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Ted Atkins Everest O2 news: flow controllers, service, certificates and Topout knockoffs

Posted: Mar 11, 2013 12:14 pm EDT

(Newsdesk) Over the years the supplementary oxygen business on Mount Everest and surrounding 8000ers has been shady at best.

In 2004 an Aero Systems Engineering Officer working with the RAF Mountain Rescue Service built the popular Topout oxygen mask and tried to bring accountability to the trade.

In April last year Ted Atkins was injured during routine tests of O2 gear. Turned out Ted was not alone. Mingma Sherpa of Seven Summits suffered injuries to his fingers after a Summit regulator exploded while attaching it to a Poisk cylinder. Ted spent the remains of the season working the problems, even climbing a peak which he had not intended.

Introducing the 2013 Everest season, here goes the latest 02 news from Ted.

Everest 2012 rewind begins with a bang

It was a big season for me last spring as I did not intend to climb, just to supply equipment and training. I will mention here that we have been training guides, clients and Sherpas since the beginning.

A friend had asked me to check their Poisk regs for them as the Russian engineer had left early. Normally I would be loath to deal with someone else’s equipment, but as a favour I agreed to do a simple function/safety check. As they had bought the new Summit cylinders it made sense to do the check using one of these cylinders as they would be used with the Poisk regs. As you reported, soon into the tests a regulator exploded and I was injured.

Luckily for me, out of curiosity I had weighed the cylinder before I started tests. This figure allowed me to reverse engineer the exact pressure that was in the cylinder which was significantly over the safe limit, bang…

Overfilled bottles

I ended up having to go to BC to check and release pressure from Summit cylinders that I had sold to clients that were shipped before the explosion.

It transpired that most of these cylinders were over filled. Since I was there anyway I decided to stay on and climb Lhotse to climb with the new Topout mask and use our new regulator. I 'Topped out' on a great day. I had the mountain to myself. The mask and reg worked better than I had hoped.

Under-delivering regs

During this time of checking regs I noticed an audible difference in flow rate between cylinders and different regs using the same settings.

You may be aware that Poisk advise that their reg should be open to ½ lpm for fitting and removal. I thought that the hiss of the gas was too much for a ½ lpm setting so I checked it. It was reading nearly 2 lpm! I checked several more full cylinders; the same (see attached).

I then checked a cyl 2/3 empty. With the reg set at 2 lpm it was only delivering ½ lpm! This explained so much for me.

Placebo above 2 lpm? Not quite

I had been told by an expert who’s opinion I regard highly that any setting above 2 lpm may be placebo effect. However when I discussed this with guide friends it was dismissed as miss-guided. I had a clear case put to me where the client had been climbing on a cyl for some time and getting slower while using 2 lpm.

The guide, on pretext of checking the cylinder contents turned the gas to 4 lpm (secretly) and the client took off; undeniable.

This always bothered me, but now I know why. Because at this point he would have only been getting perhaps less than half of what was indicated. It gets worse because of course while the gas being delivered is getting less we are getting higher!

Basics of O2 delivery - check the the flow rate too

The regs we use on Everest are single stage. This is a simpler and therefore more robust item. It reduces the cylinder pressure from 300 bar to about 1 bar output in one stage. The control setting that you can choose of, 1 – 6 lpm is achieved by aligning holes in the device, big hole = 6, small hole = ½.

However, when the pressure is high, like a new cylinder, the gas is pushed through harder; hence ½ lpm setting actually delivers 2 lpm,, and after the cylinder is half empty the pressure has dropped so 2 lpm setting is now only delivering ½ lpm. I saw this on many checks I made.

I had bought a number of in-line flow indicators as in the photo for use with the Everest skydive systems. These show not only that there is flow, but measure the flow rate too.

Asian Trekking were so concerned about the abnormality with flow delivery that they asked me to fit these in all of their systems, which I did. Even using the Poisk reg this works.

The idea is to ignore the number on the dial and look at the actual flow in the delivery line, now in easy view and move the dial until you get the flow you want.

When bottles run out too soon

The bottom line is that the flow rate is going to change throughout the life of the cylinder.

So the next thing we did was to produce a flow controller that fits next to the flow indicator so that the adjustment is easy to make in front of you. Now it is also easy to turn up the gas for a short concerted effort then turn it back. I know this idea is not popular with some of the outfitter boss’s as it means the client has control and cylinders could get emptied quickly, however at the moment no one has control and people get stressed when the gas flow reduces and they are no longer going strong as they were.

There is also the situation where O2 is used for sleeping. We use a flow rate of ½ lpm for this, but we are getting 2 lpm with a full cylinder, so the cylinder we planned to climb with in the morning does not contain anything like the amount of gas we expect, but we sleep well!

This could also account for stories I have heard about bottles running out too soon, suspected leaks etc.


