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The Manual: Stay Healthy at Altitude

Play it safe against altitude sickness.
altitude sickness illo 445x260Illustration by Supercorn



Prepping for a fall peakbagging trip? Don’t let acute mountain sickness (AMS) ruin it. The accompanying headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, and nausea can dampen any alpine trek, and without treatment can turn into a medical emergency. Here, learn how to take a go-high trip without getting laid low by AMS.

Minimize Risk
“Before going to high elevations, assess the risk profile of your ascent,” says Andrew Luks, M.D., professor of pulmonary medicine at the University of Washington. Here’s how to plan a high-altitude trip.

>> Start slow Many hikers can ascend with no ill effects, but if you’re prone to AMS (you’ve experienced it before) or have never traveled above 4,000 feet, consider yourself high risk. Schedule rest.

>> Ascend gradually
Above 8,000 feet, climb conservatively, stay hydrated, and be alert for symptoms of AMS. Going big? Gaining up to 14,000 feet per day (from Seattle to Mt. Rainier, for example) can be safe, but expect mild headaches and fatigue, and descend immediately if AMS symptoms worsen.

>> Sleep low
Respiration decreases during sleep, especially above 10,000 feet. That means reduced oxygen intake, which causes restlessness and affects performance. Hike high during the day, but limit sleeping elevation gains to 1,600 feet per night, and sleep as low as possible before summit attempts.

>> Beware the danger zone
AMS risk increases with altitude. At 14,000 feet, just 61 percent of the oxygen at sea level is available.

>> Plan a route with a fast descent
Feeling sick? Dropping just 1,500 feet is usually enough to recover.

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1 Comment

  1. An Unexpected Refuge (Acrylic on Panel, 5×7″) | S.TAYAG

    […] What the heck was wrong with us? Two words: Altitude. Sickness. It hits you out of nowhere, and can get anyone at any time. It makes you totally exhausted. Altitude sickness can be dangerous if it develops into HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) or HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema), but the acute form is the most common form and least worrisome. The headache, I think, is the worst part, but I’d take an acute altitude sickness over a migraine on a sunny trail any day (this actually happened once). Ultimately, it’s important that you know the elevation of where you’re going, give yourself time to acclimate, know the signs and … […]

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