Puffing and red-faced, Prince Harry looked as if the late nights and his love of junk food might be taking a toll on his health yesterday, as his pulse rate soared while he walked slowly on a treadmill in simulated high altitude. Harry, who should be at the peak of his physical fitness after recently graduating as a best-in-class Apache combat pilot, took to the treadmill to promote an Everest climb by a charity of which he is patron, Walking With the Wounded, in London today. Earlier in the day he visited an army base where he debated the relative merits of the KFC, burgers, and pizzas available at the British army base in Afghanistan with fellow squaddies.
In air that had been artificially thinned to resemble the challenges mountaineers face at high altitude, Harry’s pulse shot up to 120 during a light stroll, while next to him, Everest expedition team member Karl Hinett checked his watch calmly as his pulse stayed steady at 63 bpm. The oxygen concentration in both Harry's and Karl’s blood hovered around the 80 percent mark, suggesting that the oxygen in the tent had been reduced from 21 percent to about 15 percent, equating an altitude of about 8,000 feet, similar to atmospheric conditions in Aspen, Colo.
Walking with the Wounded is a charity that helps injured ex-servicemen get back to work. The trip to Everest, by nine former soldiers who have all suffered a variety of gruesome and life-threatening injuries, follows a successful fundraising trip last year to the North Pole, which Harry himself participated in. St James’s Palace confirmed to The Daily Beast that Prince Harry will not be joining the trip to Everest because of his duties as an Apache pilot.
In a short speech, Prince Harry praised the “staggering determination” of the group of injured veterans attempting to conquer Everest. Among the guests at the launch event was actor Brian Blessed, who has tried and failed to reach the top of the world's highest mountain. Harry, dressed in a top emblazoned with the expedition's logo, said, "Mount Everest—a name to instill fear into the hearts of seasoned mountaineers, isn't that right, Brian? Not so for this crop of lunatics with odd numbers of arms and legs but staggering determination."
The prince then moved to the altitude chamber—a large plastic box with two treadmills—where he joined Hinett, a soldier who suffered severe burns to his hands, face, and arms during a 2005 gasoline bomb attack on his tank in Basra, Iraq. He was captured on film leaping from the burning vehicle. The pair were wired up to monitors, which displayed their pulse rates and the oxygen saturation levels in their blood on screens outside the chamber. After just a few seconds, Harry was wheezing and gasping for breath as he turned an unlikely shade of beetroot.
“All right, Prince Harry?” the emcee nervously asked. The demo was then swiftly brought to an end.
Mark Kramer, of altitude chamber company Higher Peak, said that Prince Harry’s elevated heart rate probably had more to do with his unfamiliarity with altitude training than baseline fitness levels.
“Normally every red blood cell in your body is matched with one oxygen molecule, so your blood saturation is 100 percent. When you are exposed to low oxygen, the saturation drops and the heart starts pumping harder to compensate. The other fellow has trained and adapted, so his response was not as dramatic as Prince Harry’s.”
Kramer said it was, however, likely that the veteran had a lower resting heart rate than Harry. “Harry’s resting heart rate might be 70 or 80, while the other guy could be 40 or 50 if he is really in shape, which would mean that they may have both had the same percentage elevation in their heart rates.”
Still, it might be an idea to get a few early nights and lay off the KFC before you get on a treadmill with a heart-rate monitor in front of the cameras again, Harry.