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Altitude Sickness...

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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Re: Altitude Sickness...

Postby thebeave7 » Wed Dec 14, 2011 7:56 pm

Have to echo what many others have said, how you and your girl friend respond to altitude will depend on many things, and one person's experience won't tell you much about your own. When I used to live in San Diego I'd regularly take trips to the Sierras, going from 0ft (literally) to 14K in 36h without much ill effects. I'm one of the lucky one's who can tolerate high altitude really well, heck I run better at 14K than I do when its 100F outside, but that's me. Just saying we're all different.

Some studies have actually shown that the body releases a erythropoietin spike within 24h of moving to altitude, thus bumping up Red blood cell production for a short period of time. This spike normalizes within a few days, then the full acclimatization period takes a few weeks to a few months depending on the person and how high you are (just one limited study I've read). I'd caution against using drugs, as they can mask symptoms that your body is having trouble and thus get you into worse trouble. Your body hurts because something is wrong, and sometimes this should not be ignored. Stay hydrated, listen to your body, and just go for it.

Eric
Me fail English? That's unpossible. http://www.ericjlee.com/Blogs

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Re: Altitude Sickness...

Postby noreaster » Wed Dec 14, 2011 9:07 pm

You can also see if vitamin B complex, iron, vitamin c, folic acid, and carbs make a difference for you once you get there. Some (guilty here and I guess someone else on this thread) even take ginkgo daily, I take 120mg daily, 2 weeks before and during trips. Drink water and take electrolytes. Avoid alcohol. Eat foods rich in these vitamins and minerals (these hints are taken from anemia and iron deficiency patients and are open for a debate, some agree some disagree).

Google "pressure breathing", that can help a bit. Here's a video... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-ZPjlWK0jc of the effect.

Whatever you do, don't push yourself, listen to your body. Read up on edema symptoms and don't ignore them.

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Re: Altitude Sickness...

Postby Craig Cook » Thu Dec 15, 2011 1:29 am

As others have said, it seems to just depend on the individual. And even then, it's not a guarantee.

I'm from Kansas City (elev. ~1,000 ft.) Ten years ago, I came out to Coloado for a week of skiing. Felt fine most of the week. Then, I believe it was the fifth day, I was knocked on my @$$. Massive headache, lots of vomiting, etc. I simply had to lay down in my bed all day.

Over the past two years, I'm three-for-three on 14er summit attempts, and with virtually no acclitimization.

Trip #1: Arrived Monday evening, hiked Tuesday morning.
Trip #2: Arrived Monday evening, hiked Wednesday morning.
Trip #3: Arrived Wednesday evening, hiked Thursday morning.

So who knows. Take it day by day and if you feel sick, stop and wait.
Never play leapfrog with a unicorn.

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Re: Altitude Sickness...

Postby Wish I lived in CO » Thu Dec 15, 2011 7:44 am

Well, climbing IS serious business, one should be concerned about falls, lightning, rockfall, etc. But I'm not aware of anyone that has yet died from altitude sickness in the Colorado 14ers. The only way you're going to know how you'll react is to just go try it. Maybe you'll feel great with no acclimating, or maybe you'll feel like crap on your attempt after acclimating a week. Sure on a higher mountain you'd want to be very cautious about acclimating, but the 14ers are just low enough the altitude won't kill you or anything. Rather, as you say, it is a matter of comfort, and like I said, you'll just have to find out for yourself. The general concenses is that waiting a few days does indeed help. 8,000 ft or so would be the perfect acclimating height - a typical elevation for some of the mounatain towns. Maybe take a few short hikes to 10 or 12K feet beforehand. That's probably your best bet. Sounds like you'll be doing other stuff too anyway.

Or, if you're like me you can't stand to wait and will be at the TH the first morning. I think I'm typical, without drugs I can climb with no acclimating, but it can be miserable and takes the fun out it. Enter acetazolamide (aka Diamox). Contrary to popular belief, it does not mask symptoms, rather it speeds up the acclimating process. You feel better not because anything is masked, but because you are indeed more acclimated. Of course there are side effects and some of these are troublesome to some people. You must start taking it a few days before your climb.

