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Altitude sickness

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Altitude sickness

Postby funnyman7878 » Mon Aug 11, 2014 12:57 am

Last week I did a 12.5 mile non-stop hike in Crystal Cove (Orange County area) with no real issues at all, although this hike was at sea level. I am not in great shape but i'm not out of shape either. So yesterday I finally got to summit White Mountain Peak (14,252 ft) and I was surprised at how incredibly tough it was. I am trying to find out why I found a 6.2 mile hike to the summit so difficult when I have done over twice the distance at sea level without stopping.

The first 2 miles from the trailhead to Barcroft station (12000') was great, the next 2 miles were ok..was getting a little out of breath and feeling a bit weak. I checked my altimeter and it was still 12700'. After that, the final 2.5 miles were absolute hell, from about 12800' - 14252', especially the last section from 13000' onwards I felt I could not even walk without getting out of breath, I would rest 2 minutes to get my heart rate back to normal and then take about 10 steps and my heart would be racing again. Through determination I made it but I felt others were doing just fine as they were just zipping past me.

My acclimatization process was camping overnight at Grandview campground (8600'). I'm guessing this was completely insufficient to acclimatize? I would like to hear about those that have had problems with altitude when summiting a 14er and how a better acclimatization schedule helped.
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Re: Altitude sickness

Postby jesu, joy of man's desiring » Mon Aug 11, 2014 4:09 am

See a cardiologist. Seriously.
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Re: Altitude sickness

Postby WyomingSummits » Mon Aug 11, 2014 4:13 am

[quote="funnyman7878"]Last week I did a 12.5 mile non-stop hike in Crystal Cove (Orange County area) with no real issues at all, although this hike was at sea level. I am not in great shape but i'm not out of shape either. So yesterday I finally got to summit White Mountain Peak (14,252 ft) and I was surprised at how incredibly tough it was. I am trying to find out why I found a 6.2 mile hike to the summit so difficult when I have done over twice the distance at sea level without stopping.

The first 2 miles from the trailhead to Barcroft station (12000') was great, the next 2 miles were ok..was getting a little out of breath and feeling a bit weak. I checked my altimeter and it was still 12700'. After that, the final 2.5 miles were absolute hell, from about 12800' - 14252', especially the last section from 13000' onwards I felt I could not even walk without getting out of breath, I would rest 2 minutes to get my heart rate back to normal and then take about 10 steps and my heart would be racing again. Through determination I made it but I felt others were doing just fine as they were just zipping past me.

My acclimatization process was camping overnight at Grandview campground (8600'). I'm guessing this was completely insufficient to acclimatize? I would like to hear about those that have had problems with altitude when summiting a 14er and how a better acclimatization schedule helped.[/quot
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Many factors involved here. What is your altitude history? Acclimitization might not be achieved by simply camping overnight if you have little history at altitude. Also, % of incline comes into play. Was your distance at sea level still at a steep incline? I doubt it. Otherwise you'd have ended at 12k. ;) Age can hurt you as well. Ultimately it takes time. Most high level mountaineers didn't get in the mountain shape they are in by walking 12 miles at sea level a few weeks before a climb. That kind of fitness takes years to develop cumulatively. If you did a couple more hikes at altitude and then went back and did that hike again, I bet you would see a world of difference. it could have been an altitude attack that would happen regardless of your fitness level. You really have to watch your water and calorie intake at altitude. Even the strongest climbers with no history of AMS can get sick if they get dehydrated while working hard. This is why "watch your water and food intake" is pounded home so often....it's critical. And yes, sleeping at 8600 just doesn't cut it.....8600 barely qualifies as "altitude".
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Re: Altitude sickness

Postby fatdad » Mon Aug 11, 2014 4:16 am

Deathzoneclimber?
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Re: Altitude sickness

Postby bscott » Mon Aug 11, 2014 4:29 am

there's a long answer and a short answer.

the short answer is that you slept too low coming from sea level. the long answer involves fitness, altitude tolerance, hydration, and a host of other things, many of which are already posted above. this book was helpful:

http://www.amazon.com/Altitude-Illness- ... e+sickness

i work in a clinical research setting at a major hospital, so i get to check out all the ams studies, it's actually becoming a very interesting field to be researching.
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Re: Altitude sickness

Postby bscott » Mon Aug 11, 2014 4:33 am

btw, we have several mountains locally that can help prep for high altitude hiking/climbing/camping (i live in hb). baldy and anywhere in the san g area - which has 17 named peaks over 10,000' elevation - are great places to get your feet wet altitude-wise.
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Re: Altitude sickness

Postby jesu, joy of man's desiring » Mon Aug 11, 2014 6:09 am

If you don't want to play it safe with a cardiac stress test first, maybe take the opposite approach, and just go for it in a day hike, and hope the weakening effects of altitude kick in toward the END of your hike?

