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Old 06-30-2015, 07:21 PM   #1
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ALTITUDE SICKNESS... the unexpected

Some of you living at 1500 elevation might scoff and find this rather amusing that since you are 1500 feet above Sea Level... you have experienced some Elevation and immune to Altitude Sickness.

We did.

After moving from 7200 feet elevation in Laramie, Wyoming to 900 feet elevation in Kansas City, Missouri you do not realize that your adapting to higher elevation was... temporary. At 900 feet your red blood cells begin to diminish and your advantage of absorbing oxygen from the lower elevation is... lost.

My wife and I went to Telluride, Colorado some years ago to explore some mines above tree line. Maybe near 10,000+ feet elevation in Colorado, leaving the hot and humid July of Missouri. We had 9 days to work with and many places to go and to see. The plan was to tent camp in the Colorado Rockies and work our way back through Wyoming, western Nebraska and follow I-80 towards home.

The second day we camped above tree line and snow was still in the ravines, melting creating small creeks everywhere. The sun was warm... until it began to set for the evening. The warm, to cool to damn right cold set in. That evening my wife felt the nausea, headache and just feeling lousy. We had to get DOWN as soon as the sun rose. By morning... I felt a general lousy feeling. Almost like you had a bad meal at a restaurant on the trip. You will not have to ask if you have Altitude Sickness... you will know immediately.

Myself at one time, lived in Laramie, Wyoming at 7200 feet never had this experience. My wife, comfortable in Buffalo, New York, about 600 feet never felt altitude sickness. Together being adapted to under 1000 feet in Kansas City, we were not prepared at all.

Today we are living in Colorado at an elevation of around 6500 feet. Someone living in Texas at 125 feet elevation will absolutely, guaranteed be risking their life if they do not take... their... time to acclimate to the elevations in many places of the Western USA. We volunteered a few seasons at Keystone Ski Resort and found multiple "flat landers" lying flat on their backs in serious trouble from altitude sickness. The Ski Patrol would haul them to the clinic.

Altitude is not something you can predict. I had it once and that was enough to remind me that you need to adjust to elevation a bit at a time. Fifty feet elevation to Denver's 5200 feet, to the next and next. For us, going from 6500 feet to 10,000 feet at Leadville, Colorado is not a problem today. But... you will discover that you most likely will have a problem... sleeping well. We don't sleep well at above 9,000 feet. Sleeping at Cripple Creek, CO at a Casino Hotel could be just miserable for some.

I toss and turn at 6500 feet but find 7500 feet easier... for sleeping. We all will have individual symptoms from high elevation. Some people will find it very uncomfortable and are best to drop to an elevation that they are comfortable. If you are not in good physical shape... you might want to be very careful. Carrying excess weight is harder work at elevation with oxygen percentages diminishing with elevation.

This is why Mount Everest climbers need so much time working up to elevation.

Some might find this Thread funny.... and not me in mind. Right. Tell us all about what you discovered. You cannot SEE elevation, but you sure will FEEL elevation.

There are a group of energetic Airforum members working their way to Quemado, NM at elevations in the mid 7000's. Closer to 7600 feet where we will be. This is a very moderate elevation and not likely to cause discomfort, but maybe sleeping poorly the first day or two. I will have to be watching for Altitude Sickness among this group of hearty adventurers. Spending a day at 6000 feet will most likely take care of the worst case and then return to the higher campsite. But I, for one will be keeping a watchful eye on those in attendance. Some are coming from elevation, or arriving after a few days in higher elevations than their home. This is the best way to beat Altitude Sickness. Adjust while traveling while gaining elevation.

I took the liberty of a Higher Peak Altitude Training Oxygen chart. Effective Oxygen Percentages at approximate locations I chose.

Sea Level 20.9% Florida Beaches & Boston
6000 feet 16.6% (Cheyenne, WY)
7000 feet 16.0% (Quemado, NM at 6917 feet) (Campsite at 7500 feet)
10,000 feet 14.2% (Leadville, CO)
14,000 feet 12.2% (Pikes Peak, CO)
29,000 feet 6.8% (Mount Everest)

There is no advice that gets the message across than someone who has experienced Altitude Sickness. I told you my story. What is yours and how did you get adjusted? There are lessons out there as we each are unique and some people are not affected... at all. Imagine that.

