Altitude Sickness at Higher Elevations

goats, Death Valley, camping, hiking, wildlife

May 4, 2013 • Africa, Camps and Hikes, Latest • Views: 955

They seem to do alright at high elevations.

They seem to do alright at high elevations.

During my Death Valley trip last week I spent the first night at a campsite that sat around 100 foot elevation. The next day I explored the northern and southern areas of the park, taking a lunch break at a spot on the south end where the elevation is the lowest anywhere in the US (the world as well? I’ll have to double check.) After the lunch break I headed west into the mountains of the park to check out Telescope Peak. It was a short drive and the latter half of it required me going offroad a bit, which was somewhat unnerving considering I wasn’t driving my Jeep anymore but my still relatively new Ford Focus, now officially broken in. I think about three hours passed before I parked at my campsite, set up camp and headed up the mountain. The campsite was around 8100 feet and the first half of the climb took me up a steep route on the eastern slope of the range. When I felt a pinch in my nose and forehead I knew that I’d reached an elevation my body was quite familiar with. 10,000 feet.

The last time I felt the pinch I was resting on a saddle between the summit of Baldy and West Baldy sometime last Spring which was just a shade under 10,000 feet. I always hear and read that altitude sickness varies from person to person. Acclimatization aside it affects each person differently and at different elevations. There’s not much you can do to train for it. I’m thinking it hits me at about nine-10,000 feet, starting from sea level. When my friends and I climbed Gorgonio the summer before I don’t remember much sickness at all. For that trip, however, we camped the first night at Dollar Lake at around 8000 feet which was enough time to acclimatize for how long we were going to spend on the Gorgonio Summit.

Five months from now, give or take a few days, I’ll be 30 and on an airplane headed for Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Its summit is just a wee bit higher than anything in Southern California. At 19,341 it’s the highest mountain in all of Africa and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. It’s also a walk-up. That doesn’t make it easy. People die on it every year from altitude sickness and the cold and wind. But it does mean I don’t require any particular technical skills. Rope, belaying, ice ax or crampons depending on the snow level near the summit.

Hopefully I look like this at the summit and not crying.

Hopefully I look like this at the summit and not crying.

I’ve never worn crampons and I haven’t put on snowshoes since I was a boyscout. But still, the elevation freaks me out a bit. Knowing that once I get that first pinch–if history holds true–I’ll still have another ten thousand feet to go before I summit. Of course in between those elevations there will be days where my body will adjust and the pinch will go away. Hopefully. I won’t really know how my body will react until I’m up there. My entire trip is eight days and I might include an extra day up there to acclimatize. I’m going with gadventures which has a great reputation and doesn’t rush anyone up. Here’s hoping the headaches go away!

© 2013 Christopher Dart

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