How to Acclimate Yourself for a High Altitude Vacation

How to Adjust to High Altitudes?

How to Adjust to High Altitudes – Red Blood

How to Adjust to High Altitudes – Red Blood Cells Increase

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3. Arrive a Few Days Early

Anecdotally, many locals will say it takes about one to three days to adjust to the air in cities like Denver, Salt Lake City, and Colorado Springs. However, everyone adjusts to higher altitudes differently—some people feel little to no difference, while others may take up to a week to feel normal.

If you’re going to the highest of the high places—perhaps to a Colorado ski town like Breckenridge, where the altitude is above 8,000 feet—schedule a buffer day or two in a city like Denver or Boulder first. This method is especially helpful if you have an event, such as an endurance race or work meeting, where you need to feel your best.

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High Altitude Acclimatization Tips


If you've ever joined an expedition to mount Everest, you’ll notice that climbers spend as much or more time going down the mountain as they do going up. As masochistic as mountaineers may seem, they don’t ascend and descend for fun. This process, known as acclimatization, is a very deliberate, slow, and steady way to prepare their bodies for the hazards of high altitude.  

Here are some tips for acclimatizing to the high altitude on Mount Everest.  

1.    Climb the mountain gradually. Gradual ascent is the most important factor in preventing acute mountain sickness. 2.    Stay for a day or two of rest for every 2,000 feet (600 meters) of climb above 8,000 feet (2,400 meters). 3.    Sleep at a lower altitude when possible. 4.    Make sure that you have the ability to rapidly descend if needed. 5.    Drinking plenty water, more than 1 gallon per day, to help your kidneys flush out the bicarbonates that accumulate due to a higher respiratory rate. 6.    Do not drink alcohol. 7.    Eating digest food, increase the carbohydrates and eat less protein and fats. 8.    Practice a rule of thumb: climb high, sleep low. Ascending high and then going lower could help the body’s build up and worn from the low O2 content, with fresh oxygen.  

6. Make Adjustments When Cooking

Photo: Aleksander Rubtsov / Tetra images / Getty I
Photo: Aleksander Rubtsov / Tetra images / Getty Images

Many visitors to high-altitude places are surprised the first time they cook a meal. Fun fact: Water boils faster at altitude due to a lower atmospheric pressure, which drops the boiling point from the standard of 212 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level. 

Oddly, at high altitudes, you may find it harder to start a fire. Certain fuel types, including wood, simply don’t burn as well above 10,000 feet of altitude.

Signs and Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

Because altitude sickness shares signs and symptom

Because altitude sickness shares signs and symptoms with many other ailments, diagnosing it can be a little tricky, but if you suddenly start experiencing these complaints shortly after a significant increase in elevation, it’s generally safe to assume that the altitude is the culprit.

  • Shortness of breath, especially with strenuous activity

  • Dizziness

  • Muscle weakness

  • Nausea

  • Loss of appetite (or, less commonly, dramatically increased appetite)

  • General lack of energy

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Headaches

  • Mild forgetfulness or feelings of “mental fogginess”

Cheyne-Stokes respirations can occur with mild, moderate or severe altitude sickness, especially while sleeping. This is a pattern of breathing characterized by increasingly deep and/or rapid breaths followed by several seconds of no breathing at all. As long as other symptoms of altitude sickness are very mild or not present, Cheyne-Stokes respirations aren’t a cause for concern. However, if they don’t go away on their own after a week or so, you may want to consult a doctor, especially if you consistently wake up feeling tired.

Altitude sickness can be mild, moderate or severe. As a very general rule of thumb, its severity tends to correlate to how high up you are:

  • Mild: high altitude (8,000 to 12,000 feet)

  • Moderate: very high altitude (12,000 to 18,000 feet)

  • Severe: extreme altitude (higher than 18,000 feet)

However, everyone reacts to high altitudes differently. Some people may need longer adjustment periods than others or may be affected more severely, even at lower altitudes. Other people can rapidly ascend with few or no ill effects. Factors that can influence your physiological response to altitude include:

  • Age: Children and the elderly tend to be affected more significantly and require longer acclimation periods.

  • General physical fitness: A high level of cardiovascular fitness can help mitigate the effects of reduced oxygenation; poor fitness can have the opposite effect.

  • Preexisting medical conditions: Any chronic illness that affects your lungs, muscles, brain or blood can be exacerbated at high altitudes.

  • Tobacco or alcohol use: Heavy use of either can make you more susceptible to altitude sickness.

  • Training and transition time: If you’ve specifically prepared for your transition to high altitude and ascended gradually, the effects of altitude sickness can be greatly reduced or possibly eliminated.

Extra tips for adjusting to high altitudes

Climb high altitude peaks all year round

By climbing relatively high altitudes (3000 ft. – 11.500 ft./1500 – 3500 m) throughout the year you will force your body to regularly produce more red blood cells that carry oxygen. Thereby, you will reduce the chance of altitude sickness when climbing even higher mountains and peaks.

Moderate your physical activity

Keep in mind that just being at high altitude puts a strain on your body which makes it important to rest. It is more than reasonable to take a day off in the mountain hut to give your body a chance to acclimatize to high altitudes.

Stay (properly) hydrated

You should of course stay hydrated to avoid the adverse effects of dehydration. However, do not drink too much water as this will make you feel nauseous and bloated. It is recommended that you drink regularly throughout the hike which can be complicated on tricky terrain. A hydration bladder comes in very handy on such trails because it allows you to drink on the go without hassle.

Nutrition

When you reach high altitudes, your appetite will be weak. However, it is important that you eat regularly. We recommend eating carbohydrates and calorically dense food because you will get the needed calories fast with such food. Note that losing weight at high altitudes is completely normal. Appetite is also a good indicator of proper acclimatization – the stronger the appetite, the more acclimated you are.

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