Maybe that nite spent at 8600ft only added to your problems.

My hiking abilities have always sucked, but I've day hiked Whitney trail three times with no serious altitude effects, other than barfing so violently on the summit that it caused several nearby infants to begin sobbing

Btw, I have a congenital mitral valve heart defect which I've been told can cause sudden death during strenuous uphill hiking
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Re: Altitude sickness

Postby desainme » Mon Aug 11, 2014 3:58 pm

I participated in dude ranch activities for several days before doing stuff like this. Aspen Lodge @Estes Park elevation is around 9000 ft. I didn't have any trouble at 11.5 K nor higher up. My prep training had been some swimming in Ohio. The mountains behind L.A.(Big Bear Lake area) seem like a good preparation.At least until the grizzly bears take up residence again.
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Re: Altitude sickness

Postby ROL » Mon Aug 11, 2014 4:54 pm

I think jesu has it right – best to get a checkup first. That said "altitude sickness" can be a very funny animal, sometimes appearing when least expected. I think there's a lot of anecdotal evidence for that. Sure, being in shape, however subjectively one defines that, is a great first step. Ambient biometeorological factors may also be contributory, experienced only by you. I've only ever felt any effects anywhere at any altitude in over 50 years in the Sierra (or in this case, California including White) once – the last 2 gradual miles on trail to Whitney's summit. That was only one of many varied trips up the mountain, but I happened to be running at the time, enroute to Yosemite Valley.
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Re: Altitude sickness

Postby MoapaPk » Mon Aug 11, 2014 5:10 pm

I think you have to spend several nights at altitude to see an acclimatization effect.

The biggest problems I see with people who go from flatland to high altitude:
1) They push too hard, subliminally trying to keep the pace they had near sea level. When their bodies complain, they push harder.

2) They don't breathe deeply enough, especially to expel the CO2 in their lungs.

3) They start off way too fast.
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Re: Altitude sickness

Postby Josh Lewis » Mon Aug 11, 2014 5:19 pm

8,000 feet used to give me a head ache. After a lot of training it went up to 10,000 feet. Now I can get to 17-18 thousand without too much trouble with a few weeks of acclimatization. However even with lots of time at high altitude 19 thousand still thrashes me pretty good. I've done a ton of climbing in my time and it still isn't enough (I'm usually too busy to write them here).
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Re: Altitude sickness

Postby clmbr » Mon Aug 11, 2014 5:21 pm

WyomingSummits wrote:[.....8600 barely qualifies as "altitude".
Not entirely true. However, I agree with WyomingSummits’ all other comments. There are still many more factors and circumstances.

Next time you develop similar symptoms I would recommend to turn back before it might be too late.
Doing it again in a week or two may have a completely different feeling, much easier.

There is no better way for high altitude preparation than high altitude climbing (and still there is no guarantee you would not get sick and even die).

A year ago I did the Clear Creek route on Mt Shasta (7,600 elevation gain) in one day with inexperienced persons and one guy with not even hiking training made the summit successfully. We came from sea level and camped at 6,400 feet for a few hours. And the conditions were not easy either.
Trip video: Climbing Mt Shasta over Clear Creek in One Day, 2013-10-05
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Re: Altitude sickness

Postby markhallam » Mon Aug 11, 2014 7:25 pm

If you want information on high altitude and acclimatisation there is a description of current UIAA guidance in the following article, which I wrote for this site and updated about a year ago:

http://www.summitpost.org/expedition-medicine/675753

best wishes, Mark
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Re: Altitude sickness

Postby sierraman » Tue Aug 12, 2014 2:59 am

ROL had it right, altitude sickness is a strange animal. For the past 15 years I have been shuttling between my home in Vacaville (sea level) and my cabin in Truckee (6,000 ft). Two or three times a year I experience altitude symptoms. I have tried, in vain, to determine why one weekend I'm fine and the next I have altitude sickness. There must be a reason; hydration, diet, stress level, something - but I've never been able to isolate the cause.
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Re: Altitude sickness

Postby thexcat » Tue Aug 12, 2014 7:04 am

For what it's worth, I'm very sensitive to altitude compared to most people I go hiking with. Therefore I usually take extra care to properly acclimate. What works best for me is to hike high and sleep at low elevations for proper recovery. When I'm planning a strenuous trip above 14k I generally try to gradually acclimate - by first hiking to 10-12k on day 1, 11-13k on day 2 and then 14k on day 3.
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