High Altitude Arapaho Peaks Excursion

When someone travels to high altitude the atmosphere is different in two ways. Specifically, the air pressure is lower and there is less oxygen. The lack of oxygen is what makes climbers sick. When a climbers quickly gains a lot of altitude their body reacts in several ways:

  • The body will increase the rate of breathing and the depths of each breath.
  • The body will increase the pulse rate and the cardio output.
  • The blood volume decreases which increases the density of blood cells.

    However these changes are just a short term adjustment. When your body actually acclimatizes to the lack of oxygen many other changes occur. These changes are:

  • An increased number of red blood cells.
  • A larger respiratory volume.
  • An increase in capillaries in muscles tissues.
  • Changes in body tissues such as a change in red blood cells to enable them to carry more oxygen.

    These changes though, do not occur all at once. Acclimatization is a slow process. Therefore, one should gain altitude slowly to give their body time to make these changes. If you do gain altitude rapidly the lack of oxygen can actually make your body sick. This sickness is calleed acute mountain sickness (AMS). Symtoms of acute mountain sickness include:

  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Listlessness (look it up in the dictionary, I had to)
  • Loss of coordination
  • Cough
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Irregular Breathing
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Reduced Urination
  • Weakness

    The best treatment for AMS is to descend 2000 to 3000 feet. AMS normally hits you within a day of initial ascent. The best way to avoid AMS is to gain altitude slowly and allow your body to make the acclimatization changes previously mentioned. About half of the people that go to 10,000 feet from living at the sea level feel some effects of acute mountain sickness.

    There are more severe altitude conditions called High Altitude Pulmanary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). These two conditions are extemely serious but fortunately we will not encounter them at 13,500 feet. Here is an X-Ray image of a lung with HAPE:

    Here is a list of the ways to help deal with the altitude:

  • Don't drink caffeine!
  • Drink lots of water!
  • Deep breathing every four to six minutes!
  • Each healthy food!

    Mountaineers that climb peaks in Nepal and other really high places develop strageties for dealing with the elevation. These may include tactics such as climbing high and then descending a few hundred feet to sleep. All large mountain expeditions plan to spend a lot of time at a base camp to aclimatize.

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