How To Hike In High Altitudes

Rilor Staff
Update: November 29, 2021
Table of Contents

How to hike in high altitudes?

Many hikers, even the seasoned ones, doubt if they can tackle the high mountains. After all, this adventure requires rigorous preparation and having the right kind of gear. 

Of course, your grit and determination matter here. 

If you can get all these things right, the towering mountains will become your haven. You will witness breathtaking scenery that only the high altitudes can offer. 

And surprisingly enough, you have several destinations to choose from. You can ascend to the alluring alpines, such as the Via Alpina in Switzerland or The Eagle Walk of Austria. Of course, for those who are daring enough, the heights of Mount Everest are just waiting for them.

How To Hike In High Altitudes

If you are planning to hike on trails with elevations of more than 8,000 feet, it is essential that you acclimatize first. It is crucial in the success and safety of your hike. 

Once you arrive at your hiking destination, it is important that you settle there first. You should not hike or trek right away. It would certainly cause some time off on your trip. But at the same time, it can help your system adjust to your current environment. 

Try to settle in a camp for a couple of days. Walk around, breathe some fresh air, and enjoy your surroundings. Familiarize the wildlife and the weather. If possible, you can do some short hikes in nearby trails just to have a good feeling about your upcoming trip. 

The Concept Of Acclimatization

Technically, acclimatization is a mechanism that helps our body adjust to our current environment. It usually happens when you move from one location to another. Suppose you live in an arid area, then you decide to hike in a snowy alpine. Your body is required to make some drastic adjustments so that it can handle the new conditions. 

Your body has to adapt when climbing on high altitudes. After all, the upward terrain is not that friendly after all. You'll experience a serious drop in the oxygen levels the higher you go. 

Hikes with high elevations (7,000 feet or more) are rigorous to the body. You should never strain yourself by suddenly bursting your energy at the beginning of the trail. 

The best thing that you can do is to hike at a steady, gradual pace. You can avoid exhaustion by not speeding up too much. Furthermore, it can prevent accidents and injuries along the way. As you reach higher elevation gains, oxygen becomes lesser. Specifically, the amount of oxygen that you can get at a high altitude is lower than in the ground. 

Once you experience this condition, breathing becomes difficult. Your body has to work hard to pump more red blood cells for enhanced oxygen delivery. Adding the physical strain of hiking, this task is indeed a toll. 

If a hiker doesn't acclimatize before a high-altitude hike, altitude sickness becomes more imminent. Most of the time, this one takes place when a person ascends too fast. If you just hike slowly, you will be able to adjust to the environment. As a result, it lessens the chances of experiencing this problem. Always remember that altitude sickness affects everyone. 

Guidelines In Hiking In High Altitudes

Remain hydrated 

Starting 5,000 feet above sea level, your body will experience the symptoms of decreased oxygen. This will increase your breathing and heart rate. Of course, these processes would expend more water. Furthermore, the high altitudes aren't that humid. It will result in your sweat evaporating faster. Hence, you need more water on your trip. 

Avoid Alcohol

High altitude hikes often serve as a tempting venue to drink booze. However, you shouldn't attempt to do so. Alcohol can reduce your breathing in high altitudes. In turn, it would result in a lower production of oxygen. If you want to drink, then it should be less than a single sip!

Bring Enough Calories

Even the food you bring in the hike has some specifications, as well, especially if you are exceeding 8,000 feet of elevation. Here, a high-carb diet is extremely important so that you can have enough calories. In fact, some experienced high-altitude hikers indicate that you bring your favorite goods. After all, the high altitudes can limit your appetite. 

Cover Yourself In Sunblock

Ultraviolet radiation is very real when you are in high altitudes. Accordingly, there's around a four percent increase of UV radiation for every thousand feet of elevation gain. Hence, if you reach an altitude of 10,000 feet, there's a 40 percent increase in UV radiation, and that's pretty harmful. It is essential that you wear UPF 50+ sun protection. Always remember that you can cover your exposed skin, too. The snow can reflect sunlight. It could cause the ras to bounce on your chin and underlayers. 

Train Your Body

If you want to hike in high altitudes, training is important. Specifically, you need to address your cardiovascular fitness. At the same time, you should also enhance your Vo2 max. The latter is the maximum oxygen that the body can use during a high-exertion activity, such as hiking. You can achieve these feats by undergoing high-intensity exercise. But even with sufficient training, this doesn't mean that your high-altitude hikes become easy. 

How To Acclimatize For High Altitude Hikes?

Begin Slowly

As long as we are dealing with high altitude hikes, pacing remains an important matter. Your body will experience stress if you ascend more than 7,000 feet of elevation gain in just a day. You should limit the speed of your hike--even if you are capable of speeding up. In this way, your body can adjust regularly. 

Of course, you should learn how to temper your energy. Don't exhaust yourself for a dare or challenge. Your safety and well-being are on the line here. 

Sleep On Lower Elevations

Sleep is an important factor of every multi-day hike. In high altitudes, this means that you should have your evening rest in lower altitude areas. Breathing becomes slow when you sleep because it is automatic. Hence, I recommend that you descend from the highest point you reached and set a camp there for the night. 

Have Regular Rest Intervals

Don't hike continuously. Set scheduled rests so that your body will be able to deal with the strains caused by high altitudes. You can even take a day of rest to ensure that you can fully recuperate. 

How High Altitudes Can Affect The Body

AMS - Acute Mountain Sickness

Acute Mountain Sickness is a prevalent aftermath of hiking in high elevations. This happens when your body is not able to adjust to a low-oxygen setting. Your blood vessels in the brain dilate so that they can get more oxygen. That would cause them to swell deliberately. Common symptoms include headaches, nausea, dizziness, and weariness. It can be resolved by having enough rest. But if it persists, you should just descend. 

HACE - High Altitude Cerebral Edema 

If the AMS becomes severe, it turns into high-altitude cerebral edema. Typically, such a condition manifests in altitudes of more than 13,000 feet. A person who is experiencing HACE will show signs of irritability and lethargy. That person is also prone to seizures and vomiting. If not treated immediately, death can happen. 

Descending at least 3,000 feet is one of the best ways to alleviate the effects of HACE. Of course, medical attention is needed here. 

HAPE - High Altitude Pulmonary Edema

The blood pressure in your lungs increases every time the oxygen levels are low. Once this happens, you are susceptible to high-altitude pulmonary edema. The latter occurs when the increased pressure results in the air sacs being filled with water. If not treated, a hiker can go into comatose or death. 

The first symptom of HAPE is difficulty in breathing. Sooner, it will turn into coughing and lethargy. Those who have experienced it said that they felt extreme discomforts in their chest. 

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