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The Medical Science of Screaming Barfies?
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By willeslinger
From Golden, Colorado
Nov 12, 2012
I was pretty bummed when they didn't greenlight my "Bourne Identity" style reboot of The Eiger Sanction. This was from the rough draft's first act.

I'm not really looking for tips on avoiding the screaming barfies* Just wanting to know what's actually happening to my fingers when I get to a belay on an ice climb. I've been under the impression that it's a combo of the cold and over gripping my tools, thus pushing blood away from my fingertips. But I'm curious for a more detailed, scientific answer. So, let's get science-y , what's going on inside our gloves.

  • just clarifying to keep things on track, but he'll, after we've gotten an answer to the actual question, sure, go ahead and tell us your glove system


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By Sir Wanksalot
From County Jail
Nov 12, 2012

I think this is the response your nerves feel as they recover from being close to "frostbite" if you will. If you have ever had mild frost bite, you can probably remember a similar feeling as your appendage warmed back up. Essentially, your body's physical response to cold temperatures being is to move blood from the extremities and focus it in the core. As your blood flows back into the area and warms it up, this is what it feels like.

I'm no doctor, I could be wrong.


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By Josh Brown
Nov 12, 2012

i seem to remember this conversation coming up in my WFR course. The sensation associated with eschemia, the lack of oxygen in cells, is primarily pain. I think due to the shell/core shunting that occurs when belaying in winter you wind up with the barfies as a result of the process. I could be off, but am sure this science plays at least some part in the pain, as well as the info from the post by Randy above. Together both of these probably lead to the pain we all know and hate (unless it's happening to our buddy)


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By Tits McGee
From Boulder, CO
Nov 12, 2012
How I Send

I think the first response is half/mostly correct. What I learned was that it's a biological response to cold, the fact that you are squeezing the blood out of your hands while draining them raised above your head AND...

Once the biological and physical factors have been removed, the body needs to return heat to your extremities, so it rushes the blood from your stomach/gut to your hands and feet. Because the capillaries in your hands and feet have constricted the warm blood being rushed to them forces them to expand quickly, thus firing off the nerve endings creating the pain, the loss of blood from the gut creates the nausea. Hence, screaming barfies.

My glove systems is...blah blah blah, doesn't matter I get the barfies at least once every outing.


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By willeslinger
From Golden, Colorado
Nov 12, 2012
I was pretty bummed when they didn't greenlight my "Bourne Identity" style reboot of The Eiger Sanction. This was from the rough draft's first act.

Tits McGee wrote:
My glove systems is...blah blah blah, doesn't matter I get the barfies at least once every outing.


Brings me to a secondary question, what do y'all do to ease the process when you do get them? And has anyone tried taping a hand warmer on the bottom of each wrist while climbing/belaying? I've been told that this essentially "tricks" your body into thinking that temps are normal and keeps the blood flow to the fingers normal.


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By Tits McGee
From Boulder, CO
Nov 12, 2012
How I Send

The one trick I have found that limits the barfies is to over hydrate days before going out...

Basically, altitude dehydrates you, sweating on the approach and drinking the night before. This makes your blood thicker. Trying to push thick blood into constricted capillaries is more painful than thinner hydrated blood. Works great for my feet especially. So it helps mitigate some of the pain.

I don't know that any tricks will work for your hands, holding them above your head and squeezing your tools force blood out no matter how warm they are.


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By freeope
From Vancouver Island
Nov 12, 2012

What we do is, freeze your hands on the approach. Not wear any gloves put them in the snow/cold water give yourself the barfies before you start climbing. Then let your hands warm-up before you climb, no more barfies while you climb! We also turn the heat off in the car/truck roll the windows down about half hour before we get to our destination that way when you get out of that vehicle your acclimated to the outside temps! Or maybe this is just a Canadian thing! Anyways . Climb On.


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By Woodchuck ATC
Nov 12, 2012
Rock Wars, RRG, 2008

willeslinger wrote:
Brings me to a secondary question, what do y'all do to ease the process when you do get them? And has anyone tried taping a hand warmer on the bottom of each wrist while climbing/belaying? I've been told that this essentially "tricks" your body into thinking that temps are normal and keeps the blood flow to the fingers normal.



Yes, I've used hand warmers stuffed on the inside cuff of the wrist..seems to generate enough heat to help circulation...but it's not foolproof. Overgrip and here come the barfies anyway.


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By Buff Johnson
Nov 12, 2012
smiley face

The tissue response is called reactive hyperemia. It's localized so the it won't be due to a total volume shift to/from your core, but a return of localized volume that exceeds normal flow but will then stabilize.

The cold plays a role in localized shunting and by having hemoglobin be able to hang on to oxygen a little stronger, so that's probably where you can try to keep perfusion by using the hand warmers. If you overgrip and don't shake out, you've essentially reduced your perfusion, regardless. You can get the same response if you tourniquet an extremity on a warm summer's day. The return will also provide the neuro sensory of pain.

Getting rid of the leashes helped me out tremendously.

The barfies come from a pain & sympathetic response, possibly overuse of your core abd muscles, or a combination.

If you blow chow, always say you hammered the sauce way too hard the night before.


