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Acclimating

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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Acclimating

Postby greenhorn1 » Tue Feb 01, 2011 8:43 pm

This summer my siblings and I are planning on doing the Decalibron. Like many flatlanders our biggest concern is dealing with the altitude.
In the days prior to help acclimate would it be better to drive up a mountain like Pikes Peak and hang out on the top for a few hours OR would it be better to do some short hikes at a lower altitude of around 12-13,000 ft? Thanks in advance.
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Re: Acclimating

Postby tmathews » Tue Feb 01, 2011 8:47 pm

I've seen people drive to the summit of Pikes Peak, then hike down and up the Golden Stairs on Barr Trail for a couple of hours. Don't know if that actually works to help acclimatize, but it's worth a shot if you have the time.

Re: Acclimating

Postby gonzalj » Tue Feb 01, 2011 8:53 pm

I would think that if you were around summit county for several days and tried some hikes around there before the decalibron, that would help. In Breck there are some great trails like the blue lakes trail, boreas pass and mccullough gulch that would help prepare and acclimate you. From what I've heard if you start maybe 4 or 5 days before you do the 14er and are at that 9600+ feet of elevation and do 2 or 3 hikes before that should at least help some (and definitely keep hydrated).

Re: Acclimating

Postby jimlup » Tue Feb 01, 2011 9:15 pm

I always hang around in Summit county for 2 to 3 days if I could. Leadville works well for me. I'm lucky because I always move from Leadville to a high camp at about 11k or 12k in the summer. I generally feel my first 14er each summer but after that I'm fine. I don't know that hiking will really help that much. I could be wrong but, for me it's just exposure that seems to do the trick.

Driving up Pikes is a little drastic since you'll be going directly from 5 or 6 to 14. I'd do it in easy steps instead starting around 8k. My plan is often spend a night at the Super 8 in Georgetown (8K) , the move to Leadville for a night 10k, then high camp. that works for me anyway.
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Re: Acclimating

Postby MtHurd » Tue Feb 01, 2011 9:43 pm

Spending a few hours at Pikes Peak would be great. Staying at high altitude, say Leadville, isn't a bad idea, but spending a couple of days at high altitude like that may actually trigger altitude sickness for those prone to it. Maybe a day in CO Springs (include a few hours at Pikes Peak) or Denver, then one in Breckenridge is probably the best thing to do IMO.

Another option for Pikes would be to drive to 12,900 ft. on the road to Devil's Playground and take the trail to the summit. The trail is just to the left of the road. The trail parallels the road for maybe a mile before it leaves the road and climbs up 1000 ft. through some rocks to the summit. Very easy climb but great as an acclimitization hike. My wife has no problems with going to altitude and then returning down to 9,000 ft. or lower. Her problems begin when we remain at high alititude (above 10,000 ft.) for 3 or more days.

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Re: Acclimating

Postby Mountainspirit » Wed Feb 02, 2011 5:31 am

Barry Raven wrote:Maybe a day in CO Springs (include a few hours at Pikes Peak) or Denver, then one in Breckenridge is probably the best thing to do IMO.


+1

You can also try staying in Boulder and include a drive up Trail Ridge Road with numerous high altitude hiking options (long or short) to facilitate acclimatizing. Then head up to 10k for a night as well. All the while, drink a TON of water.
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Re: Acclimating

Postby huffy13 » Wed Feb 02, 2011 5:45 am

Just my two cents...being flatlanders also, this works for me and the kids. We usually try to get wherever we are staying for the trip, whether it be camping or staying at a cabin or motel, the day before our hike and once we get our stuff unpacked an set up we usually stroll around town or the campsite and try to participate in something that gets our hearts pumping just a little. Nothing too strenuous. Anyways, it seems like Leadville, Buena Vista, Lake City, etc....are awesome towns that you can usually spend a day just roaming around, checking out the local shops, cafes and such, and before you know it you can easily have walked around 3-4 miles. This seems to work for us, especially in the time frame that we are usually dealing with and so far we have not had any issues with the altitude besides having a few slight asthma related issues with my middle daughter.
Seems like the times that I need a mountain the most are the times that I can not get to them.