To recap on how it should work. Most cylinders are 4 ltr and 300 bar. So. Scientifically speaking, using this data means that a 1 ltr cyl would give 1x300 ltrs so 4 times this and we have 1200 ltrs O2, so at 1 ltr/min we get 1200 mins, easy.

Double the rate, half the time so 2 lpm gives us 600 mins or 10 hrs. I used the term ‘scientifically’ because the cyls are not consistently filled to 300 bar and no one ever knows just what flow rate is being delivered, despite the flow rate number selected? So from this it is dangerous to assume 10 hrs as it is most unlikely that you will get this.

From now we will only be providing regulators with separate flow controllers and in line flow volume indicators.

Training certificate

Also for some time we have been training Sherpas so that they gain confidence and add greater value. We now issue a certificate to indicate different levels of training, see attached. This is to try and raise standards and improve the quality of the experience.

The death rate on Everest has fallen sharply since Topout came onto the scene. People spend less time in the ‘Death Zone’ and are able to think more clearly throughout, thus avoiding mistakes and increasing enjoyment.

Topout serviced each season in KTM

We have endeavored to make the industry accountable. Before we arrived a mask, un-serviced or probably even un-cleaned from the season before was issued from a blue barrel where it had lain ‘fermenting’ from the season before, I know I was given such once.

Now Topout recall masks sold the previous seasons for servicing. Each mask has a unique serial number. It gets a new servicing sticker each season and the serial number is entered into a log. Of course not everyone signs up for this $15.00 all inclusive service carried out in Kathmandu. Ask Topout if you want to know if the mask you are being offered is serviceable?

Knockoffs beware

Last year we spent $65,000 in research proving our mask and looking for ways to improve it (happy to provide receipts from university hospital Cardiff). On this note I warn people to beware that there are at least 2 people making masks which look very like Topout masks.

It might be fair to call them copies, they are so similar. I have pointed out that there is a patent on the Topout system. Of course this is difficult to enforce in Nepal! So we rely upon integrity, and degree of professional decency, but it seems for some the pull of the dollar is stronger.

Be careful. If it does not say Topout on it then it is not. The safe bet is to buy direct.

If in doubt please contact us for to ensure that you are getting the genuine serviced item. It is difficult to believe that people would do this, this is not a fake Turkish Rolex, this is life support equipment, at best people’s dreams.

Good luck all in 2013, see you in Kathmandu or in the mountains.

"For my part, like you, I did not come to Everest to make money, I did it for me," Ted wrote to the founders of ExplorersWeb. "Like you I was sucked in and so here I am."

Ted says he made the Topout mask not for commercial gain but to improve his summit chance on his third Everest attempt, after previously having run out of oxygen. Discovered by Jagged Globe and an anesthetist related to the outfit, "Simon placed an order for something that did not actually exist and that I never meant to sell," Atkins recalls.

Two years later Topout was the market leader. Since then while testing and developing the system has climbed Makalu, Kangchejunga and Lhotse.

"This is not work for me it is my passion," Ted says. "I do not have clients; I have friends who rely on me."

An Aero Systems Engineering Officer working with the RAF Mountain Rescue Service Ted Atkins can be reached at 
Topout Oxygeneering Ltd www.topout.co.uk Call in Kathmandu 00977 9803149195
 Twitter @topoutoxygen
Use no oil or grease - return equipment after each season for service. See web site for user guide.


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The gauge says 0.5 but the actual rate is nearly 2. "From now we will only be providing regulators with separate flow controllers and in line flow volume indicators," Ted says. "The idea is to ignore the number on the dial and look at the actual flow in the delivery line [...] the bottom line is that the flow rate is going to change throughout the life of the cylinder."
Image by Ted Atkins courtesy Ted Atkins, SOURCE
Image of an Altitude Junkie mask. "There are a number of people offering masks that look very like the Topout mask," Ted says, "be careful. If it does not say Topout on it then it is not. The safe bet is to buy direct."
courtesy Jagged Globe
Last season, Atkins was hurt (note injuries on neck) testing a Poisk regulator in conjunction with a new Summit cylinder, delivered as being higher pressure than the Poisk cylinders. Having sold a number of these cylinders Ted felt obliged to inform all of a potential problem.
Image by Ted Atkins courtesy Topout Oxygeneering Ltd, SOURCE
Mingma Sherpa of Seven Summits was injured after the Summit regulator exploded while attaching it to a Poisk cylinder. "This is different and potentially more serious that the previous accident as this was an ignition," Ted said.
Image by Ted Atkins
To get 'on Top' of the situation, "Please contact me if you have doubts or would like advice," Ted urged users last year, "meanwhile please take the extra precautions we advised: fit cylinder to reg with the gauge down, wear goggles, wear gloves." In image Ted and Nima, the Sherpa who saved his life on Everest in 2004.