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Farting for America


Bags of potato chips and other air-tight containers arriving from sea level by car in the upper strata of California’s mountain country tend to become explosive devices. This is because of a simple principal of physics. As a certain volume of gas rises in the atmosphere, it tends to expand because of diminishing pressure, and potato chips bags have no ‘safety valve’ built into them.


Those notoriously gaseous vessels known as Homo Erectus, however, {are} equipped with said ‘valve’. And this is fortunate because ‘flatlanders’, newly arrived in altitudes of 10,000 feet, might otherwise be spontaneously bespattering the Sierras with with human Spam.


Fortunately, because of good engineering, humans need not fear this ignominious fate and the ‘music’ that results from their relief of said gaseous pressures resounds mightily in the California high country. This ‘tootling’ can go on for days until various gases have reached equilibrium. Their frightful roars, yips and squeals can often be heard for hundreds of meters, rattling through the canyons. 


My wife and I were doing research on our latest Lonely Planet guide to California when we arrived in the rarified air of Big Bear Lake. I soon commenced, how shall I say?, venting, at a rather alarming rate and decibel level. When I mentioned this explosive phenomenon to a young Hawaiian rock climber over dinner, a look of very real consternation overcame her normally carefree face.


“HAFS”, she said gravely, pronouncing it ‘haifs’. I could instantly tell that I was about to learn some intimate secret of the mountaineering community. “Yeah, it’s High Altitude Fart Syndrome,” explained my friend, obviously ruminating on past encounters she’d had with this horror. “Let me tell you, HAFS is not something you want to deal with on a vertical rock face. And when I’m climbing with a flatlander,” she explained, “I never let them lead a pitch because they can get downright eruptive up there. And you don’t want to be anywhere behind them, if you get my drift”. But the ‘drift’ of another sort was not something I wanted to think overly long about.


Having survived my own three-day attack of HAFS (although, it must be said that towards the end my wife seemed on the verge of hysteria) I was glad to have the word that explained what I thought was a personal abnormality.


Oddly enough, at that very moment, and although newly enlightened, I felt a certain pressure rising and I excused myself from the table. Outside on the porch, beneath the whispering pines, I added several mighty contributions to the mountain breezes and the howls of mournful coyotes. “It’s okay,” I said to myself gently. “It’s only HAFS”. And I felt so… relieved.

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