Once you get to Colorado you’re already nearly a mile high, set on the plateau of the American West. From Denver we head for the mountains, and Colorado’s famed 12, 13, and 14,000-foot peaks. While the view and the challenge are exhilarating, the altitude is very real, and coming from sea level to 10,000-feet poses some risk.
Altitude sickness is the result of not having enough time to acclimatize to a reasonable altitude after coming from near sea level. The symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, nausea, shortness of breath, and inability to exercise. The symptoms are exacerbated by activity such as strenuous hiking or skiing.
Although the symptoms of altitude are uncomfortable, especially when you’re enjoying your adventure, there are ways to mitigate the effects and feel more comfortable when heading to higher elevations. You can comfortably explore Colorado’s high peaks by adhering to a few simple guidelines.
Coming Early and Spending Time at Altitude
The easiest way to prepare for your trip is to come to Colorado at least two days before the start of the trip. Denver sits at an elevation of just over 5,200-feet. This allows for slow and easy acclimatization before heading higher to over 10,000-feet where the air is thinner and the symptoms more pronounced. Boulder, not much higher, sits at an elevation of just over 5,300-feet. Coming in prior to the trip provides some semblance of elevation and with a training hike or strenuous activity allows the blood to increase oxygen levels, to where the body isn’t straining for air.
Drink More Water
With higher elevations, there is also less moisture. One way to remedy this is to simply drink more water. The less moisture the more dry and worn out the body feels. This is also why many recommend avoiding alcohol prior to airplane flights, and the same principle applying to the mountains. Dry air plus alcohol increases the likelihood of feeling worn or dried out. Staying hydrated, especially in colder climates, will ensure a more comfortable experience at altitude with less shortness of breath and dry mouth due to the lack of air. While drinking water doesn’t replace acclimatization, it helps to ward off the effects.
Move at an Easy Pace
Over-exertion at altitude drains the body quicker. Especially after moving quickly coming from sea level, fatigue is felt quicker, and it’s easier to move slower and adapt to different paces than trying to move quickly all at once. Once getting to altitude, start easy with a low-impact activity and then move up from there. Eat carb-heavy foods, which absorb oxygen better and avoid overly salty foods, which can raise blood pressure and mimic the effects of altitude sickness.
Our Favorite High Altitude Hikes
To really experience that Rocky Mountain High, Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides is a specialist at high altitude hiking with guides who have travelled, climbed, and hiked at altitude across the world. The most prominent in our backyard is Longs Peak, an extra long day to the top of Rocky Mountain National Park’s highest peaks. For relatively easier jaunts to the top of Colorado’s 14ers we also recommend Mt. Bierstadt, Evans, Grays, Torreys, and Quandary. For a more stout challenge, try the more technical 12 and 13,000-foot peaks across Rocky Mountain National Parks and the Indian and James Peak Wildernesses.
Off the peak ascents we also recommend high altitude hiking such as Chasm Lake, Sky Pond, and Loch Vale in Rocky Mountain National Park as well as Crater Lakes in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Call us at 720 242 9828 to ask about our high altitude adventures!