Human Bean
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Old 06-30-2015, 07:32 PM   #2
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We used to have a place in Frisco, CO (9200 feet). Our youngest daughter would get terrible altitude sickness.
Imagine terrible stomach flu all the time you are there.

Pediatrician prescribed a RX called Diamox for her. It is taken a few days before you ascent and then while in altitude.

Essentially if you suffer from altitude sickness your cranial fluid may not regulate well and it feels like your head is being crushed. Think of the worst hangover you ever had.

Pediatrician also said that people who are prone to altitude sickness often also don't enjoy airline travel, particularly longer trips. Why? Seems that cabins are oxygenated to the levels found at about 6000 feet. It's less costly than using more, and makes passengers sleepy and docile. So if you have trouble flying, it may be a problem with altitude sickness.

Daughter is now an adult, and when she visits her sister who lives in Denver (of course) she will still get sick if too active such as biking/hiking.


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Old 06-30-2015, 08:30 PM   #3
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When at the Grand Canyon, I really got out of breath climbing the desert view watchtower. That is at 7262 ft., I live at about 600 ft. elevation.

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Old 06-30-2015, 08:49 PM   #4
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I've experienced plenty of instances of friends / colleagues with altitude sickness, most commonly when folks fly in from Houston or other low lands, and we go straight to ski areas like Snowbird or Keystone. Even the gradual 'ease up' approach does not always work. A couple of years ago we had to rush our Australian friend down from Bryce Canyon (8000+ ft. photo below) back to the 5300' elevation she had been at for days. This was a healthy, non-drinker who might have been slightly dehydrated.

Perhaps some useful tidbits here on WebMD.

Great idea to keep an eye on the folks in your troop. Best wishes on a safe and enjoyable adventure.


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Old 06-30-2015, 09:11 PM   #5
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The percent of O2 at 6000 feet is 16.6%. For those traveling by plane.
We had a patient that was flying back home just hours after being released from the hospital.
We sent a pulse ox and a tank of O2 with him just in case.
A family member called an said thank you .
He did need the supplemental O2 during the flight
They said that the plane went higher than expected due to weather conditions
And the cabin pressure was more like 8000 ft.
This would be around 15% O2.
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Old 06-30-2015, 10:21 PM   #6
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I couldn't sleep the first night in Vail.

My brother said that alcohol would effect me more.
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Old 06-30-2015, 10:31 PM   #7
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Not everyone suffers altitude sickness at any given elevation, but ANYONE can be laid low if they go beyond their limit too fast. Strong conditioned people can climb Mt Hood (11,000’) from sea level in a day. Not many can do that on Mt. Rainier (14,000’). Climbers on Rainier usually bivvy and many even have a rest day at 10,000’. Those extra 3,000’ feet of ever-thinning air can knock the wind out of just about anybody coming directly from sea-level.

You need to acclimatize no matter how strong you are. Maybe it’s at 7-or 8 or 9,000’. If you feel sluggish, ease back and drink LOTS of water. Higher elevations are dry elevations – even if it’s snowing or raining – and you need to hydrate to stay sharp. And, for that matter, to stay warm.

Way back when I was in the Himalayas the ones who got sick the most were the youngest and most macho. They just wouldn’t slow down and take easy at 17- or 18- or 19,000’ - they were feeling their oats! Well when they bonked they bonked, and it was Goodnight Irene – asleep in their tent for a whole day or more. (Ask me how I know.)

So Ray is right about taking time to work up to elevation. Take it easy for a day or two if even 6- or 7,000’ makes you feel out of breath.

Another tried-and-true method to adapt to altitude is to “climb high and sleep low.” If you can spend some comfortable time during the day at a higher elevation than you will sleep at that night, you might well sleep better.

