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My experience with severe altitude sickness

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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Re: My experience with severe altitude sickness

Postby Theodore » Thu Mar 08, 2012 11:00 pm

Which 14er were you on?

I've found my best success comes when I sprint up and get back down ASAP. I'd say I've "properly" acclimated for only a couple trips... IMO there's a real danger zone that lies between the two for us low landers.

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Re: My experience with severe altitude sickness

Postby Asclepius » Sat Mar 24, 2012 9:45 pm

I apologize for the delay, I have been extremely busy with school the last few weeks. Thank you for the input everyone. I spoke with some doctors here at school, and they said they could do a prescription for some acetazolamide prior to me going back out to Colorado. I have to wait two more years before I can just write my own scripts, haha I can only imagine the enhanced first aid kit I will carrying then! I will try my best to allow more time to acclimatize, but it is really hard with my schedule, so at least I will have some prophylactic pharm on hand. Regardless, the symptoms I experienced really sucked bad, and I am not planning on letting that happen again.

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Re: My experience with severe altitude sickness

Postby Asclepius » Sat Mar 24, 2012 9:46 pm

Theodore wrote:Which 14er were you on?

I've found my best success comes when I sprint up and get back down ASAP. I'd say I've "properly" acclimated for only a couple trips... IMO there's a real danger zone that lies between the two for us low landers.


I was on Mt. Princeton.

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Re: My experience with severe altitude sickness

Postby Screed » Sun Mar 25, 2012 11:31 am

climbingcue wrote:Glad you are ok, I was in Colorado in October and coming from NJ were I live only 560 ft above sea level. Flew in on a Friday night and went right to my Aunt's house at 8,266 ft. I was really worried about doing too much to quickly. I did not have the option to stay at 5,000 or 6,000 ft, I did my best to drink lots of water and get ready for my 14er hike. I did Gray's and Torrey's peak on the Wednesday, set a steady pace on the way up. Felt great on the top of both peaks, no headaches at all, which suprised me. Got a bit to confident, and decended much too fast and had a headache for the next 5hrs. Lesson learned, when I go back in August of this year I will decend at a slower pace. Here is the Garmin data from the hike.

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/120259356

Bill


Decsending helps with altitude sickness; it most certainly doesn't exacerbate it. What you most likely experienced was over exertion, if anything. Sometimes we just get headaches no matter what altitude we're at.
The best things in life aren't things.

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Re: My experience with severe altitude sickness

Postby scipio337 » Mon Mar 26, 2012 8:03 am

Thank you for sharing, Asclepius. I'm travelling from MO (St. Louis) with a friend in early summer. We're camping at Twin Lakes (9,800 ft, I think), and plan to stay 3 full days before attempting any ascents in the Sawatch. Hopefully we can learn from your difficulties.

Glad to hear you're doing better.

I've considered a acetazolamide scrip, but I'm worried about side effects.

And is there such a thing as a "former" Marine? :D

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Re: My experience with severe altitude sickness

Postby Asclepius » Thu Oct 25, 2012 10:38 am

scipio337 wrote:
And is there such a thing as a "former" Marine? :D


Haha, not really!

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Re: My experience with severe altitude sickness

Postby D8S » Thu Oct 25, 2012 1:36 pm

The only time I've experienced severe altitude sickness (Acute Mountain Sickness, or AMS) was on Kilimanjaro. I've lived and worked in Colorado for years, frequently above 10,000 ft, so theoretically I've "adapted" that way (it doesn't really work that way) A number of years back I'd been bicycling touring for several months on various continents, and rode from Nairobi to Moshi (avg elevation 4500ft). I hired a guide for the trip, and signed up for a 5 day journey.

Day 1 climb to 9,000ft and camp, no problems.

Day 2, climb to 12,000ft and camp, no problems. Evening walk to 13,000ft.

Day 3, over 14,000ft pass, camp at 12,000ft. No problems.

Day 4, climb to 15,000ft and camp.

No problems climbing, felt great. Planned on an 11pm start, so ate dinner early and went to bed about 4:00pm. I woke up about 8pm cold and slightly nauseous, couldn't possibly keep down "breakfast" at 11:00. Started climbing at 11:30.

