,520 feet, and some live permanently at 16,700 feet, but they risk acute mountain sickness and various types of edema to do so. On the opposite end of the spectrum, to dive is to risk oxygen toxicity, and the pressure of water on the body increases the size of the heart the moment a diver immerses in water.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? We were always big-hearted creatures. We don’t climb the peaks or plumb the depths because we have to, we challenge ourselves to stretch the definition of what is possible—and experience something different and new. We are risk-takers, and where there is disbelief we discover ways to subvert it.

So go out there and climb that 26,000-foot mountain.

Here are a few adventures to get your blood pumping.

Rainshadows

Plumbing the Depths

Touching the Sky

High-octane Steeps

Negative Gains

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