Oh, and Diamox makes you pee a lot. If you need it, fine, but you might not sleep at all. ☺


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Old 07-01-2015, 12:08 AM   #8
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Another vote for acclimatizing. And being aware of what is happening when you start to feel it. And realizing that it affects people differently, apart from their general health and fitness level.

We spent three years working in northern Chile, living in Antofagasta at sea level. Our customers were large mines, and not many were at sea level. Most were at 10,000 ft, some at 14,000 ft, and the really tough ones higher yet.

We found that having an overnight rest at a small town at 10,000 ft made it much easier for site visits, and it became a work policy for managers. Even if they said they felt fine, they made better decisions. Some of us carried oxygen tanks, just in case. We used to joke that we never needed the oxygen I carried in my Expedition (even at 15,000 ft) but the 4.6 engine in that truck sure could have used it.

We also found that over 14,000 ft, hiring was a challenge because some locals simply couldn't work there (in the camp, on shifts) and you found out in the first week they were on the job.

We live at sea level in Canada now, and use the above experience on personal trips involving altitude. Usually they are bicycling trips. With higher levels of exertion, I notice physical effects at 7000 ft now. With less exertion (but being a few years younger then) I used to not notice anything until over 12,000 ft.

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Old 07-01-2015, 05:57 AM   #9
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Very interesting post, thank you. I have an incurable lung disease - very rare, who would expect less and at times even at 800 feet I have issues. My wife is in terrific shape. Last year we went west for the first long trip. For a month we never were below 5,500 for long. I had no issues, my wife found it tough to breath and had trouble sleeping. But, when we finally got home I had a serious lung episode and she was fine. My episode was caused by lack of oxygen at altitude.

On another point, when I worked for about 10 years I was flying almost every day as a commercial passenger - I had constant infections, colds and flu like symptoms. All according to my chest specialist by pressurized cabin at about 7,000 feet and dirty air in planes.

We have plans for a western trip this late summer as well, but you've reminded me of some issues and may alter our plans. Thank You and enjoy your trip.


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Old 07-01-2015, 06:08 AM   #10
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The other side of the coin: When I get home (500'-1,400') after spending time at altitude, I'm invincible on my bike- for about a week.
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Old 07-01-2015, 06:37 AM   #11
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Thank you Ray

You really are a great writer. AND you choose interesting not to mention informative topics.

Can't help thinking about another great writer, Protagonist, who I suspect occasionally spends time at six feet below sea level. ( in New Orleans )
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Old 07-01-2015, 06:47 AM   #12
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"There are a group of energetic Airforum members working their way to Quemado, NM at elevations in the mid 7000's. Closer to 7600 feet where we will be. This is a very moderate elevation and not likely to cause discomfort, but maybe sleeping poorly the first day or two. I will have to be watching for Altitude Sickness among this group of hearty adventurers. Spending a day at 6000 feet will most likely take care of the worst case and then return to the higher campsite. But I, for one will be keeping a watchful eye on those in attendance. Some are coming from elevation, or arriving after a few days in higher elevations than their home. This is the best way to beat Altitude Sickness. Adjust while traveling while gaining elevation".

I'm at 869' elevation, in the flyover country of Central Illinois.

Thanks for the warning, Ray.

🏡 🚐 Cherish and appreciate those you love. This moment could be your last.🌹🐚❤️
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Old 07-01-2015, 07:09 AM   #13
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Might be a useful trip planning tool ??????

Google Earth maps has a cool function. If you drag the cursor over a given location…It gives you the altitude on the bottom of the screen. It also gives latitude and longitude for you GPS users.

I learned that the top of my property was at 1200 feet and the bottom was at 1100 feet. It was actually useful info while I was designing a passive solar shower.
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Old 07-01-2015, 07:57 AM   #14
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I had the privilege of skiing for 3 days in Vail, CO. I felt ok as long as I didn't over do it. The more challenging slopes would have me breathing hard. On my last run of the day I decided to really hit it hard going down hill. I had to stop mid-way down and loose my lunch........ At least I felt better

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