High-altitude hiking poses unique challenges, including altitude sickness (also called "acute mountain sickness"), an uncomfortable combination of symptoms that can be brought on by thinning oxygen levels at high elevations. Reduce your risk for altitude sickness by engaging in high altitude training before you hike and maintaining a slow, steady pace on your hike.
High-altitude hiking is particularly challenging because oxygen levels are lower at high elevations, which puts stress on an active body. Overexertion at high elevations causes altitude sickness.
If you're hiking at a high altitude, keep a steady pace and breathe in a slow, regular pattern. Keep in mind that you won't be able to hike at the same speed at a high altitude that you can at sea level. Decrease the size of your strides and maintain a consistent pace. If you find yourself panting or experience a much higher heart rate, slow down. Breathing should be slow, deliberate and deep. Deep breaths help counteract the lack of oxygen at high elevations.
Your physical fitness has no bearing on your ability to tolerate high altitudes; altitude tolerance differs from person to person. High altitude training, though, can help you avert altitude sickness. Begin with hikes at lower altitudes, and slowly and steadily progress to increased altitudes. If you're on a camping trip and hiking at progressively higher elevations, sleeping altitude should not be more than 1,500 feet between camps. If you're driving or flying directly to a hiking area higher than 10,000 feet, rest for at least 24 hours before you begin hiking.
Altitude sickness is a serious condition that can have irreversible complications if left untreated. Factors that can affect the severity of acute mountain sickness include altitude, your rate of ascent, your level of physical exertion and whether or not you're adequately hydrated.
Some of the primary symptoms of altitude sickness include: