For many, Everest exists only as metaphor.
It’s the mountaintop, the insurmountable, the journey, the thing one must conquer. It’s that hard thing you had to do; and doing it meant reaching the summit and looking down at all your hard work from what felt like the top of the world.
Roxanne Vogel, Nutrition and Performance Research Manager at Gu Energy Labs, has actually been there.
Not only has she summited Everest, but she did so in record time. Her journey, timed from the moment she left and returned to her doorstep in Berkeley, took two weeks. Normally, it takes two months. Previously, the fastest journey was 28 days.
As with any difficult task, Roxanne spent months preparing for her climb. That’s how she was able to completely crush the previous Everest climbing record. Let’s look at her background, her nutrition strategy, and how it feels to look down on the world from 29,000 feet above.
The tallest mountain in San Diego county is Hot Springs Mountain, a modest 6,535 feet. That feels like what would fall off if Everest were to sneeze.
Roxanne grew up in San Diego. She was part of a typical beach family, spending far more time at sea level than thousands of feet above it. In college, a study abroad trip in South America had her hike Machu Picchu, her first foray into trekking of any sort. That trip was fun and exciting, but it wasn’t the type of moment that changes a person. That happened years later.
In 2012, after taking a trip of personal exploration, she saw the Himalaya for the first time and was purely blown away by their scale.
"I never thought I would climb Everest until I actually saw it. Something inside me was profoundly stirred."Roxanne Vogel
Roxanne came back from that trip to her home of Raleigh, NC with a shocking announcement to her family: she was forgoing a full scholarship to graduate school in order to focus on climbing. She was supposed to study Exercise Physiology (M.S) at East Carolina University. Roxanne’s parents were surprised but understood her desire to pursue something else that was important to her.
From the moment she saw Everest, Roxanne started taking steps toward its summit. That led her to Colorado, where she started climbing “fourteeners,” mountains with an elevation over 14,000ft. Colorado has 58 peaks that meet this criteria, with an added bonus—they’re at a higher altitude than most of the rest of the country (when looking at mean elevation). Colorado might be considered the “highest” state for a couple reasons.
These treks didn’t require a ton of technical skill. Roxanne was fit, but knew she’d need to hone her practice before even thinking about increasing the difficulty of her climbs. She took courses on climbing, learning all she could about the sport.
After summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, she set out to conquer the Seven Summits: the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. She started with some of the lower summits, eventually looking up at Mt. Denali in 2016—the tallest mountain in North America, located in Alaska, at 20,322ft.
“That was a big stepping stone for me,” Roxanne said.
What’s unique about Denali is the temperature and wind. The Kahiltna Glacier (on which Denali is located) is home to some of the widest-ranging weather conditions of any climb. At lower elevations, it can be hot. At higher elevations, it can dip to -35 Fahrenheit. Wind is also a huge danger. Not only can wind rip through campsites, it can also accelerate the frostbite process. Winds of over 100mph have been recorded at 14,000ft on the mountain. So how does one prepare for such a chameleon climate? You pack enough gear.
Between her pack and sled, Roxanne hauled 130lbs of it—more than she weighs.
That climb was one of Roxanne’s most difficult; but it also opened her eyes to the possibilities of climbing, the possibilities of what her mind and body would be able to accomplish.
Roxanne’s Everest summit started way before she was actually on the mountain.
Once climbing the world’s tallest mountain became even a remote possibility, Roxanne started working with Uphill Athlete—the first time she ever used coaches, training with their team for five months. So...what’s a mountaineer’s training actually look like?
Already a trail runner, Roxanne casually ran a few ultramarathons to further establish her aerobic base. Then it was about building strength. She did weight-bearing uphill exercise, long trail runs on the mountain, and muscular endurance workouts (like jump lunges with 20% of her body weight). These were designed to mimic what her body might experience on the mountain, getting her used to moving quickly under heavy loads.
Nutrition was obviously vital, too. In particular, fasted workouts were a cornerstone of her nutritional strategy—something that would save Roxanne on summit day (more on this later).
She’d do 5hr - 6hr fasted workouts, specifically a ton of uphill loaded movements and strength training to teach her body to run on fat as fuel. Roxanne had a solid base on which to build, but her team was blown away by the process she made in five short months.
During those five months, Roxanne trained 20hrs a week. She lost 20lbs. 19lbs of those were fat.
Another absolutely vital component of her success was training at altitude. Roxanne stayed at Mammoth Lakes (about 8,000ft) to train and get acclimated to physical endurance with thinner air.
