Altitude Attitude: Adjusting to it!


Altitude Attitude: Adjusting to it!

Part One of Three

I am an experiment of one. My reactions and physical symptoms may be different than yours.

The big question, for flat-landers going to altitude, is “how will I react to it?”

Answer: It depends. There is no definitive answer. Google it. Read about it.

My reaction to altitude last year, 2014,  at Camp Hardrock (elevation from 7800 feet to 14000 feet over a five day stay):

” When I travelled to Camp Hardrock just two days before the race I was curious to see how the sudden change in altitude would affect me.

The last time I was in Colorado I spent almost 10 days before the race getting used to the altitude.

Wednesday, Day One: I noticed the lack of humidity right in Denver. Start drinking water Kimba!

My symptoms, with no acclimatization:

I arrived in Silverton on Wednesday, July 8. I had pretty typical mild altitude sickness at Silverton, elevation 9800 feet.  My symptoms: trouble sleeping, less appetite, headache, general feeling of crappiness for the first two days.   I did get up four or six times that first night to pee!

Why did this occur? The body starts to breathe faster to keep up the oxygen level initially. To keep your body in balance, the kidneys produce more urine.

Thursday-I kept mellow.  I hiked up to the Christ of the Mines Shrine and a mile or so down the HR course. Helped pack aid station supplies. Attended the HR briefing.


Friday I went to Ouray, 7800 feet for the day-the lowest point on the HR course-and felt pretty good.  Note: all day long, in Ouray, I kept eating and drinking well. Especially drinking (just water!) well.  I tried to stay off my feet in the afternoon and evening waiting to pace Bob in the evening.

When I paced Bob overnight up Bear Creek Trail, climbing over Engineer Pass at 13,000 feet, I did not really feel any symptoms, but I was concentrating on other matters, like hail, wind, rain, my runner!

Saturday-I returned to Silverton on Saturday and felt like crap after that-trouble sleeping, sneezing, felt like I was getting a bad cold. (Of course I was up all night climbing over Engineer Pass.) This symptoms subsided toward the evening.

 Trouble sleeping is quite common at high altitude. The low oxygen directly affects the sleep center of the brain. Frequent awakenings, a light sleep and less total time of sleep are the main problems, and these usually improve with acclimatization after a few nights. Some persons, however, will have trouble sleeping despite acclimatization.

Sunday I climbed a 14’er (Handies Peak)  and walked 15 miles of the Hardrock Course clearing trail.  I felt my headache coming on around 12,000 and took 2 Tylenol. Also felt a little dizzy at the summit.

After my fifteen miles on course I was toast. I was out of water toward end of hike, about two miles from our vehicle. I returned to town, ate a little bit, and crawled into bed for 12 hours sleep-was actually able to sleep better, I think I was just so beat up. Kept waking up parched, and kept drinking water all night. Of course, Friday and Saturday I was up all day and up overnight also.

Why do all these symptoms occur?  The percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere at sea level is about 21% and barometric pressure is 760 mmHG.  As the altitude increases, the percentage stays the same but the number of oxygen molecules is decreased. At 12,000 feet, the barometric pressure is only about 480 mm Hg, so the body has to adjust to having less oxygen.

In most cases, symptoms are mild. Symptoms of mild to moderate acute mountain sickness may include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid pulse (heart rate)
  • Shortness of breath with exertion

What are the risk factors for AMS?

Several factors increase your risk for getting AMS:

  • Your genetic makeup
  • A history of previous AMS
  • Residence at an altitude below 3000 ft
  • Obesity
  • Current respiratory infection
  • Most importantly, fast rate of ascent
  • Over-exertion the first day or two at altitude
  • Alcohol the first night at altitude

Oops, probably drinking beer the night I arrived in Silverton wasn’t the best idea.

That was my experience going from 800 feet of elevation to 9000 feet in just a few days.

Up next, my experience setting up and using an altitude system.




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