Trekking At Altitude.
How do I prepare for trekking at high altitude?
Having trekked to incredible places such as Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Everest Base Camp I know only too well how altitude sickness can impact on whether you make it to the summit or not. The questions I get asked many times are around altitude sickness and how to avoid suffering from it.
The highest altitude I have trekked to is Mt Kilimanjaro summit at 5896m above sea level. Having been there four times now, I have seen the mistakes people make and sometimes the outcome is not positive.
Altitude sickness is a serious condition and must be given the utmost respect. Failing to take notice of your body’s warning signs can have dramatic effects. Some of the minor symptoms can be managed with pain killers and fluid intake, but the more serious side effects must be addressed immediately. If your symptoms are serious then you must descend and descend quickly. Although this sounds daunting, there are a number of precautions you can take to ensure you have the best chance of avoiding it.
I believe that one of the most important factors in dealing with altitude is your physical fitness. Being strong physically makes the world of difference. It is hard enough dealing with altitude without having to worry about being unfit. Your cardiovascular system needs to know how to work under pressure, so the greater your endurance in this area, the better chance you will have.
High Intensity Interval training is a great way to increase your cardiovascular ability. This type of training has your body working at high intensity for a short burst of time, eg 20 seconds, then you have a 10 second break. You repeat this time sequence for 3 minutes on the same exercise, then have a minute break before changing exercises.
Strength based training is also important as it ensures your body is in peak condition. Our legs in particular are working hard while we are trekking, but don’t forget the upper body, it is just as important. A typical training program of biceps, triceps, chest, shoulder and core exercises ensures the upper body is strong.
Learn more about pre-trek training by checking out our information page here.
Another important factor while at altitude is keeping yourself hydrated. Although this leads to many trips to the toilet, it is imperative that you are drinking anywhere between 3 and 4 litres of water a day. Some of this liquid intake can be your cups of tea during the day and at meal times. If your Porter team offer you a cup of tea at a break time - drink it! I always balance my water intake with at least a litre of electrolytes each day. The electrolytes put those important salts and minerals back into your body.
We recommend that you have a 2 or 3 litre water bladder or a couple of water bottles with you. This ensures you have water on hand and can take regular sips along the way. The hose of the water bladder can be prone to freezing when you are at high altitudes and the temperature is very cold. This can be prevented by using a hose insulator that can be purchased from good hiking shops. The insulator covers the section of the hose that is exposed to the weather, keeping it from freezing.
There are some medications that you can take to help alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness. Our recommendation is that you seek medical advice from your doctor who can explain the pros and cons of this type of medication and ascertain if it is right for you.
When trekking at altitude, the Porter team are always saying to you, pole’ pole’, which means slowly, slowly. The pace that you walk definitely makes the difference. Walking slowly gives your body every chance to acclimatize to the decrease in oxygen. If you are on a mission to get this trek done as quickly as possible, then chances are you won’t make the summit!
Listen to the advice of your local Guide. These guys have been doing these treks since they were young and they know what they are talking about. They know the terrain and they know what the weather is doing, so listen to what they say and do what they say – they definitely know best! The Porter team have your best interests at heart and they want you to reach the summit. So respect their advice and you will make it to the top.
Layering of your clothing is also a must when trekking at altitude. The weather can change in an instant going from quite warm to freezing cold and windy in a very short space of time. It is important that you can put layers on or take them off easily during the day. A good thermal base layer is excellent for when you are up in colder climates. This can then be added to with extra layers of t'shirts, vest or a soft shell jacket. Keeping your legs warm is easy. A good quality pair of skins works perfectly underneath your trekking shorts or pants.