But maybe the most unique aspect of Roxanne’s altitude training was her home hypoxia tent and Hypoxico altitude chamber at work. This is what enabled her to summit Everest so quickly—she did all of her acclimatization locally.
Roxanne had a specialized tent that enveloped her bed. The tent, much like a plane or a hyperbaric chamber, could simulate different altitudes. She slept in the tent every night for three months, with a goal of spending 12hrs per day at altitude. She slept as high as 19,000ft, slightly higher than Everest base camp.
“You’re kind of suffocating at night,” she said.
Recovery was vital after all that hard training. Roxanne used just about everything in the book: H.V.M.N. Ketone Ester, sauna, massages, body work weekly, yoga and flexibility routines several times a week. It must’ve worked, because it enabled her to train harder than ever before.
No training program is complete without adequate fuel.
As a Nutrition and Performance Research Manager at GU Energy Labs, Roxanne had worked with a ton of athletes already to optimize their performance. She basically started training herself, wanting to improve her metabolic health while maintaining muscle mass and speeding the recovery process.
Roxanne was already practicing a low-carb, high-fat diet, spending most of her time in nutritional ketosis. She ate extremely clean: no booze, no starches, no grains, lots of fruits and veggies. Every macronutrient was tracked and accounted for, with data being key to her whole training regimen.
The goal? Fat adaptation.
In order to get there, she did extended workouts completely fasted and practiced time-restricted feeding as well as intermittent fasting. After those fasted workouts, she’d reach for a GU Roctane Protein Recovery shake.
Roxanne also had some custom-made products to meet her nutrition needs. GU Energy created a high-calorie, fat-based (coconut butter, macadamia nuts, cacao) bar as part of the fueling strategy for summit day. The bar also included a mushroom blend extract, beet root extract, and a couple other nootropic ingredients.
Part of Roxanne’s job is doing research into how athletes can perform better. Of course that led her to learn about H.V.M.N. Ketone Ester.
Through her interest in (and practice of) the ketogenic diet, Roxanne got in touch with H.V.M.N. to try some H.V.M.N. Ketone Ester. Certain areas of research piqued her interest.
Obviously, ketones are hyper-efficient fuel for the body. But they’re also excellent brain food. We basically adapted to produce ketones for our brains—fat cannot cross the blood-brain barrier and thus, our brains can’t use fat as fuel. That’s where ketones come in. When our ancestors were on long hunts between meals, they needed proper fuel to function, but couldn’t use the copious amount of stored body fat. That’s until we evolved to produce ketones, turning that fat into energy for the brain.
As we get deeper into ketone research, hypoxia is a growing area of interest. Hypoxia is the deficiency in the amount of oxygen to reach the tissue; in this case, we’re talking about the brain. Numerous studies have been done in rats and mice, showing BHB (the predominant ketone body) has protective effects on cerebral hypoxia.1,2,3
Based on her experience training with H.V.M.N. Ketone Ester at altitude in Mammoth Lakes, Roxanne knew she wanted to take the product on summit day. But more tests needed to be done on her cognitive performance.
Roxanne used Defense Automated Neurobehavioral Assessment (DANA) cognitive performance tests to see how her brain operated on ketones. These are a series of small mental tests (think number and color recognition, quick math, etc.) or brain games designed to show how a brain functions under stress. Based on her results when using H.V.M.N. Ketone Ester, Roxanne knew it’d help her perform at altitude.
“H.V.M.N. Ketone Ester made me feel great. I literally felt like I was thinking clearer at 23,000ft.”Roxanne Vogel
Roxanne described an “out-of-body” feeling at altitude. The air is so thin that it gets difficult to think. With H.V.M.N. Ketone Ester, she was able to focus—something vital when every step is of supreme importance.
She also used H.V.M.N. Ketone Ester for recovery. The product was a big part of her nutrition strategy, where she drank one bottle after some of her most difficult workouts (especially double days or big back-to-back training weekends). Shortly before she was to embark on the Everest trip, a groundbreaking study on ketone ester for recovery was published.
With data showing cyclists performed 15% better on their most difficult training days after using ketone ester to recover,4 that only bolstered Roxanne’s confidence in the product and its efficacy.
From training to recovery to summit day, H.V.M.N. Ketone Ester was on the ride with Roxanne.
Because of Roxanne’s acclimatization techniques before the summit day, she was able to make a lightning-fast ascent (even on zero sleep the night before). But three hours into her 16-hour summit day, Roxanne was already feeling fatigue set in.
