Preparing for High Altitude Climbing: 5 Things You Should Know

Preparing for High Altitude Climbing

Hiking at higher altitudes (6,000 feet -1,828 m) is more difficult than hiking at lower altitudes. This is because the air contains less oxygen at higher altitudes. Therefore you need to train yourself for this hike and pack the right equipment and gear and take precautions that will ensure that you have a safe, enjoyable high-altitude hiking experience. Anyone who travels from lower to higher altitudes (above 6,500 feet) can experience altitude sickness.

Prepare yourself physically and mentally before you embark on your high altitude climb. Here are just a few things to consider before you do that.

Preparing for High Altitude Climbing

Physical & Mental Fitness

In a team or a group, regardless of what weight, height or gender you are, you will be expected and required to carry the same load and face the same obstacles as all other members of your group. Prepare for the climb with practicing with the weight of your backpack, and you can also add some more weight; being physically at your best is the only factor of the climb within your control.

Preparing for High Altitude Climbing

Wyatt Maktrav on the boulders of Mt. Apo - the highest mountain in the Philippines (2954 masl)

The weather can be bad or hot, there could be avalanches or difficult terrain and none of this is in the climber’s control. With physical fitness under your belt, make sure you don’t leave behind your mental fitness. It’s going to be hard no matter what. Also, it's important to discuss the climb details with your doctor to ensure you are not putting yourself in any health danger. If possible, train at higher altitudes. A great tip would be to bike, run or swim to increase your cardiovascular endurance and climb stairs to strengthen the leg muscles.

Destination

It’s a must to know about your destination very well. Many people plan trips to places that they do not know the altitude and end up with altitude sickness. You can avoid it by finding the elevation of the destination on the internet. Plan your route well in advance, keeping in mind the weather and the season. It also helps to have an alternative route as a back-up. Keep family and/or friends informed about your trip details.

Acclimatization

When mountaineers climb high altitudes like those mountains in Nepal, we often hear that they spend at least one month going up and down the mountain before making the summit attempt. This process acclimatizes and helps the body to adapt to the lower amount of oxygen available. Try spending at least 2 days before your climb at higher altitudes to acclimatize.

Preparing for High Altitude Climbing

Wyatt Maktrav at the summit of Mt. Dulang-Dulang - the 2nd highest mountain in the Philippines (2938 masl)

Packing for the Climb

Try to be prepared for several scenarios and carry layered clothing.

  • Ensure to carry sunscreen (SPF 30 and over) as the sun’s rays are more powerful at high elevations
  • Wear sunglasses in all weathers to avoid the harmful rays of the sun
  • A hat protects you from the sun on sunny days
  • The hiking boots is the most important thing to pack. Also, pack plenty of clean socks
  • A sleeping bag and a tent - for proper sleeping gear. A sleeping pad does wonders too
  • Food and food supplies - If it’s an overnight hike/climb, be prepared by packing a cooking unit as well as food to prepare. A good option would be to carry dehydrated food packs
  • Insect repellent
  • Maps and first aid kit

Good Sense of Humor and Understand Your Strengths

Know that this is all about the experience and not about you. Make the climb enjoyable, but yes, ensure safety first. It’s important to use whatever it takes to visualize your strengths. Being able to recognize your weakness is also strength.

When packing, there are a few items that are immaterial; what’s important is the mental, physical and spiritual training that you have put into the climb and yourself. For any reason that you do not make it, remember that you are "alive to climb another day".

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