How to Survive a High Altitude Excursion

Posted by: admin July 28th, 2016

When venturing to Summit County, Colorado from sea level (or even the Mile High area, for that matter), adjusting to the High Country elevation can be challenging, and for some, even dangerous. So, how can you plan a Summit County adventure filled with hiking, biking and other fun activities, without the threat of being bedridden for the duration of your stay? Heed our advice, and enjoy life at nearly 10,000 ft:

ex.jpgPrepare for Adjustment

Studies show that cardiovascular conditioning helps people adjust to high altitudes. This is because your body requires additional oxygen during cardiovascular exercise due to expelling more of it during your workout. While you certainly don’t need to train for an Everest expedition, upping your running or biking regiment before a trip to the Rocky Mountains will decrease the effects of high altitude.

Additionally, if you’re traveling to Summit County from sea level, two things will happen. 1: You will be referred to as a “flatlander” (just kidding… sort of). And 2: You will have a MUCH harder time adjusting to the local climate than someone from the Denver area. Extend your trip by one or two days, and spend a couple nights sleeping in Denver. This will help your body slowly acclimate.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!

For most people, our bodies begin to deplete water and sodium as we acclimatize to higher altitudes. Your body – sodium & water = dehydration. The dryer air will contribute to this effect as well. Plan ahead and stock up on extra water for your trip. You may not realize the headache and dizziness you’re experiencing are directly related to dehydration, but a few swigs from a water bottle will help alleviate your symptoms. And, make sure you keep water nearby at night if you’re camping. 

Hiking-In-Summit-CountyAccessorize Accordingly

Sunblock; water bottles; oxygen canisters; aspirin. These are the items that should be accounted for in your High Country care pack. Because the atmosphere is thinner the higher up you go, the sun's rays are much stronger here (it’s the reason Colorado has the highest rate of skin cancer in the United States). Apply sunblock liberally, no matter the season, as you will likely burn within a matter of minutes while playing outside. Oxygen canisters can be purchased at almost any grocery store or gas station in the High Country. While they won’t provide lasting relief from the altitude, they will help aid immediate symptoms of headaches and lightheadedness. Studies also show that aspirin helps to relieve headaches and other symptoms of acute mountain sickness. And, if you’re the proud owner of a fitness tracker, it’s a good idea to keep track of your heart rate to ensure you don’t enter the danger zone.

Eat Properly

You are what you eat, and complex carbohydrates allow your body to expend oxygen more efficiently while maintaining good energy levels. So, take a break from the diet during your Summit County vacation (hey – a great excuse to indulge while you’re away) and enjoy some bread and fruit. And, although you may be tempted, keep a close eye on your alcohol intake. After all, alcohol dehydrates the body and tends to have a greater impact when consumed at high altitudes. If you do decide to indulge, take it slow and be sure to drink plenty of water.

If your high altitude symptoms go beyond a mild headache and shortness of breath, consult medical care. Be aware of the dangerous signs and symptoms that can signal more serious conditions such as high altitude pulmonary edema, and know when to consult medical care.