High Trekking is booming

High trekking is booming. Regardless whether it is Latin America or the Himalayan region in Asia, everybody tries to conquer the highest peaks in order to get the popular photograph on the summit. In the following blog post, I’ll try to briefly resume what you have to know about altitude sickness before going on your adventure.


Into thin air

At an altitude of 2,800 meters, close to half of all mountaineers already show weak signs of mountain sickness. For a challenging hiking tour above 3,500 meters, a good acclimatization is essential. At 4,500 meters, most mountaineers show indications for altitude sickness. Above 5000 meters, the air gets thinner. Thus, the oxygen content is almost half the oxygen concentration at sea level. Starting with 6,000 meters, human performance rapidly declines. Finally, altitudes above the 8,000 meter mark are called the “death zone”. In this height, acclimatization is not possible and the maximum length of stay is about 48 hours.


Less Oxygen?

While it is often stated that the level of oxygen decreases, the air oxygen content is always 20.93%, 0.003% carbon dioxide and 79.04% nitrogen. As elevation increases, the decreased availability of oxygen for humans is due to decreasing air pressure.


Altitude Sickness

On the basis of insufficient acclimatization, one may show signs of dizziness, headache, concentration difficulties, breathlessness and an accelerated pulse. Loss of appetite, sickness and vomit has to be considered as severe indications. Who does not descend at this level does enter the risk of a life-threatening pulmonary and cerebral edema.



Acclimatization to Altitude

Acclimatization is the process by which the human body adapts physiologically to different environmental conditions. Thus, sufficient acclimatization prevents from altitude sickness. Depending on your expedition, the time you invest in acclimatization is crucial. It is always recommended to acclimatize gradually. “Too high too fast” is the most common mistake. Note, that well trained people are not less vulnerablebut overexertion may additionally contribute to Acunte Mountain Sickness or Altitude Sickness. Important Acclimatization Tips include:

  • Ascend to high altitudes during the day; descend to sleep at lower elevation during the night.
  • Walk and ascend slowly. The higher you are, the slower you should ascend.
  • Increased respiratory rate and dry air can lead to dehydration so that it’s important to drink enough water.

In case of acute symptoms, do not continue to ascend. Take a rest and wait until the symptoms disappear. You may take Ibuprofen 600mg for the headache. Before continuing your ascend, you should be free of any symptoms – independently of any medication. If symptoms get worse until the next morning, you should descend instantly. Please take in mind that the affected person should never descend on his/her own.


Relevance for the Alps

Although when talking about Altitude Sickness everybody thinks of the Andes and the Himalaya, it may also play a significant role in the Alps. Not acclimatized mountaineers and athletes may show weakly pronounced symptoms above 2,000 meters. Exhaustion and weak symptoms of acute mountain sickness are not always easy to distinguish. Try to evaluate carefully your level of acclimatization and, most importantly, plan an extra day for your next trip to the Alps.