Altitude and Acclimatisation Program

The effects of altitude are a significant issue when climbing in high mountain. How you acclimatize and cope with altitude is strongly determined by genetics, so it ‘s an area where age and fitness often makes little difference. For this reason it ‘s important to follow a sensible acclimatisation plan. Example – if you are going to climb Mont Blanc in just one weeks holiday – then who ever you book with, we recommend you always go for a six day itinerary as a minimum. You simply won’t be acclimatised properly for Mont Blanc after just a couple of days climbing off cable cars and sleeping in the valley, or spending a single night up in a hut (we know there are companies out there offering 5 day itineraries and we could easily offer the same ourselves – but we don’t run them, because they aren’t in the best interests of our customers). A good acclimatisation program follows a staged approach – for Mont Blanc we spend 2 night s sleeping at altitude in a mountain hut, climbing first to 3600m and then to 4000m over a period of three days – this allows your body time to adapt properly to the reduced oxygen content of the air. Reaching 4000 m prior to the ascent of Mont Blanc makes a big difference on summit day – greatly increasing both your enjoyment of the climb and chances of reaching the summit. The more acclimatisation you do the better – so if possible, we recommend you arrive a few days early in order to spend some time at altitude prior to starting the week. Altitude adds a whole new dimension to the climbing realm, one that armchair mountaineers seldom comprehend. Although it is impossible to predict how severely altitude will affect you, there are measures you can take to minimize its effect.

Improving Altitude Performance

Countless hours of training cannot prevent acute mountain sickness (AMS) or other altitude illnesses (pulmonary and cerebral edema). Indeed, superb conditioning may underlie some of the problems. Young, healthy men are the mostly likely to experience difficulties at altitude due to testosterone-induced stupidity; because they are very fit and think they’re invincible, they push too hard too fast.
Best advice: start slow and taper.
In addition to wisdom, age appears to confer other benefits for high-altitude travel, not the least of which is increased stamina. There is very little research on this, but old geezers frequently kick Young pups’ butts when mountaineering and in ultra-endurance events. Still, going to the high mountains unprepared is foolish. It’s pretty much a given that you will be working hard for 6 to 8 hours a day, perhaps more, day after day.
If you haven’t worked up to this amount of stress beforehand, life is gonna suck. When mountaineering, the rule of thumb is to drink enough to pee “clear and copious.” You should feel a need to pee almost hourly, and your urine should be pale yellow (barring mega-doses of vitamins that you don’t need). If you are hydrating well, you will need to wake up at least once during the night to urinate, which is why most mountaineers carry a pee bottle.
To achieve proper hydration requires consuming at least 1 gallon (4 liters) on mellow days (cool temps, moderate exertion) and over 2 gallons (8 liters) on intense days (sweltering heat, mega-work). Severe dehydration can shut down your summit bid faster than any snowstorm.
Emphasizing carbohydrates in the diet has numerous advantages when climbing at high altitudes. Although fat packs more calories per gram than carbohydrates, which makes it weight-efficient in your pack, it also requires more oxygen to burn.
Furthermore, one study has shown that a diet of more than 70 percent carbohydrates decreased AMS by 30 percent after a fast ascent to 14,000 feet (4,300 meters).
Anticipate a lot of knee strain from carrying a heavy pack up and, especially, down hills that seem to last forever (trekking poles are a good idea). You want to reach the mountains with a high performance threshold and sufficient muscle mass that you won’t wither away. Use the approach trek to help prepare for what is to come. If you have a choice between a long or short route (such as hiking from Jiri or flying to Lukla to reach the Khumbu), take the extended option.
Each person has a unique pattern of adjusting to altitude. It is important to learn your own pattern and take it into account when making time estimates for a climb at altitude. You can’t really learn these things without experiencing them. The trick is to gain this experience in a deliberate and controlled way—one that still allows you to effectively manage risk.