A guide to staying well at high altitude

April 4, 2016 Yeti Holidays


Ideas to help you to prepare, train, stay healthy and reach altitudes you would never have believed possible.

High places altitudes of 2,500m and above — demand special respect and preparation. However, with proper planning and the right training, almost anyone can experience the exhilaration of rarefied air. Here are some ideas to help you to prepare, train, stay well and reach altitudes you would never have believed possible in the tallest mountain ranges of the world.

  • Train, train, and train
    It is often not practical to prepare by actually spending time up high, but you can train your heart and lungs for the altitude, even at sea level. Do at least four hour-long sessions per week of full-effort aerobic exercise, such as running, biking or swimming. Find steep hills to climb wherever you can. And if you will be carrying a load, include this into your training regime.
  • Rest
    If you will be flying or driving to altitude, the first thing you must do is rest. Spend two or three days doing as little as possible and drinking plenty of water – around four to six liters per day. Dehydration worsens altitude problems, as does drinking alcohol.
  • Keep eating
    You may lose your appetite when first at altitude, but it is important to keep eating. You will burn more calories even at rest when up in the alpine cold: make sure you eat plenty of high-carb, slow-burning energy foods.
  • Climb high, sleep low
    Above 3,000m, if the geography allows, do not ascend more than 300m a day. If you do, plan to sleep no more than 300m higher than you did the previous night until you are well acclimatized. Acclimatization takes one to three days for any given altitude.
  • Tough days, rough nights
    Nights may be tough at first. Breathing rate slows when you sleep and you may wake frequently feeling short of breath. Propping yourself up with your backpack to sleep half-sitting may help.
  • Know the danger signs
    It is normal to have some headaches when you are first above 2,500m. Rest, drink and medicate as you would at sea level. Breathlessness is normal on exertion at altitude – but above 3,000m, watch for breathlessness when resting. A cough; a severe, persistent headache; nausea; loss of coordination or disorientation all are signs of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). This potentially fatal condition demands rapid descent.
  • Have a plan
    AMS symptoms often improve with a descent of 300 to 600m. Make sure your walking party has a plan of action for descent.
  • Try folk (and Western) remedies
    Andeans have chewed coca leaves for thousands of years — the alkaloids released relieve altitude symptoms. In the Himalayas, dried yak cheese is said to alleviate some altitude woes. Eating steak before arriving at altitude may increase iron levels and help produce blood cells to transport oxygen. Or take the pharmaceutical route: Acetazolamide (Diamox) before and during ascent helps acclimatization.

Now that you are prepared, here are three of the most beautiful — and challenging — high altitude journeys:

  • Mt Kailash Kora, Tibet
    The faithful (and fit) make the 52km circumambulation in one day, but most trekkers take at least three days to circuit the mountain at altitudes of between 4,570 and 5,790m. Be glad you are not prostrating at every step like some pilgrims.
  • Kala Patthar – Cho La – Gokyo Lakes, Nepal
    This classic circuit leads from fly-in Lukla to the best viewpoint over Mt Everest, Kala Patthar (5,644m). It then heads over Cho La Pass (5,330m) to Gokyo Valley. Stay hydrated with dudh chia(milk tea).
  • Dolpo, Nepal
    Trek from Shey Gompa to Phoksundo Lake in the land of the snow leopard, and then on remote, ancient pathways to Jomsom. Altitudes range between 4,000-5,000m – be thankful for your yaks.