High altitude hiking is a blessing for any hiker. It provides a stunning panorama of the surrounding landscapes, spellbinding sunrise view, and a unique, unforgettable adventure of the terrain.
Anyone will be delighted by the tranquility of the scene. As rewarding as the high altitude hiking is, it is also equally challenging and strenuous. But like it’s said – ‘Difficult terrains lead to beautiful destinations’. You will enjoy every moment of your time while you are at the top of your hiking destination. So it’s definitely worth tying up your shoelace for high altitude hiking.
Hold up a moment:
Before you kickoff for your hike, know that you will need proper preparations to make it a successful one. Understand that high altitude WILL affect your body. So if you are not prepared, you are posing a risk to your hike and even higher risk to your health.
I have listed below the 9 proven high altitude hiking tips that are sure to help you in your high altitude hiking trip.
But before that, let us know:
What is High Altitude Hiking?
High altitude hiking is the hike above the height of 8,000 feet (approximately 2,400 meters). The height is a benchmark because it is likely to affect your body and the symptoms of altitude sickness might occur.
High Altitude: 8,000 to 13,000 feet
Very High Altitude: 13,000 to 18,000 feet
Extremely High Altitude: 18,000+ feet
Now lets quickly get on with the tips for hiking in high altitude.
1. Know the Risks and Ways to Prevent High Altitude Sickness
Going for a high altitude hike comes with numerous risks. The major one is altitude sickness.
Unless you are a local inhabitant of such high-altitude places, chances are you will experience altitude sickness. So it is better to know the category of altitude sickness and their symptoms:
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS): It is the most common altitude sickness category. Its symptoms are very much relatable to a hangover.
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty sleeping
Many might feel these symptoms. Though they are very common in such high altitudes, you should definitely not ignore it.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE): If AMS is not taken care of right away, it might progress into HAPE. Its symptoms are:
- Extreme shortness of breath (dyspnea) when lying down or doing some activity
- Suffocation or drowning sensation
- Cold, clammy skin
- Anxiety and restlessness
- A cough that produces frothy sputum that may be stained with blood
- Blue-tinged lips
- Rapid, irregular heartbeat
High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE): This is the last stage of altitude sickness. A person is very much likely to die in such a circumstance. Its symptoms are similar to AMS and HAPE with the addition of confusion, hallucination, and incoordination.
Preventing Altitude Sickness
- Avoid direct flying to the high altitudes. Your body needs time to adapt to the changing altitude and environment. Don’t expose your body to the harsh environment directly.
- Take multiple days to hike in high altitude.
- Take rest every 600 to 800 meters you go up.
- Drink enough water.
- Strictly avoid drinking alcohol and smoking.
Treating Altitude Sickness
- Immediately stop and rest where you are, once you start experiencing the symptoms of altitude sickness
- In the case of headache, take aspirin or ibuprofen.
- If you feel sick, take antihistamines like promethazine or trimeprazine
- Garlic and Sichuan pepper work great to prevent and treat altitude sickness
- Acetazolamide prevents and treats altitude sickness. It should be taken 24 – 48 hours before you start your hike.
- Ibuprofen and aspirin for headaches
- Promethazine for nausea and vomiting
2. Pre-train Your Body
Your body undergoes a lot of changes when you hike in hike altitude. You need strength, stamina, and endurance to withstand the challenge of the trail and high altitude environment.
Your likelihood of succeeding in your high altitude hike largely depends on how physically fit you are. So it is best to train your body at least a month prior to your hiking.
Basic training can be:
- Running the stairs and sloppy hills
- Cardio exercises
- Hiking to nearby hills
- Strength-training your lower body
Click here to learn more about how to get in shape for hiking.
DO NOT ascend continuously. Divide the hike into a number of days. At higher altitudes, the air gets gradually thinner. With the hike of every 1,000 feet, there is 3% less oxygen in the atmosphere. So it gets difficult to breathe in a low-oxygen environment.
Let your body adapt to the changing environment. If you start experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness, then immediately stop where you are. Rest for a while and catch your breath. Continue if the conditions subside, else descend.
It is better to climb 300 to 500 meters per day. It gives your body enough time to adapt. Be flexible with your hiking schedule. The mountain is going nowhere!
4. Eat Well
Hiking in high altitude demands a lot of energy. Your body mechanism is faster, your heart pumps faster, and your muscles get sore due to climbing. All these functions consume a lot of energy. You are continuously energy-deprived with every few meters you climb.
Thus, it is essential that you keep refueling your energy with frequent snacking. Take high carbohydrate diets in long breaks. You can carry dry fruits and chocolates to eat on the go.
Take regular breaks for snacking. This way, you get to rest as well as replenish yourself with energy.
5. Drink Plenty of Water
Like said above, your body consumes a lot of energy while hiking in the high altitude. To function properly, it needs more calories along with water. It is vital that you understand the need for a heavy diet and drinking plenty of water.
You will notice your lips dry out very quickly when hiking at high altitudes than they would normally. It is because your body is in constant need of energy to adapt to such extreme atmospheric conditions.
Drink plenty of water periodically to compensate for the water loss from your body while hiking. This will also help prevent altitude sickness.
Do not drink alcohol to compensate for water loss. Alcohol is a depressant as well as a dehydrating agent. This will only make you more dehydrated and will put you at severe risk of altitude sickness.
6. Find Your Pace
You are definitely going to need to follow your own pace. Do not rush. Take your time. Decrease your speed, take deep breaths, and find good rhythm for breathing. It makes you more comfortable and moves your legs according to the rhythm.
This technique will carry you a long way than a hasty hiking would. It is always better to walk slow and consistent.
7. Carry Warm Clothes
The weather at high altitudes is very unpredictable. This dramatically affects your physical condition. Always bring extra warm layers like gloves, lightweight down jacket, woolen hat, woolen pants, woolen beanie, woolen socks, and gaiters. Synthetic base layers will do great when the temperature drops.
8. Wear Sunscreen
Places at high altitudes do not follow calm weather patterns. The wind blows fearlessly at such elevations. Also, the sun rays are more powerful and damaging at high altitudes. Snow glare, cold temperature and no shade above tree line contribute to sunburn and other skin damages.
Thus it is always best to wear sunblock before starting the hike each day. You can wash your face if you need to during your hike but make sure to put sunblock on again.
9. Always Bring First Aid Backups
While hiking, you are always prone to bruises, cuts, and injuries. You have to climb your way through forests, rocky terrain and slippery areas. It is impossible to predict the situation. So it is best to be prepared for the worst.
Always carry basic first aid kits like bandages, pain relief spray, cotton, sanitizers, antiseptic cream, and altitude sickness medication with you when hiking. You never know when you or your companion might need them.
Follow the tips mentioned above and make your hike to high altitude a successful one.
- What is High Altitude Hiking?
- 1. Know the Risks and Ways to Prevent High Altitude Sickness
- 2. Pre-train Your Body
- 3. Acclimatize
- 4. Eat Well
- 5. Drink Plenty of Water
- 6. Find Your Pace
- 7. Carry Warm Clothes
- 8. Wear Sunscreen
- 9. Always Bring First Aid Backups