Here's the nutshell: Try acclimating for a few days and hike on up. If you feel poorly then on your next trip try Diamox. Above all, be safe, but have fun.
I look up to the mountains - does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! Psalm 121:1-2

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Re: Altitude Sickness...

Postby jsdratm » Thu Dec 15, 2011 9:46 am

When I first moved to Colorado Springs from the midwest in mid-2010, I had a terrible headache the first few days and had to turn around on Pikes Peak Crags Route around the tree line about a week later. Even bicycling on the bike trail was really tough for me. Of course, I had never been at such a high altitude before in my life (aside from flying). Like others have said, don't push yourself if you don't think you will make it safely down, it just isn't worth it. I worked my way up over the next few months until I was able to take on about 20 different peaks of varying height in 2011. I still feel the altitude over 12,000 feet, but if I pace myself I can handle it.

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Re: Altitude Sickness...

Postby mstender » Thu Dec 15, 2011 11:03 am

I always lived more or less at sea level (in California and now in the Midwest) and I have been over 14,000 ft in less than 24 hours without getting any altitude sickness, however I do tend to slow down quite a bit. I believe that being in shape plays a role but I am not a marathon runner or triathlon so the OP should be fine in that department. I usually pop a couple of aspirins the night before at the trail head and in the morning right before starting to hike which seems to work for me. Aspirin should prevent mild headaches and also thin your blood. I also make sure I start hydrating 2 days before hitting the mountains. I have taken Diamox before in Peru to help sleeping at higher altitude with very good success, but I cannot see any reason to use it in CO. By the way, there is no scientific evidence that Gingko actually does anything but I have never tried it myself. I did try coca tea in Peru and it seemed to work well but I am not sure I want to recommend doing that in CO. :D
The last couple of summers when I came out to CO, I have always driven up to Loveland Pass on my first day here and hiked around there for a couple of hours (doing Cupid or Sniktau). The day after that I always went for it and this strategy worked well for me. I never had any altitude sickness problems but I typically do notice that the first couple of days I am slower.
My guess is that you should do just fine as a marathon runner but if you start to feel crappy just decent; that's always the best medicine.

Edit, P.S.: I strongly believe in interval training and I always do it once a week starting 3-4 month before going out West on my annual trip.
"You may have passed time in happier ways, but there are other mountains to climb: you've never lived as you're living today - now is the time!"
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Re: Altitude Sickness...

Postby tlongpine » Thu Dec 15, 2011 3:56 pm

Everybody adapts (and/or reacts) to altitude differently, but there are a few simple things you can do to beat the curve.

1.) Cardio fitness. Long before you arrive, develop a fitness routine that spends 5-10 minutes at 80% max heart-rate everyday to improve VO max and circulation.
2.) Drink water. Lots of it. You lose water w/ astonishing speed in the mountains. Drink it before you get here, and stay on top of it while you're here. Candidly, measure your hydration by the color of your urine. The darker it gets, the more water you need to drink. Drink enough water to keep it as clear as possible.
3.) Start slow. Acclimate at altitude before charging up Quandary.

Train, hydrate, and go slow and you'll do fine.
I am unable to walk away from the mountain without climbing it. An unclimbed mountain tugs at my consciousness with the eternal weight of time itself. Until I've pressed my face into it's alpine winds, hugged it's ancient granite walls, and put it's weathered summit beneath my heal I'm unable to resist it's attraction.Knowing nature gives the mountain more time than she gives us adds urgency to the obsession. As has been said before; the mountain doesn't care.

It can wait forever. I cannot.

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Re: Altitude Sickness...

Postby PolishPete » Thu Dec 15, 2011 5:12 pm

I forgot to mention what some others have noted here...and that's hydration.

I usually start drinking water/gatorade/vitamin water pretty heavily 3 days before the climb, and through the entire climb. It makes for a miserable 14 hour drive as we're constantly pulling over for people to relieve themselves...but it helps.