It wasn't long before my heart was pounding and wouldn't decrease with rest, respirations were deep and rapid and also wouldn't decrease with rest. About 17,000ft I started vomiting, and couldn't keep down water. I rested frequently. From there on I simply persevered.

We got to the summit about an hour before sunrise, where another attempt to sip water simply resulted in vomiting. My guide asked if I wanted to stay and watch the sunrise, and I told him that although I would like to, considering my condition, I had no business being up there at all. We headed down.

By the time we reached 16,000ft I was my old self, skipping across the rocks and feeling fine. I ate a big "breakfast", climbed into the tent and slept for a few hours before descending to a lower camp.


My experience is that being in shape has no bearing on how well your body will handle altitude. Since then I've been to 16,000ft in Peru with no problems, but also spent more time at higher elevations prior to climbing.

My other big take-away from all this is the danger of applying a schedule to a backcountry situation. Given the option I would have descended a bit and waited a day, then climbed a day or two later. But because of the permit system, that was not an option.

In fact, looking back at my most dangerous situations, most developed due to outside influences, not the backcountry situation itself. As a result, for safety reasons I typically avoid visiting places that require backcountry permits and/or reservations, or anything that forces or encourages me to keep a definite schedule.

Dave

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Re: My experience with severe altitude sickness

Postby matt pierce » Fri Oct 26, 2012 9:02 am

Maybe I can help you a little here...

I first went to Kilimanjaro in 2009. To make a long story short (or you can read my trip report here on 14ers) I was the second youngest in our group of 20. Some in our group were 60+ - I suffered severe AMS - headache, severe fatigue, vomiting etc. I felt awesome lower on the mountain but when I hit 15,000ft I plummeted. The youngest guy on our team suffered HAPE and even though he made the summit he essentially self-evacuated all the way back to the HOTEL. I staggered and pushed myself to within about 400ft of Stella Point before giving up. I was shocked and confused. I felt inferior and depressed. I had done many 14ers and other long backpacking trips and often suffered headaches etc but nothing like what I experienced on Kili. I went back a year later and during that year I trained hard - even though I felt physical conditioning had nothing to do with my getting sick the first time around. When I went back I took more time and stuck to a real acclimatization routine and that made all the difference.

If you read many mountaineering books you will learn some things. Some people never get AMS, some dont get it for years and then high up on a peak somewhere it strikes them...

And what you need to know is this:

Altitude sickness does not discriminate!

Looks our group for Kili - the 2 youngest people (and probably 2 of the more fit) got the sickest...

Here in Colorado I live at 8,500ft and I still get nasty headaches when I go out to do a 14er or whatever - doesnt matter how fit I am, how much sleep I got or how hydrated I am...

Don't be too hard on yourself - no one can easily go from lower elevations to over 14,000ft without some pain...

Also, don't bother with Diamox or other drugs - simply ACCLIMATIZE properly and you will be much more successful...

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Re: My experience with severe altitude sickness

Postby matt pierce » Fri Oct 26, 2012 9:15 am

D8S - funny that we both posted Kili stories lol

As an aside - Kili is often taken way too lightly. You can not simply sprint up Kili in a few days. Well...to be fair...some people can :shock:

If anyone reading this is considering Kili - do NOT attempt it in like 5 days. Your odds of success are severely diminished. I would never recommend less than 7 days - ever. If nothing else this is the highest freestanding mountain in the world and a giant volcano that is amazingly beautiful. Take some time to enjoy the mountain, the glaciers and all the people on it...

Why do you think climbing Everest or other large peaks takes WEEKS or even a few MONTHS? Climb high, sleep low...

Unfortunately on Kili it's more about climb high, sleep high, climb higher - get SICK :shock:

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Re: My experience with severe altitude sickness

Postby Taillon75 » Fri Oct 26, 2012 9:18 am

Jim Davies wrote:Interesting story, and I'm glad you came out of it OK. It does demonstrate a counterintuitive fact about AMS. Peter Hackett, in his book "Mountain Sickness", says:
Physical conditioning has absolutely no influence on susceptability. In fact, fit individuals tend to ascend faster and therefore may have a higher incidence.


I concur.
Catchy saying from someone famous.

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