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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Dealing with Altitude

I noticed a good comment/question from a Rhode Islander following that last post: "Since we are the Ocean State with a high point of 812 feet, how do we train for 12,000 feet of elevation?"

Many project volunteers will be dealing with similar transitions, jogging to catch a plane at 110 feet one day, slogging up a hill at 11,100 the next. An article ran in a 1999 BACKPACKER that is forever timely, and a good read to boot. The author, Michele Morris, threw herself headlong into a high-altitude hike in the name of science.

Here's a snippet from 11,430 feet:
Midway up what seems an endless switchback, I'm doubled over, gulping the thinning air like a goldfish on carpet. The day started well enough, even though I awoke four or five times during the night. We were on the trail by 8:30 after a decent breakfast, and lunch was a restful repast in a sun-dappled grove of spruce and pine.

But just after lunch, a nagging ache took hold behind my eyes and it has translated to a permanent squint. We're above treeline now and hiking into a buffeting wind so strong that at times we stand in place, unable to make headway against the force...

Not that this defines an average trip to the Rockies, but it's good to be prepared. You can read the full article online for tips on dealing with a big change.

17 comments:

Jason Stevenson said...

You can also check out the Skills section of the April 2007 issue of BACKPACKER for more elevation and altitude prep advice.

And there's tips from a Mt. Rainier mountain guide in the September 2005 issue.
LINK:
http://www.backpacker.com/article/1,2646,9188,00.html

Scott G. said...

Here's a word on Diamox from Nancy Huber of Team TarpMan:

"I want to share my experience with altitude and Diamox. I live at sea level (well OK it's really 50ft.) I've been up Shasta, Whitney and 12 of Colorado's summits over 14,000ft. The less acclimatization time I've had the more headaches I've gotten. Sometimes the headaches have gotten worse on the descent. The last time up Shasta I spent the night at 10,000ft. This made a huge difference and I didn't get a headache and I felt great. Leon's plan for us to stay 2 nights in Pinedale should help all of us.

"Two years ago I hiked up Mt Kilimanjaro, 19,340ft. We spent the first night in a hotel, probably at 4000ft. We started the hike at 6000ft and spent the first night at 8800ft. We then went to 12,000ft and spent 2 nights, but hiked up to 14,000ft during the day. The next day we hiked to 15,500 and stayed until 1am when we left for the summit. Lot's of people only stayed 1 night at 12,000ft. At the huts at 12,000 and 15,500 everyone was talking about how they felt and whether or not they were taking Diamox and if they felt side effects from the drug. I had some with me and had taken one pill on a previous hike to 10,000ft just to see how my body would react to it. One of the people I met up there was an MD who had studied altitude medicine quite a bit. She said that recent studies showed that taking 1/2 the dose of Diamox (62.5mg) worked just as well as 125mg. Interestingly though, she didnt' take it and she didn't give it to her 16 year old son.... they only stayed one night at 12,000 ft and didn't make it to the top because they got sick. People were taking all different amount of Diamox.... some 250mg 4 times a day! The most common side effects were tingling of hands and feet, and frequent urination. From my non-scientific study of people I talked to, those taking Diamox felt much better than those not taking it. Even though I had been to 12,000ft lots of times I had never spent this much time at that altitude. When I was trying to fall asleep on the 2nd night at 12,000ft I had a headache and I could tell my breathing was off. I only breathed in when I made a conscious effort to breathe. It's a very weird feeling but it's what your body does when it isn't acclimatized to the altitude. I finally decided to take 62.5mg of Diamox and fell asleep. I took another one the next afternoon and felt great all the way to the summit and back down. I never felt any side effects.

"So.... what will I do on our trip to the Winds? I'll bring Excedrin Extra Strength.... it works the best for headaches for me. I'll bring Ibuprofen in case I don't want the caffeine in the Excedrin. And, I'll bring some Diamox. If I start to feel symptoms I'll take one dose and see how I feel and go from there. I think I am relatively OK with altitude but altitude sickness can strike anyone and we will definitely be high enough for us to be at risk. If you get some Diamox you should definitely take some trial doses while you are hiking to see how YOU do with it."

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