The Specialist: Climb Better At Altitude

Feel good at 10,000 feet with advice from a Rainier guide.
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Feel good at 10,000 feet with advice from a Rainier guide.

Summit day of your big-peak climb is finally here, and all you want to do is climb back into bed. Unfortunately, many hikers get dragged down by exhaustion and other symptoms of acute mountain sickness, explains Brenda Walsh, a senior guide at Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. While there's no surefire way to avoid the headaches and labored breathing, Walsh offers these tips for staying strong at altitude.

DRINK CONSTANTLY It is the single most important thing to do when hiking at altitude, says Walsh, who uses a bladder so she can sip on the move. When hiking in cold temps, blow the water back into the bag, so it doesn't freeze inside the tube. And go to sleep with a hot-water bottle. Come morning, you'll have cool water to swig, which means you're more likely to gulp, rather than sip.

EAT REGULARLY Low caloric intake compounds altitude's effects, and as high elevations suppress your appetite, hunger is no longer a good indicator of when to eat. To make sure you're consuming enough calories, take a 10-minute snack break every hour, suggests Walsh.

CLIMB HIGH, SLEEP LOW If you're climbing a 14,000-footer like Rainier, one night at 10,000 feet (your basecamp) is all you'll need before the 12-hour dash to tag the summit, says Walsh. If you'll be above 10,000 feet for more than a half-day, spend more time acclimatizing.

DON'T SWEAT IT When your body temperature bounces between hot and cold, you waste valuable energy. Keep your internal thermometer steady by working your layers, says Walsh. The moment you feel yourself perspiring, take a layer off. As soon as a chill hits, put that layer back on.