UKC

My experience with altitude (sickness)

Please Register as a New User in order to reply to this topic.
 dhat1 12:21 Thu

Hi everyone,

I did my first Alpine ascent last weekend (Grossglockner, 3800) and want to give you a brief idea of the altitude sickness I experienced.  I wonder if this is typical and if I should expect this every time I go to altitude.  What surprised me is that I only really recovered fully once going down to normal altitude.

We did a mountaineering training week with ascent of the peak at the last day.  I'm 44 - the rest of my party (5) was aged between 28 and 35, and I am 6'3'' and 100kg. This probably did not help as I clearly worked way harder than everyone - I did make a decision to go slower than the group was pushing, but I did push harder than I should have on most days - I was near or at max many times during most of these.

Night 1 (2150m) - normal - arrived and no activity during the day.

Night 2 (3000m) - day before only medium exertion, splitting headache for about 2-3 hours during the night, but that subsided.   Resting HRT 80-100

Night 3 (3000m) -  heavy exertion the day climbing to 3400 and back down.  Trouble sleeping for about half the night.  This became a lot worse later in the week.  Resting HRT 80

Night 4 (2154) - Third night down in the valley again - slept well - nothing to report.  Resting HRT 70-80

Night 5 (3450) - Heavy exertion the day before climbing to the hut at this altitude.  Poor appetite - could not finish dinner.  Very bad night where I could not get any sleep - only a light headache that went away with paracetamol.  I think I had sleep apnea the entire night - as soon as I would fall asleep I would stop breathing for 20 seconds and then wake up out of breath (tested this by recording my breathing).  This went on the entire night.  Resting HRT 80-90

Day 6 - climbing the peak to 3800 was very tiring and felt a little dizzy a handful of times.  No appetite, felt completely flat back down at the hut at 3400.  Descending down to 2800 all of a sudden I felt almost completely normal, at 2154 normal again with appetite returning.  Resting HRT 80

Night 6 (2154) - last night - sleep apnea returned, and could only sleep for a few hours.  Then sleepness night a gain with a high heart rate.  Resting HRT 80

Next morning (2154) - (transport back), felt as though I was hyperventilating the whole time - felt somewhat dizzy.  I would feel better when walking a round a bit - sitting still made me feel worse.  Feeling terrible until 30min to an hour at sub 1500m.  Then completely normal again - just very tired.

 MG 12:24 Thu
In reply to dhat1:

The not recovering on coming down but is odd.  Possibly something else going on there.  Normally recovery is pretty much instant on coming down

Otherwise fairly typical, if on the sensitive side.  2150m will have minimal effect and then sleeping at 3000m is quite a   jump.  I'd not normally sleep above ~2800m as a first night, or expect to be quite uncomfortable if I did.

 dhat1 12:33 Thu
In reply to MG:

I suspect I was hyperventilating the last morning at low altitude - possibly due to the lack of sleep the night before, and feeling a bit worried about it.

I your experience does the level of effort during the day have an influence on the symptoms and/or how fast you adapt to altitude?

 wbo2 13:41 Thu
In reply to dhat1: I would it very odd that the amount of effort during the day did not have an impact as it will be demanding a lot of oxygen , which is now reduced in the blood stream, stripping out what is there faster than if you sat on your backside.

Sensitive - maybe - but I've seen people who were 'OK' at 2000m really struggle to do exercise at 3000m as well as getting headaches, poor appetite etc.

 MG 13:52 Thu
In reply to dhat1:

> I your experience does the level of effort during the day have an influence on the symptoms and/or how fast you adapt to altitude?

Not that I've noticed, but alpinism is always high effort so perhaps I have never compared!!

 abr1966 13:53 Thu
In reply to dhat1:

I'd say not too unusual....we're you able to stay really hydrated? How hot was it sleeping etc?

Tiredness can really impact on breathing too....then add worry in the mix and its very easy to struggle to regulate breathing.

Long time since I've been at altitude but one of my mates used to really struggle but as long as he acclimatised really slowly performed very well. Worth having a go again for sure....its always tricky though getting enough time!

Post edited at 13:54
In reply to dhat1:

> I did my first Alpine ascent last weekend (Grossglockner, 3800)..... > We did a mountaineering training week with ascent of the peak at the last day......

