Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Everest Calling - Coping with High Altitudes
There are several variables, factors and solutions that you could try to bear in mind while ascending high altitudes, but the most important thing according to me, is this.
Your limbs may not ache and you may feel you have the strength to hike some more but that doesn’t mean you should.
If you are young (which is likely if you have chosen to trek in the mountains), you even tend to show off before your fellow trekkers who are panting and puffing and rubbing their joints.
But please don’t.
There are usually several factors to reckon with – the cold, loss of water (because of sweating), the climb, body ache, low oxygen levels, change in diet, difficulty in digesting food, increased heart beat,... and so on.
Instead of trying to cope with each of them individually, one must find a holistic way of coping.
And that is called acclimatization.
If your body is allowed to acclimatize to the altitude, then all the above factors will be automatically taken care of.
And for acclimatization to happen, you need to ascend very gradually, for all the strength your body may have, because the body cannot adjust to sudden changes.
Try not to ascend more than 200 meters a day; that is, do not gain more than 200 metres or 660 feet of altitude per day.
That way, your body will have time to gradually acclimatize to the change in surrounding conditions little by little, day by day.
And if you allow your body to acclimatize, it does not matter how high the altitude. The body can cope with it.
Only when there is sudden altitude gain, the body buckles.
Leh is at an altitude as low as 10000 or 11000 feet. Yet, the day you land there from Delhi, you feel breathless in the night, and are unable to sleep.
One of the reasons people are unable to sleep in high altitudes is that they have fluid in their lungs – a sign that acclimatization has not happened.
So when you are sitting erect during the day, the fluid settles in the bottom of the lungs and you are still able to breathe with the rest of the space in there.
But when you lie down in the night, the fluid spreads throughout the lungs because of your horizontal position, and you feel as though you are sinking and you are unable to breathe and therefore unable to sleep.
If you are able to sleep well in the night, that means your body has successfully acclimatized and you need to worry no more!