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High-Elevation Hiking

August 24, 2022 3 min read

High-Elevation Hiking

Meet Swiftwick athlete and avid hiker, Lisa Langley (@CAHIKERLIFE) and hear how she prepares for and deals with altitude sickness during high elevation hikes.

Words and photos by Lisa Langley

First Encounter

“Just put one foot in front of the other,” rattled around in my foggy brain. Why weren’t my feet cooperating? The pit in my stomach started growing nauseous. Looking off trail at the glistening alpine lake below me sent the whole world spinning. What was happening to my body? Altitude sickness.

The first time I ever experienced this phenomenon was at 10K elevation in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Kearsarge Pass is a beautiful high elevation pass that tops out at 11,709 ft then drops down into Kings Canyon National Park. The highest point in the contiguous United States, Mt Whitney 14,505 ft, lies just to the south.

Acute Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness occurs when your body feels discomfort adjusting to lower oxygen levels while at high elevation. Most frequently this type of physical distress occurs at 8,000ft and higher. When hiking, climbing, skiing, or simply traveling quickly at high altitudes you increase your risk greatly of becoming symptomatic. The process of acclimation helps decrease these risks.

Symptoms
  1. Shortness of breath
  2. Diarrhea
  3. Headache
  4. Confusion
  5. Heavy legs
  6. Dizziness
  7. Nausea,Vomiting
  8. Rapid heartbeat
  9. Insomnia
  10. Loss of appetite
  11. Muscle aches
  12. Swelling of face, hands, feet

Acclimation

The best way to acclimate to high elevation is to accend gradually. Ideally a couple of days adjusting to elevation will help. Camping or car camping at the trailhead the night before accent is a technique employed by many hikers/climbers. It is recommended not to increase sleeping altitude by more that 900 to 1,600 ft per night if prone to altitude sickness.

Training Tips to Avoid Altitude Sickness

  • Train at gym with treadmill incline of 15 degrees
  • Train at gym with elliptical inclines
  • Train at gym with stair steppers
  • Hike at elevation frequently to build up endurance
  • Practice breathing techniques to mimic oxygen loss at elevation (I use Wim Hof Method)
  • Drink more liquids to compensate for fluid loss through the respiratory system. Thin air and frequent, shallow breathing stresses this body system.
  • Invest in proper gear. This will help you perform at your best and helps to alleviate other obstacles you may face.

Treatment

Many treatments exist and prove to be extremely helpful when dealing with altitude sickness. When used, these treatments often will provide relief within hours. The best and definitive treatment is to descend to a lower altitude. Often, it is the only solution that will work. Decreasing activity and exertion may help. Hydration and electrolyte replenishment is necessary. Acetazolamide can be prescribed for breathing problems. Dexamethasone helps decrease brain swelling, blood pressure medicine, lung inhalers, and aspirin may be used as well. If a case of Severe Acute Mountain Sickness occurs call 911 immediately and seek medical help.

Enjoy the View

All the training, the hard work, and the building of endurance and strength are worth it all when standing on top of the world. You must listen to your body. Only you know what your limits and breaking points are. A high altitude hike can be a friend or foe. Educate yourself on what works for you. Give yourself the best advantage to tackle high elevation hikes and have an arsenal of knowledge backing you up.

See You On the Mountain Top,

Lisa - CAHIKERLIFE

Whether you’re day-hiking or trekking along a multi-day backpacking trail, be aware of the signs of altitude sickness and how it can affect you or others. Time to start planning your next high-elevation adventure!

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” - John Muir

 

 

The information in this article is not medical advice and is not a replacement for medical treatment. If you are feeling unwell always seek the advice of a trained medical professional.


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