High altitude hiking allows you to enjoy stunning views, get your adrenaline pumping and it makes you feel great. However, before tackling such an adventure, learning how to train for high altitude hiking is essential. You need to understand how altitude can affect your body and prepare yourself in order to complete your hike successfully.
Some experiences you have when hiking are just priceless. These are simple but unforgettable moments, like watching the sunrise at Annapurna base camp, feeling the breeze over a huge cliff or testing your limits conquering a huge mountain like Iliniza in Ecuador.
Hiking at high altitude provides incredible experiences, but you need to be prepared for this particular environment. This article will teach you how to prepare yourself for high altitude hiking.
WHAT IS HIGH ALTITUDE HIKING?
All routes above 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) are considered high altitude hikes. Why 8,000 feet? It’s simply because at this height your body can be affected by altitude.
Why does this happen? Because the air pressure changes depending on the altitude, being higher at sea level and decreases the higher you go. Reduced air pressure means there is less oxygen to breathe in the air. The decreased oxygen supply causes your body to work less efficiently.
If we do an altitude change gradually our body has the ability to adapt, but if the change is too fast you can have some serious problems.
HOW DOES THIS ALTITUDE CHANGE AFFECT YOUR BODY?
At higher altitudes you can feel the need to breathe deeper and more often so your body gets enough oxygen to keep working. If you are walking too fast you can feel more tired than usual and if you don’t give your body enough time to adapt, you can experience some altitude sickness problems.
The first symptoms are headache, loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. If these symptoms don’t go away in a day or get worse you should consider descending some feet and rest.
Don’t worry if you feel a mild headache as it is common, but keep an eye on how your body feels the next day.
Some more serious symptoms include throwing up, feeling dizzy, being confused, feeling unable to walk and having blue lips or finger nails.
Of course, if you feel any of these symptoms you need to descend and find some medical help. For more detailed information about acute altitude sickness, check out this article.
Climbing Cotopaxi volcano in Ecuador
8 STEPS TO SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETE A HIGH ALTITUDE HIKE
1. TAKE YOUR TIME
The most important step you need to take when facing a high altitude challenge is to ascend gradually.
For multi-day hikes it’s good to get up to some higher areas during the day and then sleep lower at night, gradually increasing the altitude day by day.
Do not sleep more than 1,600 feet higher than the previous night.
2. FIND YOUR PACE
You will probably need to slow your pace and find a good rhythm for breathing and walking that works without feeling tired.
If you feel you aren’t getting enough oxygen, you should take deeper breaths which will help you get more oxygen to your blood.
3. DRINK PLENTY OF WATER & EAT WELL
Water will help you to reduce the altitude sickness symptoms. Get a rich high carbohydrate diet before and during your hike.
4. DON’T DRINK ALCOHOL
As we just mentioned it’s very important to hydrate your body. Drinking alcohol will only dehydrate it. I’m sure you can wait till next weekend to open that bottle of red wine.
5. BRING WARM CLOTHES
Usually, the higher you hike, the colder it gets, and this drop in temperature can dramatically affect your physical condition. Weather can change rapidly so always bring some extra layers like pants, gloves, hats, etc.
6. WEAR SUNSCREEN
You are getting closer to the sun each step you take and the atmosphere doesn’t protect you the same way at high altitude. Don’t forget to use high SPF sunblock.
7. SUMMIT ACCLIMATIZATION HIKES
If you are planning on hiking very high like a mountain summit like the Cotopaxi volcano in Ecuador you will need to acclimatize your body for days or even weeks. This means you’ll have to climb some lower mountains gradually increasing altitude one by one, until you feel ready to climb the highest one.
8. HAVE A GOOD TIME
Now that you are ready, just enjoy your next hike that will surely offer you some amazing experiences!
Hiking at high altitude in the Markha Valley, India