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Aerogel used at K2 Winter Ascent?

What exactly they wore to summit K2 in winter?

“In general, they might add an extra mid layer of thick fleece, definitely footbed warms and full face masks. Probably heated gloves if available or even Aerogel (used by NASA for heat shields) in some garments. Not sure of they had special down suits made with 1000 Fill.” – Alan Arnette [see: comments sections at he end of the article]

“I reached out to Dawa Sherpa, principle and expedition leader for Seven Summits Treks to find out what changes they are making for winter. He had some interesting details to share.”

“First he said climbers had additional mid-layers, mostly more down between their normal summer base layers and the down suit. This could be an additional down jacket or down paints. This certainly will add bulk but also warmth. As for the down suit itself, Dawa said most people had more down than usual even up to 1500 gr of down fill, over twice the regular 800 fill. Remember, it’s the amount of down that makes it warm, not necessary the quality i.e. 700, 850, 1000 etc.”

“As for hands and feet, Dawa said: “For hands everybody uses either chemical hand warmers, already from c1-2 or electronic heated mitts.” But it seems that boots are a big problem as he describes:”

“For feet, people are using heated insoles or heated socks. We noticed that most 8000m boots are not designed for deep winter. Because the constant cold boots don’t thaw out and a ice layer will form between the gaiter and the boot. It seems like Millet and La Sportiva are the worst, Scarpa a little better, but also not perfect.”

“Finally he talked about the cold in general:”

“The cold is huge problem, even traveling to the lower camps. A small mistake already causes frostnip and almost everyone who travelled above C2 has some kind of frost injuries. Windpeeds that are totally acceptable in summer are already to much in winter. Cold management is extremely difficult.”

“As we know from the summit team last Saturday, eight of the ten climbers experienced some level of frostbite. It’s said that the two Sherpas who descended all the way to Base Camp instead of stopping at Camp 3 like the other, were motivate by their frostbite.” – Alan Arnette

*Our note: Nirmal Purja – Nims’ it’s a Gurkha [Magar]. The succesful K2 Winter Ascent was made by 9 Sherpas and 1 Gurkha, all Nepali climbers in a single final team, Force Nepal.

Aerogel

A material created on a bet between two scientists in the late 1920s, may be the most unique substance on Earth. It’s the lightest solid in existence — Guinness World Records even said so — but it can support 500 to 4,000 times its own weight (depending upon whom you ask) [source: NASA JPL, Guiness; Steiner, Zero-Gravity]. A cubic inch of aerogel could be spread out to cover an entire football field. It’s breathable and fireproof, and it absorbs both oil and water. Aerogel is also amazingly strong, considering its weight. Aerogels can be great electrical conductors, yet when made from different materials, they are also one of the best insulators ever known [source: Steiner, Zero-Gravity]. So why don’t aerogels have the A-list name recognition they deserve?

Unfortunately, producing such a unique product takes an extraordinary amount of time and money, in part because only a very small amount of aerogel is made in each batch.

Even though producing more aerogel at a time would bring its price down, the process and materials alone come with a high price tag of about $1.00 per cubic centimeter.

At about $23,000 per pound [$ 50/g], aerogel is currently more expensive than gold [source: NASA JPL, FAQs]!

Such a valuable product would seem to belong next to the diamonds and pearls in an heiress’s jewelry box. But aerogel is more likely to be found insulating a rocket or thickening paint than adorning wealthy socialites. While aerogels may not be as glamorous as gold, they perform their tasks without peer.

Aerogel’s versatility has made it very important both on Earth and in space. It has fulfilled a variety of roles on several NASA missions, from insulating the Mars rovers’ electrical equipment to capturing space dust from a speeding comet.

When the spacecraft arrived home in 2006, it brought back the first samples returned to Earth from space in more than 30 years. Aerogel’s durability allowed the dust collector to return from space intact with not a single aerogel tile missing. Scientists have been able to study the dust and crystals contained in the aerogel and await the insights they may bring [source: Bridges].

Source: Heather Quinlan

Header: A flower is on a piece of aerogel which is suspended over a flame from a Bunsen burner. Aerogel has excellent insulating properties, and the flower is protected from the flame.

Notes:

Aerogels are good thermal insulators because they almost nullify two of the three methods of heat transfer – conduction (they are mostly composed of insulating gas) and convection (the microstructure prevents net gas movement). They are good conductive insulators because they are composed almost entirely of gases, which are very poor heat conductors.

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