“But nothing was going to make me stop,” she said.
Most climbers spend days or weeks at each Everest camp; including base camp, there are five different camps at which climbers rest and get used to the altitude. Roxanne started from camp two, skipped camp three, and went straight to the summit.
But that presented some problems.
Normally, sherpa set climbing lines in the mountain, making it a bit safer for climbers to tether themselves to these lines to avoid big falls (and potentially, death). Roxanne summited on the north side of the mountain—a far less popular route. Only about one-third of climbers ascend from the north (which is harder, and usually has worse weather). Lines on the south summit had been fixed for weeks but on the north side, they hadn’t yet been set.
That was likely due to weather. Sherpa tried a few times to set the lines but were forced to turn back due to extreme weather. On Roxanne’s summit day, they were graced with a brief window of good weather; she and the sherpa were thinking the same thing, using the weather to reach the top of the mountain.
But Roxanne didn’t know the sherpa would fix the lines that day. She took a gamble.
Her crew essentially followed the sherpa as they were fixing the lines, passing bodies of climbers who had died on previous excursions.
Roxanne was accompanied by guide Lydia Bradey of Alpenglow Expeditions and sherpa Mingma Tshering and Pasang Tendi. Lydia Bradey was the first woman to summit Everest without oxygen, and had summited the southern side of the mountain five times (but had never done the north). She basically came out of retirement to climb the north side with Roxanne.
The summit was something Lydia had seen many times. It was also something Roxanne had seen, but only in her mind.
The physical side of Everest is only half the battle. Roxanne looked specifically into mental preparation strategies, employing techniques used by Olympic athletes. She visualized the climb, she saw herself on the summit. But no matter how much you prepare for the “Second Step,” there’s only so much that visualization can do.
Often regarded as the most difficult part of the Everest north side climb, the Second Step is one of three technical parts of the climb. Located at over 28,000ft, the climbing height of the Second Step is 131ft, with the last several pure vertical. Climbers scale a series of shaky, icy ladders, above 10,000ft of drop-off.
Upon scaling the Second Step, the summit was within reach. But it’s a wonder how Roxanne even got there.
She only consumed about 200 calories on summit day.
During her training, she hadn’t yet used an oxygen mask, not anticipating how difficult it would be to eat with one of those covering her mouth. It was a waste of excess energy to try and remove the mask, eat, and get it situated properly again. That’s where the fat-adaptation came in: Roxanne’s body was able to tap into her stored fat to help propel her during the insanely fast (and difficult) climb.
After accomplishing the Second Step, Roxanne and her crew were alone at the summit. That was cause for concern.
“I figured there was no way in hell we’d be the only ones at the summit. I thought we’d made a wrong turn or something,” she said.
That’s a stark difference from the now viral photo of a long queue climbers waiting to reach the summit. This photo was taken the same day Roxanne summited, but she arrived from the north side; the image was taken from the south summit.
Once at the summit, Roxanne was in a dreamlike state—both from euphoria, and likely from the altitude. She didn’t take off her pack. She didn’t eat the freeze-dried ice cream sandwich she planned on enjoying. She remembers it was sunny, looking down at the world below, knowing she accomplished something only a small number of people have done.
“Success came from training, nutrition, and solid logistics,” Roxanne said.
Her goal is to scale the Seven Summits, the seven volcanic summits (the highest volcanoes on each of the seven continents), and both the north and south poles. It’s a feat of mountaineering never accomplished by a woman before.
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|1.||Suzuki M, Suzuki M, Sato K, et al. Effect of beta-hydroxybutyrate, a cerebral function improving agent, on cerebral hypoxia, anoxia and ischemia in mice and rats. Jpn J Pharmacol. 2001;87(2):143-50.|
|2.||Kirsch JR, D'alecy LG, Mongroo PB. Butanediol induced ketosis increases tolerance to hypoxia in the mouse. Stroke. 1980;11(5):506-13.|
|3.||Xu K, Sun X, Eroku BO, Tsipis CP, Puchowicz MA, Lamanna JC. Diet-induced ketosis improves cognitive performance in aged rats. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2010;662:71-5.|
|4.||Vandoorne, T., De Smet, S., Ramaekers, M., Van Thienen, R., De Bock, K., Clarke, K., and Hespel, P. (2017). Intake of a Ketone Ester Drink during Recovery from Exercise Promotes mTORC1 Signaling but Not Glycogen Resynthesis in Human Muscle. Front. Physiol. 8, 310.|
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