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By Medic741
From Pittsford, New York
Nov 12, 2012
When I was a bum at Frey

Think about it like a crush injury that is rapidly relief used... Buildup of metabolic wastes is stored in non perfused interstitial space then dumped when circulation returns. Ph drops suddenly and body responds by vomiting to rapidly dump excess acid, point about increase in sympathetic tone id agree with.


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By willeslinger
From Golden, Colorado
Nov 12, 2012
I was pretty bummed when they didn't greenlight my "Bourne Identity" style reboot of The Eiger Sanction. This was from the rough draft's first act.

Buff Johnson wrote:
If you blow chow, always say you hammered the sauce way too hard the night before.


It's funny yo use te word chow, because my solution to the problem is to throw in a fat chAw


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By Rockbanned
From Plattsburgh, Ny
Jan 19, 2013
Slab...

It was high of 7 yesterday in keene, ny... My 2nd time ice climbing ever, and I was fortunate enough to be introduced to this wonderful medical miracle... No chunks, pretty much rather have my fingers smashed with a hammer over this happening... Thanks for the tips to try. Im going to try L-arginine, vaso dilator to increase blood flow before climbing...


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By Keith Noback
Jan 19, 2013

The barfies are the fire of the Holy Spirit, a blessing from the Lord sent to purify the souls of the righteous. Haven't you heard the gift of tongues that comes with all such visitations? Why would you want to deny the Lord's reward for your acts of self-abnegation in the wilderness? (Nobody really knows why you get the barfies. I've tried the Canadian method, it didn't work for me. I've gotten them multiple times in a single outing. Keep your hands warm - that's the only sure way to avoid them!)


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By Rockbanned
From Plattsburgh, Ny
Jan 19, 2013
Slab...

Yea... It sucks... whatcha gonna do eh? enjoy it while it lasts... at least it doesnt happen mid climb. I was in the chimney of unexpected pleasure nice and comfy sketched out when it happened.... But at least I wasnt hanging there trying to place protection or something... That would suck...


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By Leo Paik
Administrator
From Westminster, Colorado
Jan 21, 2013

One good thing about aging, it seems like the barfies hurt less. Maybe it's a few less neurons, still it is a nice thing.


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By Amanda Fox
Jan 21, 2013

Climbing magazine got a hold of some climber docs at the University of Utah and asked the same question: what exactly is happening when you get the screaming barfies? The answer was published in the February issue, but I've copied/pasted it down below.

"Google “screaming barfies” and you’ll find a confusing selection of blog reports, questionable wiki definitions, and dozens of video clips of climbers on the verge of crying (next to a giggling cameraman). The symptoms are familiar to any ice climber: intense, often scream-inducing pain in the hands, nausea, and the occasional “man tear.” But for such a common ailment, the misinformation and paucity of research available is staggering.

The underlying cause of this problem is tissue ischemia, meaning diminished blood flow to the muscles and soft tissues. This mechanism is most similar to the action of a tourniquet stopping major bleeding, unlike frostbite, which is actual freezing of the tissues and thrombosis (clotting) of the small blood vessels. Ice climbing presents the perfect cocktail of contributing causes. Cold exposure triggers peripheral blood vessels to constrict and shunt blood to the core to prevent hypothermia. Swinging and hanging from ice tools keeps your arms and hands above your heart, which further limits circulation, as does the over-gripping of technical tools. Tight gloves and tool leashes can mechanically constrict blood vessels in the wrists, also reducing the flow of blood and thus oxygen to the hands.

Typically, it’s when the climber lowers his arms that the hallmark intense pain and nausea set in. When blood flow to the hands is interrupted, the resulting nonfunctional nerves create the sensation of numbness. The subsequent pain is associated with reperfusion (return of blood flow) to the hands and nerves. Upon reoxygenation of these nerves, pain signals are transmitted to the central nervous system. In other words, when the blood returns, it re-awakens the nerve endings, and hurts like mad.

Wear gloves that have adequate insulation for the current temperature, yet thin enough to provide adequate tool grip and foster unrestricted circulation. The pervasive myth that the root of the nausea component is a fluctuation of blood between the gut and the extremities is debunked by medical literature that details the human nervous system’s response to pain. The extreme discomfort that is characteristic of the screaming barfies stimulates the nervous system and activates the emetic (vomiting) center, in the area postrema of the brain, a structure in the fourth ventricle whose main function is to detect toxins in the blood and induce an emetic response—that is to say, the barfies.

Prevent the screaming barfies:

Shake out hands often to encourage continued blood flow.
Focus on a relaxed grip to allow for optimal circulation in extremities.
Use leashless tools or an umbilical leash to prevent additional blood-flow restriction."


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By Steve M
From MN
Jan 21, 2013

I'm more interested in the science of what makes it so damn funny to my partners.


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By Buff Johnson
Jan 21, 2013
smiley face

I can use the Go Pro when you follow me up something. I'll even bring some girls. We'll all have some laughs; well maybe some of us will.

In the name of scientific documentation....


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By Alpinisto
From Connecticut
Jan 21, 2013

willeslinger wrote:
Brings me to a secondary question, what do y'all do to ease the process when you do get them?


I believe that screaming "FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!" at the top of your lungs (or at least loud enough to drown out the sound of your partner's laughing) has been scientifically proven to be at least partially effective.


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