Also, while climbing, we've all noticed we don't want to eat or drink. So we consciously and forcefully make the decision to eat and/or drink, even though we don't want to.

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Re: Altitude Sickness...

Postby Presto » Thu Dec 15, 2011 5:32 pm

by PolishPete » Thu Dec 15, 2011 5:12 pm

Also, while climbing, we've all noticed we don't want to eat or drink. So we consciously and forcefully make the decision to eat and/or drink, even though we don't want to.


Sage advice. Do force yourself to drink water. Also, take food on the climb that you like to eat even in town. If you don't like power bars, granola bars, etc. when you're at your home, you're certainly not going to like them any better at altitude.

Remember, taking dried food with you (i.e., dried fruit, jerky) will naturally be "rehydrated" in your body and absorb liquid in your body. If you're going to go that route, drink more water. If it's windy, you're going to dehydrate even more than the altitude alone will do to you ... drink more water.

I tend to be unconventional with food (i.e., cold pizza, cheesesteak with jalapenos, potato chips, reese's peanut butter cups, fresh fruit, etc.). Take a variety of food with you ... something sweet, salty, bland, spicy, etc. in order to have food that you will feel like eating while you up there.

EAT SOMETHING AND DRINK WATER BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE SUMMIT. Look at your body as you would a bag of potato chips ... as you gain altitude, the bag of potato chips expands ... so does your tummy (to some degree .. hey, this isn't rocket science but does help). Eating and drinking on the summit will help you not feel quite as bad (if you are feeling nauseous) on the way down as you will fill that cavity (known as your stomach) before descending (just like a water bottle concaves as you descend back into town).

Have a great climb. Happy trails! :D
As if none of us have ever come back with a cool, quasi-epic story instead of being victim to tragic rockfall, a fatal stumble, a heart attack, an embolism, a lightning strike, a bear attack, collapsing cornice, some psycho with an axe, a falling tree, carbon monoxide, even falling asleep at the wheel getting to a mountain. If you can't accept the fact that sometimes "s**t happens", then you live with the illusion that your epic genius and profound wilderness intelligence has put you in total and complete control of yourself, your partners, and the mountain. How mystified you'll be when "s**t happens" to you! - FM

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Re: Altitude Sickness...

Postby jsdratm » Thu Dec 15, 2011 5:43 pm

One thing I'm curious about is the effect that cold air has on dehydration. If you go hiking in winter are you losing more water to the air than you would in the summer? When I was hiking Quandary last weekend I noticed my mouth feeling dry frequently, regardless of how much water I drank.

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Re: Altitude Sickness...

Postby myfeetrock » Thu Dec 15, 2011 8:02 pm

Water Water Water!!! Lots of water! I did quandary monday with a friend that has done N.Maroon and Castle with me. This time he hit the wall at the last push for the summit. He got a headache and threw up 5 times. I asked him if he was drinking water and he told me no. Bad deal. I moved up here from texas in 08 and it took me about 4 weeks to feel like I was acclimatized.
Michael Colson

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Re: Altitude Sickness...

Postby Rock-a-Fella » Thu Dec 15, 2011 10:19 pm

myfeetrock has the idea. Water, Water, Water! but you can't just drink while you are climbing.

This is the hydration program that works for me and my friends from sea level.

A minimum of 2 weeks prior to traveling to altitude take 2 regular aspirin and then 1 per day after up to and through your trip. During the same period drink half your weigh in ounces of water per day minimum. Weigh 200 lbs? Drink 100 ounces of water per day minimum. It is far easier than it sounds! Yes, in the beginning you should not be too far from a place to relieve yourself but as your cells absorb water and flush out all the toxins you will "have to go" less often. We generally live in a dehydrated state and you can't try to compensate after the exercise has begun and expect good results. BTW if you have difficulty with plain water add a little lemon or enough "powdered drink mix" just to flavor not full strength.

Good luck on your trip

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