Among Everest and high altitude climbers, the revolutionary TopOut oxygen delivery system is becoming very popular. Designed and built by Ted Atkins, a former RAF Aerosystems Engineering Officer and an experienced high altitude climber, Ted summitted Everest in 2004 while testing the prototype.
The expedition teams who have climbed mountains using TopOut (among them the noted Jagged Globe team), have found the design of the mask to be much better, offering a better line of vision unlike the cumbersome old version, with an improved oxygen delivery. TopOut has a working bag that allows you to inhale a higher concentration of oxygen for every breath. The mask ensures that every last molecule of oxygen that leaves the cylinder is processed through the lungs. There is no wastage of oxygen. A good supply of oxygen not only helps you move faster but enables you to think more clearly which is crucial in decision making. Instead of the usual 12 or 14 hours, climbers have summitted Everest in 8 hours using the TopOut masks. To read the testimonials by climbers you can browse TopOut’s website www.topout.co.uk.
Explore Himalaya shall be using TopOut masks for its expeditions to the Everest and other high altitude mountains.
The mask comes is a convenient carry bag ( Pics 1& 2).It consists of a mask, a silicon hose or pipe (Pic 3)that is fitted to the oxygen bottle ( with the regulator) and a plastic canister with a reservoir bag inside, that is fitted to the mask. See Pic 4 to see the whole system fitted together.
(i)The mask: The mask is made of silicon. It does not harden like ordinary rubber when the temperature drops. It remains soft and flexible always. The mask comes in two sizes small and medium. It has a snug fit, ensuring that no oxygen from the bottle goes out in the atmosphere and thus wasted. The seal around the mask (Pic 6) ensures that no oxygen is wasted. There are holes on the masks for the valves. When you are breathing out, the moisture from your breath makes the inside of the mask moist. If you take off the mask to radio or to talk, the cold air might make the valve freeze. The oxygen keeps coming in but you will notice a resistance while breathing out. If that happens you can do three things:
(a )Just blow hard for a few seconds and the valve will move, or
(b)Break the seal at the side of the mask with your finger or thumb so that you are now exhaling through the side of the mask. In a short while your warm breath will have freed the valve.
(c)If steps a & b do not work, you remove the cover off and move the valve (Pics 7 & 8 ) with your finger.
The holes meant for the valves are interchangeable. It means that if one is right handed, one can fit the valve meant for the oxygen hose on the left side keeping the right hand side free and ‘unhampered’ to work on (and vice versa for the left handed).
The mask is washable( just wash with warm soapy water and rinse it thoroughly with clean water and it is germ free!) and reusable.
The Ambient Air Valve: This has a cover(Pic 5,right hand side) to stop it getting covered with the hood of your suit. The cover can be rotated so that the air can come in from any direction. The cover can also be easily removed, this will ease the flow of air into the mask.
The flow of inoming breath can be eased by first removing the small white washer in the centre of the valve(pic 7). This washer is there to stiffen the valve to ensure that the resevoir bag empties first. If you remove the washer ensure that you are still drawing oxygen properly.
We all breath differently so Topout is built so that it can suit you, tune it how you want it.
There are adjustable straps or harnesses and face seal (Pic 9) to attach the mask firmly to your face.
To detach the mask from the straps, simply clip the face seal off. The mask comes apart easily.
(ii)The reservoir Bottle or Canister: We breathe in a cycle of 3 parts: 2 of these are breathing out. While using supplementary oxygen, the gas is flowing constantly. With the old system there was no way to store the extra O2 that was flowing into the mask. It was flowing out into the atmosphere & thus wasted. Now TopOut has a working reservoir bag. When you breathe out the oxygen comes and collects in the reservoir bag. That allows you to inhale a higher concentration of oxygen during expiration, as the first part of your breath goes deep into the lungs for effective processeing by the avioli. When the resevoir bag empties the ambient air valve opens for the second stage of the breath. Thus lower oxygenated air fill the upper respiratory tract where no oxygen exchange takes place. As it is inside a clear plastic canister you can see the bag expand. The bag inside is very fine and has no resistance to the flow of oxygen. (Pic10)
There are vents at the botttom of the bottle (Pic11) to let out the air inside the bottle when the bag expands. If there were no vents, the air inside bottle would be compressing the bag thus trying to stop the bag from working. The canister should be clipped to your clothing or sack with the caribiner(Pic 12). It could be placed in a pocket or inside the suit if preferred but be aware that there are vents in the bottom which must be kept clear for the system to work effectively.
There is a danger that if the wet mask is removed and the oxygen turned off that the oxygen valve could freeze closed. When the oxygen is reconnected if the valve cannot move the bag will burst. This does not stop the system working. Now you cannot see the bag moving but oxygen is still being delivered.
(iii)The pipe or hose: The pipe (Pic 10, the pink hose) is made of silicon. It is very thick and very strong. It has laminated layers and it does not close. Even if the pipe is pressed or nipped it continues to deliver oxygen. In Pic14, you can see the valve that attaches the mask to the hose.
N.B: For those who can read and understand English, the instructions on how to use the mask are given on the plastic canister (Pic 13).
Q1. If the reservoir bag bursts will the oxygen supply be cut off?
Ans: No, even if the reservoir bag bursts, the oxygen will still be delivered to the mask. You will still be able to breathe in oxygen.
Q2.What stops the mask from working?
Ans: There is only one thing that can stop the mask from working and that is you have to turn the regulator off or cut off the oxygen pipe.
Q3.What happens if I take off the mask to radio?
Ans: In the high mountains, if you take off the mask the cold air could freeze the valves. Exhaled air is heavily laden with moisture. This air has to pass over the outlet valve and must make it wet. This is not a problem while wearing the mask, as your warm breathe will keep the valve working .If you remove the mask the valve could freeze onto its seat. If this happens you will notice a resistance while breathing out. Just break the side seal for about 20 seconds to a min and it will move. Or in the unlikely event of this not working, you can remove the front cover (it simply clips off) and physically free the valve with a finger. Simply break the face seal of the mask for a few moments to allow exhaled air out and your warm breath will soon free the valve.
Q4.If I lose one of the valves, will the mask work?
Ans: Yes, the mask will still be working. You will still be able to breathe in oxygen. But there has been no report of valves getting lost.
The system ‘fails safe’ apart from cutting the delivery tube the system will always deliver oxygen, if at a lesser level of efficiency.
Before use, check that the valves are in place and free to move i.e. not iced up.
You will be asked to give a talk or talks when you get back. Your mask; the one used to summit Everest with, is a great ‘prop’ at your talk. It is something that people can touch, unlike your photos. Ask to take your mask home with you, you can buy it. It is too late to think of it when the invitations come in!
We work with the motto "Tourism for Development". Explore Himalaya Community Service Project was conceived to empower underprivileged segments of Nepal.