I hope to put this across gently. To be honest I'm not surprised that you had all the effects of altitude which you did. I think you were rushing it, going to 3800 metres on the seventh day. I personally would take longer than that to get comfortable and function well at that altitude. I won't say how long exactly (as people vary), but I'm thinking gentler and slower and longer, at least double the time you took

For reference, I have spent LOADS of time above 4000, and 5000, metres on several climbing trips

In reply to profitofdoom:

I think acclimatisation varies greatly from person to person. I once accompanied a relative newcomer to alpinism who arrived in Chamonix straight from the UK and we went straight up and did the trios monts. Yes he was knackered at the end of day two, but we then went to Switzerland where we did seven 4000m peaks in twelve days. Also a caving friend of mine arrived in Chamonix and we went straight up and did the Walker, which was in fact his first alpine route. Mind you that was back in the seventies when it was not totally unusual to do those type of things

 Timmd 18:02 Thu
In reply to Philb1950:

To have ascended from out of a cave would add some height too I suppose. 

 Al Randall 18:10 Thu
In reply to dhat1:

My experience is that during 50 years of alpine climbing the worst I ever suffered was a headache and lack of energy.  That was without acclimatising for the most part. But one year, when I was about 55, we flew to Geneva and went up to the Cosmiques Hut in Cham the next afternoon.  We were both so ill that we had to turn round and come down after one night in the hut.

The moral is you never can tell but as a general rule acclimatising is best. It affects people dramatically differently.  One friend of mine was so ill every time that he just accepted that anything at altitude i.e. Alpine climbing was not for him

Al

In reply to profitofdoom:

> I hope to put this across gently. To be honest I'm not surprised that you had all the effects of altitude which you did. I think you were rushing it, going to 3800 metres on the seventh day. I personally would take longer than that to get comfortable and function well at that altitude. I won't say how long exactly (as people vary), but I'm thinking gentler and slower and longer, at least double the time you took

I consider myself a really poor acclimatised (rarely have I come across people as bad), but I would cope fine with what the OP did and could probably get to at least 4000m in 7 days. What the OP describes seems a very conservative approach, so I think that they are probably just unlucky enough to be a very poor acclimatiser.

Edit: Looking at the schedule again, while I still think struggling to get to 3800m in a week is unusual, the first two nights at 3000m do seem a bit fast and the problems may well have stemmed from sleeping too high too soon. A more gradual progression to sleeping at 3450m the night before the climb would probably have been much better.

Post edited at 22:46
 Moacs 23:24 Thu
In reply to dhat1:

That sounds very sensitive.  Have you had your blood pressure checked?

In reply to dhat1:

I think yours is quite an unusual case, but that you still rushed your acclimatisation. I don't recall ever having any problems myself in the Alps, apart from being a bit breathless of course, but we followed all the standard rules.

Himalaya, very different. I once went to the Everest region on a photographic assignment for an Australian trekking firm, and about 90% of the clients were complete wallies. Most of them had never been above 1000 ft asl in their entire lives and yet most of them broke all the medical rules. We had three of them nearly dying and had to put them in those ghastly sealed tubes and spend all night in shifts pumping oxygen into them with a foot pump. It was absolutely knackering, but at least they survived (actually two of them were so bad they had to be helicoptered back to Kathmandu). I remember on quite a few days I felt like death warmed up because, thanks to their stupidity, I'd only had about 2-3 hours sleep.

 VictorM 07:01 Fri
In reply to Moacs:

> That sounds very sensitive.  Have you had your blood pressure checked?

This would also be my guess. One of my friends is also a very poor acclimatiser, struggling to get up to 2900 after sleeping one night at 1100.

He went to the doctor and turned out to have high blood pressure. 

 dhat1 09:06 Fri

Blood pressure is normal. 

This is my first time at altitude and I was part of an organised group so not much I could do about the schedule.  I think this schedule eliminates problems for most people.

I neglected to say that we did not take any water with us for the peak - I was very dehydrated after 4hours without a drink.  Probably did not help.

I'll try a slower strategy next time - going up slower, perhaps with better hydration.  And less exertion - I did push too hard on most days to keep up.

 Fredt 09:26 Fri
In reply to dhat1:

There are lots of factors. I have done a couple of dozen Alpine trips, and generally acclimatised successfully by ascending a couple of 3000m peaks before going higher.

