Altitude Challenges: Staying Fit While Trekking Or Mountaineering

Prepare yourself better for the challenges of high-altitude adventures by following these tips by mountaineer Priyanka Mohite, the first Indian woman to scale five peaks above 8,000 meters
Taking care of your health is of utmost important while mountaineering
Taking care of your health is of utmost important while mountaineeringShutterstock

The allure of the high peaks, with their breathtaking views and challenging terrain, draws in adventurers of all stripes. However, venturing into these thin-aired environments requires careful preparation and awareness to ensure your safety and health. Altitude sickness, caused by the body's struggle to adjust to the decreased oxygen level, can quickly turn your dream expedition into a nightmare.

But fret not. With the right knowledge and precautions, you can conquer the mountains and return with memories that will last a lifetime. Here are some essential tips on how to stay healthy at high altitudes while trekking or mountaineering.

Acclimatisation Is Key

Acclimatisation allows your body time to adjust to higher altitudes, where the air is thinner and contains less oxygen. Plan your itinerary with gradual ascents, incorporating rest days and moderate increases in height. Climbing too rapidly can lead to altitude sickness, a condition caused by the body's struggle to adapt to reduced oxygen levels. Ascend slowly, ideally 300-500 meters per day above 3,000 meters. Listen to your body and be aware of symptoms like headaches, nausea, or dizziness, which may indicate altitude sickness. If experienced, it's crucial to descend to a lower altitude promptly.

Speaking to OT about the importance of adjusting to the high altitudes, Priyanka Mohite, mountaineer and the first Indian woman to scale five peaks above 8,000 meters, said, "Acclimatisation is as vital as physical and mental preparation. When scaling an 8000 m summit, the technique involves ascending to greater heights and descending to sleep at lower altitudes, facilitating the body's adjustment. However, the adaptation process might demand sleeping at higher altitudes without supplemental oxygen."

Stay Hydrated

Increased respiratory rates and dry air can lead to dehydration at higher altitudes. Maintaining proper hydration is essential to prevent altitude-related complications. Drink water regularly throughout the day, aiming for 3-4 litres daily. Monitor your urine colour; clear or light-coloured urine indicates adequate hydration, while dark-coloured urine suggests dehydration. Limit consumption of alcohol and caffeine, as they can contribute to dehydration.

Balanced Nutrition

A group of mountaineers cooking
A group of mountaineers cookingShutterstock

A balanced diet is crucial to fuel your body for the physical demands of high-altitude trekking or climbing. Carbohydrates provide the necessary energy, while proteins aid in muscle recovery. Incorporate foods rich in healthy fats for sustained energy. Consuming smaller, more frequent meals can aid digestion, as high altitudes can make it harder for the body to process larger meals.

"The significance of nutrition during high-altitude climbs cannot be overstated. Focus on consuming high-protein, high-fat foods while prioritising adequate hydration to activate cellular function. Consider supplementing your hydration routine with ORS water, which aids in restoring lost salts due to sweating. Despite the expected decrease in appetite and thirst during ascent, feeling hungry and thirsty during the climb can be a positive indicator of successful acclimatisation," added Mohite.

Proper Rest And Sleep

Adequate rest is fundamental for your body to acclimatise to higher altitudes. Quality sleep is essential but challenging due to unfamiliar environments and potential discomfort. Consider using sleep aids such as eye masks and earplugs to improve sleep quality. Take breaks during treks or climbs to prevent exhaustion and allow your body to recuperate.

Recognise Altitude Sickness Symptoms

Altitude sickness is very common while mountaneering
Altitude sickness is very common while mountaneeringShutterstock

Altitude sickness symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and loss of appetite. If you experience any of these symptoms, taking them seriously is crucial. Descend to a lower altitude immediately as a precautionary measure. If symptoms persist or worsen, seek medical assistance promptly.

Medication For Altitude Sickness

Consult a healthcare professional before your trip to discuss medications that can help prevent or alleviate altitude sickness symptoms. Acetazolamide (Diamox) is a common medication used to manage altitude-related issues. It allows the body to adjust to higher altitudes by increasing the rate of breathing, aiding in acclimatisation. Follow medical advice regarding dosage and usage.

Protect Yourself From The Sun

UV radiation intensifies at higher altitudes due to a thinner atmosphere. Protect your skin and eyes by using sunscreen with a high SPF, wearing sunglasses that block UV rays, and covering exposed skin with appropriate clothing. Sunburns and eye damage can occur more quickly at higher elevations, so take necessary precautions.

Slow And Steady Pace

Maintain a consistent and moderate pace while trekking or climbing at high altitudes. Avoid rushing or pushing yourself too hard, as overexertion can lead to fatigue and altitude-related problems. Regular breaks allow your body to adjust and recover, aiding in acclimatisation.

Dress Appropriately

Layer your clothing to adapt to varying temperatures at different altitudes. Use moisture-wicking fabrics that keep sweat away from the skin and dry quickly to prevent discomfort and hypothermia. Ensure you have proper footwear that provides support and comfort to avoid blisters and offer stability on rugged terrain. More details here and here.

Listen To Your Body

Listening to your body's call for help is important
Listening to your body's call for help is importantShutterstock

Pay attention to your body's signals and communicate openly with your group or guide about how you're feeling. It's essential to be aware of your physical condition and any warning signs of distress. Prioritise safety over reaching summits and be prepared to adjust plans if necessary for your well-being.

"Listening to your body's cues is extremely important. When fatigue sets in, respecting your body's limitations is essential. Beyond a certain point, prioritising rest becomes imperative. Each day presents unique challenges during the climb, necessitating your body's continual adaptation. Sometimes, it proves wiser to take a break for the day or even consider revisiting the climb the following year," Mohite stated.

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