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Re: Acclimating

Postby jrbren_vt » Wed Feb 02, 2011 7:30 am

Both are good ideas if you have the time. Pike's or Evans drive one day, and a 12er or other easy hike on day 2 (or vice versa). Equally important is where you sleep. 2-3 nights sleeping at 7K-10K will make all the difference in the world when you try your 14er. I sleep at 160' above sea level most of the year, so I used something like this on my last Colorado trip: Arrive in Denver at night and sleep there at 5K to kick off the process. Raid REI & then drive to 7K-8K town and just fiddle around for the day, shop, whatever. I used Estes park. Day 2, try a 12er like Hallet Peak. Sleep at 7-8K'. Day 3 try a 13er or 14er if short on time. I hiked to Lawn Lake in RMNP. Weather foiled my plans for Longs Peak so I drove to the Sawach and did 14ers on something like day 6 & 8. By then I was acclimatized enough that there was no perceived added difficulty over climbing similar grades and elevation gains in the east. When I was in India in 2007 my group drove to a mountain pass at 18K' on the 2nd or 3rd day as part of the acclimatization process (similar to your Pike's idea), we spent an hour or so. We spent 4 days in the city of Leh (10K') and generally took it easy to allow plenty of acclimatization before beginning the trek to higher altitudes. As mountainspirit says, drink tons of water. If you are not peeing clear you are not drinking enough. This may be the most important point.

Edited to add one of the great things about us being required to acclimatize as often the acclimatization hikes are the highlight of your trip. Hikes you might otherwise overlook with focus on 14ers.
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Re: Acclimating

Postby Motown Mike » Wed Feb 02, 2011 7:54 am

I have read what has been said here but I have some questions:

1. What happens in a FEW DAYS that makes people think that they are "acclimating" to the altitude?

a. does the body make red blood cells that fast?

b. does the chemistry for the blood alter itself that fast that more oxygen can be carried to the body and brain?

c. OR does the rest and adjustment get the body ready ....for what is ahead?

d. I have heard that actual blood chemistry changes take about 3 weeks...

e. What do professional sports teams do when they come to play in Denver... do they come in 3 days early ... ? take chemicals?



2. Is there a scientific explanation for altitude sickness?

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Re: Acclimating

Postby greenhorn1 » Wed Feb 02, 2011 8:25 am

Good tips so far and I will look into the hikes suggested, thanks. Also the water tip is a good reminder for me - too often when traveling I dehydrate myself drinking little other than a soda or two hoping to avoid frequent stops.
Also to MoTown Mike, I wish I had three weeks, but I don't. I did last year and it made me feel like a rock star. This year i'm just trying to do whatever I can to hopefully allow myself a successful hike with family members.
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Re: Acclimating

Postby strongmelon » Wed Feb 02, 2011 8:29 am

Motown Mike wrote:I have read what has been said here but I have some questions:

1. What happens in a FEW DAYS that makes people think that they are "acclimating" to the altitude?

a. does the body make red blood cells that fast?

b. does the chemistry for the blood alter itself that fast that more oxygen can be carried to the body and brain?

c. OR does the rest and adjustment get the body ready ....for what is ahead?

d. I have heard that actual blood chemistry changes take about 3 weeks...

e. What do professional sports teams do when they come to play in Denver... do they come in 3 days early ... ? take chemicals?



2. Is there a scientific explanation for altitude sickness?


Answers:

1. If you mean how does one know they are acclimating, the easiest way is to measure resting heart rate. It will decrease over time as one acclimates. You could also check O2 saturation if you have the instrumentation. It should increase over time.

a. Not in significant amounts. Other mechanisms compensate such as increased blood flow, increased breathing rate, etc. Over time more red blood cells develop, blood chemistry changes and other cell changes take place but this takes weeks.

b. Yes, to a degree.

e. What I've heard is that teams get in and out fast and suck supplementary Os on the sidelines/benches.

2. Absolutely, there is a lot of medical literature written about it. Like all medical conditions, it is not fully understood.

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Re: Acclimating

Postby Motown Mike » Wed Feb 02, 2011 11:17 am

I guess strongmelon confirmed a few things... don't know your background... but if you are correct there are a few things to think about in the advice already offered.

1. the blood chemistry does not change in acclimating in a "few days"
2. professional sports teams do not "acclimate" at all...

I doubt that if a person has ONE week to spend in Colorado... waiting until the 6th day for the big climb is any better than day two ... three ... etc. I would figure that good weather on day 2 would be far more important in the decision when to climb.. opposed to making day # 6 of your stay your big effort.

I bet really vigorous training offsets much of the altitude issue. Whereas using a fixed scale to "acclimate" could cause you to try a peak when it is really not the best weather ... because you can't extend your stay and you have set your goal.

Just a thought.

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