Tips for Adjusting to Adventures at High Altitude
As a flatlander, I’ll defend low-lying adventures all day – but there’s no denying the majestic allure and epic promise of pursuits at high altitude. Bagging towering mountain peaks and skiing down lines at 14,000 feet guarantees an incredible experience, but preparing yourself for the impacts of altitude is crucial to a successful adventure. From taking it easy the first day to lathering up on sunscreen, there are many precautions you can take to help your body adjust to altitude.
1. Arrive Early If you’re planning a big adventure at high altitude, plan a few buffers days before hitting the trail to let your body adjust to the elevation. Consider acclimatizing gradually, starting at a lower elevation and slowly moving higher. Headed to summit a 14-er in Colorado? Spend a night in Denver before driving out to the trailhead.
2. Take it Easy Hopping off a plane and diving straight into your usual fitness routine is a surefire path towards symptoms like shortness of breath, dizziness, and vomiting. You’ll be eager to set off on a big adventure, but it is vital to allow yourself to properly acclimate before engaging in vigorous exercise. Instead of a long run, start with a leisurely stroll around town. Acclimating progressively will help your body function better during your adventure.
3. Stay Hydrated One of the easiest ways to put yourself on the path towards altitude sickness is getting dehydrated. When you’re up at high elevations, your body requires more water than usual – so drink up. Many mountainous destinations feature a particularly dry climate, which can exacerbate dehydration. Drink water regularly throughout the day, and pack an extra water bottle when trekking outdoors.
4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol When you first arrive at high altitude, try to limit your consumption of cocktails and coffee. These liquids can quickly lead to dehydration, and many adventurers will find that alcohol packs a much stronger punch at elevation. If you do choose to drink, be aware of your intoxication levels.
5. Don’t Forget Sunscreen Keeping your skin protected is crucial at any elevation, but higher altitudes mean you are literally a bit closer to the sun – and the glare from snow and ice can easily cause painful sunburns. Lather up with at least SPF 30 frequently, apply moisturizing lotion to any dry skin, and toss an extra tube of lip balm in your pack. It’s also important to protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses.
6. Be Aware of Altitude Sickness Symptoms While taking steps to avoid getting ill at high elevations, you may still experience acute mountain sickness, which most commonly affects adventurers above 8,000 feet of elevation. Be aware of yourself and your companions, especially if anyone begins to exhibit symptoms like headaches and dizziness, nosebleeds, swelling of the extremities or face, and a noticeably rapid pulse. Mild cases of altitude sickness are easier to remedy, but symptoms like fever, persistent dry coughing, and nausea or headaches that don’t respond to medication are signs of severe altitude illness that could become fatal if left untreated. If you start to feel sick, don’t hesitate to retreat to lower elevations. The effects of altitude sickness can quickly damper adventurous plans for folks who aren’t used to high mountain conditions, but preparing yourself for travel at elevation will help your body adjust to the unique climate. By remembering to acclimate gradually and keeping a pack loaded with high altitude essentials, even Floridians like me can enjoy epic explorations on the highest of peaks.