However, around 10 years ago, I planned a trip to climb Batian (5000m+). I was very worried about the altitude as I had only 7 days to do it. I hired a local guide, (mainly to organise huts etc). His advice was brilliant. We went to Masai Mara (3000m) on safari for a couple of days, then spent 2 days hiking up to Shipton's Camp (4200m), - he insisted we went very slowly. I was very frustrated at him stopping so frequently, it took us most of each day to do just a few miles. (I learned a lot about the local wildlife and fauna). We had rest day at Shipton's, (so two nights there), then climbed Batian, (not quite, weather intervened very near the top). The other thing he insisted on was hydration, drinking an incredible amount of water.

I suffered no effects whatsoever. I'll always remember his advice, "don't surprise the mountain, or it will surprise you".

In reply to dhat1:

> Blood pressure is normal. 

> This is my first time at altitude and I was part of an organised group so not much I could do about the schedule.  I think this schedule eliminates problems for most people.

It does, apart from the early night at 3000m, seem a pretty cautious schedule. I have sometimes looked at schedules for commercial trips to the greater ranges and known that they would kill me below base camp!

> I neglected to say that we did not take any water with us for the peak - I was very dehydrated after 4hours without a drink.  Probably did not help.

Definitely not!

 Pero 11:10 Fri
In reply to dhat1:

> I neglected to say that we did not take any water with us for the peak - I was very dehydrated after 4hours without a drink.  Probably did not help.

Your problems may have been more dehydration, than altitude sickness.

If you are 100kg, you need a lot of water. I'm 90kg and I would drink 4-6 litres a day.

In reply to dhat1:

Acclimatisation is a very unpredictable thing. Some people never seem to have any problems, some always struggle, some are fine on one trip and struggle on the next.  I seem to have found it more difficult to acclimatise as I get older.  I've only had sleep apnea above 5000m though, and diamox sorted that out.

I agree that maybe the first two nights at 3000m might have been rushing it.  The usual advice is "climb high, sleep low" but that is not always practical.  For the first couple of outings I would usually try to pick routes which can be done in a day from the valley, before going up to sleep at altitude. I would suggest that on your next trip you try to take things more slowly and see if that makes a difference.

Not taking water seems like a big mistake, and I'm surprised at that happening on an organised trip.  No appetite is probably pretty normal.

A certain amount of feeling rough and headaches is to be expected at altitude, but you do need to keep an eye on it as it can turn serious very quickly.  

In reply to dhat1:

Now, this is only another anecdotal n=1 story, but one thing I found the hard way is that I need to go lower than I think I should if it hits me. A couple of years ago I went to the Dolomites visiting a friend for just a weekend. As a result, I basically flew in, started at sea level, spent a night at 1700m and then the next day marched as fast as we possibly could up Piz Boe via the Cesare Piazzetta, around 3hrs from the car park to the summit, had lunch up there and as we were going back down, a headache started to develop. We were going to spend the night at 2000m, to do another route in the morning. I normally don't get much of a problem at 3100m, let alone at 2000m, none the less the headache progressed to what I can only describe as the worst I have ever experienced, I ended up curled up in the foetal position whimpering like a baby. We decided to drop some altitude to see if it helps, and lo and behold, once we were down to Canazei the headache disappeared.

 VictorM 06:43 Sat
In reply to dhat1:

> I neglected to say that we did not take any water with us for the peak - I was very dehydrated after 4hours without a drink.  Probably did not help.

Hydration is one of the most important things in the outdoors in general and especially at altitude. This makes pretty much anything said in this thread speculation. 

Try to drink at least two to three liters during your tour, more if you are a heavy sweater. Consider adding rehydration salts/electrolytes if you lose a lot of salt through sweating. 

Take this into consideration on your next trip, if you still suffer from these issues then something else might be going on. You might be a slow acclimatiser or you might just have a lower ceiling. It happens to some very fit people...

What did you eat during the day? 

In reply to dhat1:

The acclimatisation schedule you followed is pretty conservative,  pretty much any commercial guided trip to climb 4000m peaks in the Alps will sleep that high all week, many climbing to 3500-4000m on day two or three.

Quality of sleep in huts can be a problem with hot, stuffy, noisy rooms making life uncomfortable.  Was this a factor?

As others have said, hydration is essential.  Some of your symptoms could also be attributed to heat exhaustion- how hot was it during the day? Were you being scorched by the sun?

As a final point  wes the level of exertion on the trip significantly higher than your every day life? If you're not used to being physically active getting knackered adds to all of the above.

 mysterion 11:42 Sat
In reply to dhat1:

Altitude is feeling like shit at the worst possible time.

So yes, fairly typical.


Please Register as a New User in order to reply to this topic.
Loading Notifications...