A fellow blogger who read my post, “The Other Lost City of the Incas,” asked if I had any pointers on high-altitude trekking. High altitude treks offer life-transforming rewards, but altitude sickness is a real danger. This is such an important issue for anyone considering an adventure more than 5,000 feet above sea level, that I want to share my answer with all of you. If you plan to try a high-altitude trek, here are my 7 top tips…
Thorung La, 17,769 feet, Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit
1) Train before you trek. Don’t just go for walks: do plenty of mountain hikes. Work your way up in elevation & do at least one hike that’s close to the altitude of your trek. This way, you can find out how you react to altitude beforehand – close to home, where it’s easier to seek medical help.
2) Never plan to start a high-altitude trek the day after you arrive in high country. Your lungs, heart and brain need time to adjust to the new altitude before you go higher. I suggest waiting at least a couple of days before you start going up.
3) Don’t trek alone. If you develop altitude sickness you may become unable to help yourself.
4) Drink extra water. It helps you acclimatize. Peeing a lot is a good sign, as is a hearty appetite.
5) As you trek, the basic rule of thumb is: climb high, sleep low. When possible, climb to a higher altitude by day, and sleep at a lower altitude by night. By day, your lungs will adjust to less oxygen. By night, you’ll breath more shallowly, so it helps to compensate by getting used to less O2 by day.
6) Don’t increase altitude too quickly. Don’t gain much more than 1000 feet (or 300 meters) of altitude per day.
7) Watch for signs of altitude sickness. If you have a persistent headache, stop climbing and go to a lower altitude to spend the night. If you feel better in the morning, it’s probably safe for you to continue up. If the symptoms persist, head down immediately. A mild headache in the morning should be OK, so long as it doesn’t linger.
If you have any of the following symptoms you probably have severe altitude sickness: intense headache, dizziness, disorientation, poor coordination, nausea, vomiting or fainting. Immediately go to a lower altitude & seek medical attention. If you climb higher you could die.
One extra tip: Don’t let my warnings scare you off. The world’s high places are astonishingly beautiful, and the people who live there and visit there are well worth meeting.