The following is an 8/5/97 post of Eric June's to the US hang-gliding listserv (Utah), describing his brush with hypoxia during a highflight in the Owens.

Date: Fri, 07 Nov 1997 01:22:15 -0800
From: Eric June
Subject: Hypoxia in the Owens

Penguin thought that y'all might find some value in an off-line discussion we've been having about hypoxia. So here goes:



> I am personally somewhat "hypoxia-tolerant" so giving up that
> 8-hour lifetime on EDS for somewhat less time without it probably won't
> kill me.


>Makes me nervous...

I used to fly for years without O2. I got hypoxic so many times that I now know the warning signs for my body very well. These vary from individual to individual. Some people get spacey, some get headaches, etc. For me, it is slight hyperventilation followed by a distinctive warm tingling feeling in the upper halves of my ears.

Now, as soon as my ears get warm and tingle, I stuff the bar and dive down to at least 12k. That stops the tingling and the hyperventialtion. After 5-10 minutes down low, I can usually climb back to higher altitudes and continue on.

Back when I was young and stupid (and didn't understand the warning signs) I got REAL hypoxic on one flight. I was racing down the Whites on a booming high day, under a cloud street, maintaining a solid 18k - 19k the whole way (subtract 1000 feet from those numbers if you happen to work for the FAA :-) I was taking some really DEEP breaths, and breathing pretty fast too. (**Missed warning sign #1**).

As I apprached White Mountain Peak, I glanced at my thermometer which read 10 deg F. I had been real cold earlier, but now, with all the warm tingling in my ears, and the euphoric I-can-do-anything feeling in full gear, I didn't think it strange at all that I was feeling cozy. (**Missed warning signs #2 & #3**)

I figured it was about time to call my trusty driver with a position report. Kristy had driven for us for years. But damned if I could remember her name! (**Missed warning sign #4**)

I then began to wonder where my best friend and flying buddy was. I knew he was behind me somewhere, I couldn't see him, so I decided to call him on the radio. Damned if I could remember his name either! (**Missed warning sign #5**)

As I approached Boundary Peak, still at 18.5k, I scanned out into Nevada to see what the conditions looked like. But things out there seemed unusually fuzzy, and there was this weird darkness all around the edges of my vision. Kinda like looking down a tunnel, but a very wide tunnel. And I normally have great vision, no contacts, no glasses. (**Missed warning sign #6**)

At the end of the mountains I looked around to find Janie's. As you probably know, it is right down there directly ahead and below at this point. There is a big dirt airstrip marking the place, and it is just across Hwy 6. You can't miss it. But I sure did! I was suddenly completely disoriented. (Missed warning sign #7**)

I decided to ask for help, even though I was really embarassed about not remembering anyone's name. So I said, "Hello, this is, um, um, Eric, is that um, Janie's down there?" I was looking at the truck stop on top of the pass as you head out Hwy 6 toward Basalt and Coaldale.

Now think for a moment about how STUPID a question that was:

1) They didn't know where I was.
2) They surely didn't know what I was looking at!

But when I got the response "Huh? What are you TALKING about!" I got all testy and yelled at Kristy for not being more helpful!! (Missed warning sign #8**)

Kristy kept her cool and started repeating (about 10 times or so, I was being real stupid and beligerant), "Listen to me. You are TOO HIGH. You are hypoxic. Come down lower. Pull in the bar. Find sink!"

Naturally, with me being Superman and all, (Missed warning sign #9**) I totally ignored her and started out for Nevada. Fortunately, as soon as I left the mountains, I hit some of the strongest/smoothest sink I had ever felt. Must have been descending at close to 2000 ft/min. I kept flying toward what I assumed was Janie's (the unlandable truck stop).

I came down so fast that O2 started hitting my brain pretty quickly. My vision started to clear. I remembered Kristy's name. And damn, what the hell am I doing gliding to that power-line-filled truck stop!!

Knowing that I had totally blown it, had my driver and friend totally worried, and had been a complete ass, I pointed my nose toward the REAL Janie's. I fought my way back through a STRONG headwind to just barely eek it in over the fence. The trees were bending over. It must have been blowing 30+ on the ground. Made an otherwise uneventful vertical landing.

Now I get the hell down lower if ANY of those warning signs show up. And I always fly the Owens with O2. I'm just not certain that I need continuous O2, or O2 all the way down to 11k which is where my EDS kicks in at. A few good inhales every few minutes should be enough, more if any warnings appear.


Eric June