Hiking allows us amazing views of the natural world that we don’t otherwise get to enjoy in our working 9-5 life. Most trails take you through simple wooded areas or small mountains. It’s easy to become enamored with the trees, hills, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls that you come across on your hikes.
However, nothing quite beats the view you get at the top of a mountain. When you finally have the chance to be still and take in the amazing scenery around you after a challenging climb the view can be breathtaking and even life-changing.
So what stops most people from experiencing this magnificent view? Climbing to a mountain’s peak requires hiking at a high altitude. This can come with several challenges and even dangers. Thankfully, there are ways you can train for high-altitude hiking at sea level. Getting your mind and body ready to take on this challenge will guarantee an unforgettable experience.
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What is High Altitude
First, it’s important to understand what exactly is considered high altitude. The definition of high altitude is based on how high above sea level you are.
Typically, high altitude is considered to be 8,000-12,000 feet above sea level. Heights of 12,000-18,000 feet above sea level are considered to be the very high altitude. Anything beyond 18,000 feet is considered extremely high altitude.
These ranges don’t necessarily mean that you’ll start to feel the effects of hiking at high altitude as soon as you hit 8,000 feet. It all depends on where you live and spend most of your time.
Someone who lives right around sea level likely will notice a difference when they hit 8,000 feet. However, if you happen to live in the mountains or at a higher elevation then you may not start to feel the effects of high altitude until you reach 10,000 or more feet.
It would be in your best interest to determine what elevation you’re currently used to before attempting to hike at a high altitude. It will give you an idea of when you may start experiencing the side effects of high altitude and give you a good starting point for your training.
How To Train For High Altitude Hiking
Training before attempting to hike up a mountain is imperative for your well-being. Many people underestimate the amount of stress physical exertion in a high-altitude environment can have on your body.
Most seasoned hikers would recommend that you begin your training at least two months before taking on this journey. This should give you enough time to train your body, prepare your mind, and gather the gear necessary for your hike.
Training for a high-altitude hike is serious business and should be treated as such. You’re going to want to make a plan and stick to it religiously. There are hundreds of websites that offered detailed exercise plans for this specific purpose.
Most of them will suggest some combination of cardiovascular, endurance, and strength training. It’s also recommended to focus on your flexibility with a lot of stretching or practices like yoga. The type of exercise plan you’ll want to follow will depend on your experience and fitness level.
When it comes to strength training and stretching you’re going to want to focus your efforts on the parts of your body that are going to be affected the most. Hiking, in general, affects several different muscle groups but climbing a mountain is mostly about the ascent and descent.
This means that your calves, quadriceps, and back are going to be under the most strain. There are several different exercises that you can do to strengthen your legs and back. Start with the basics such as squats, calve-raises, stairs, and leg-presses.
If you’re new to working out specific muscle groups or have trouble sticking to an exercise routine then it may benefit you to get a personal trainer. A professional can lead you in the right direction and help prevent you from over-exerting yourself.
Most gyms offer personal trainers that can work with you one-on-one or in a group. They’ll help you meet your goal and give you the accountability needed to see it through.
Cardiovascular exercise is considered to be any physical activity that increases your heart rate and breathing. These exercises should raise the oxygen and blood flow throughout your body.
The goal of cardiovascular exercises is primarily to strengthen your heart and lungs. Hiking at a high altitude will put a ton of stress on your cardiovascular system so training these muscles is extremely important.
Hiking at a high altitude involves exerting yourself in an environment where less oxygen than usual is available to you. This will naturally increase your respiratory and heart rate.
It can even lead to high blood pressure. Your best bet for avoiding any complications is to make sure that your system is properly trained for this environment.
Cardiovascular exercises can be surprisingly simple. Burpees, running, jumping jacks, jump rope, and biking are all examples of cardiovascular exercise. It’s best to use a combination of these exercises and do them in intervals. Once you have an exercise routine planned out you have to stick to it.
Enlist a buddy to work out with you or share your routine on social media for support. It can be difficult to train for a single event for two months or longer and having a good support system in place will help you see it through.
Your mental state is going to be just as important to succeeding in your adventure as your physical state. Hiking at a high altitude is going to be physically draining but many people find themselves surprised by the toll it can take on your mind as well.
The first thing you want to do is get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Hiking at a high altitude will feel strange your first time. It may feel as though you can’t quite catch your breath and the amount of strain on your muscles can be overwhelming for novice hikers.
Get some experience under your belt first. Push yourself to hike up and down hills, explore new trails, and reach out to others who have attempted the climb that you’ll be completing.
Practicing mindfulness while preparing for this adventure will help you to understand your mental state and keep it positive. The concept of mindfulness is to do everything with intent.
The goal is then to acknowledge your response to what you’re experiencing without judgment. This is an enormously valuable resource because it allows you to understand your reactions and gives you the tools to keep your thoughts positive.
For example, say that you’re using a treadmill as part of your exercise routine. When you put the treadmill on an incline do so with the intent of strengthening your body for your upcoming hike.
Focus on how your feet feel when they hit the treadmill. Acknowledge the way that the impact reverberates through your legs, up through your abdomen, and pushes out through your breath.
Feel the tightness in your chest when your breathing and heart rate increase. Acknowledge the discomfort and choose to breathe through it. Tell yourself that the discomfort is temporary and necessary. You have to work through it in order to reach your goal.
If you practice being mindful enough then it will become second nature to you. You can fall back on this later during your hike whenever you come across a challenging situation.
The biggest danger to attempting a high altitude hike is developing altitude sickness. Though the name may sound benign altitude sickness can and has been lethal.
There are three different types of altitude sickness; AMS, HAPE, and HACE. AMS is the type of altitude sickness that most people think of. It stands for acute mountain sickness and is typically not lethal. So long as you can descend to a lower elevation slowly then you’re very likely to make a full recovery.
Symptoms of AMS are:
- Poor sleep
If you experience any of these symptoms then you should consider it a warning sign. If you continue to ascend then you are at risk of developing HAPE or HACE, both of which can be lethal. There’s no shame in turning back to receive medical help and returning to try again another time.
HAPE stands for high altitude pulmonary oedema. This type of sickness can be lethal if not treated very quickly. HAPE occurs when fluid builds up in your lungs. Some symptoms of HAPE include breathlessness, fever, and a cough that produces frothy spit.
HACE, which can occur simultaneously with HAPE, stands for high altitude cerebral oedema. With HACE a person experiences a build-up of fluid in the brain. Symptoms such as erratic behavior, clumsiness, and confusion are indications of HACE. If you or a fellow hiker experiences any of these symptoms it’s imperative to seek medical treatment immediately.
Preventing Altitude Sickness
The key to a successful hike is preventing altitude sickness. The first step to preventing altitude sickness is to understand it. Make sure to do your research and talk to others that are going to be with you about how you’re going to keep yourselves healthy.
When going for a hike at a high altitude it may be tempting to start part of the way up the mountain. You may be used to covering 5 miles in a couple of hours and want to shorten your trip by driving up to 10,000 feet to begin.
This is never a good idea. You want to start at the base of the mountain or trail that you’ll be hiking up. This will give your body time to acclimate to the decreasing levels of oxygen as you ascend.
It’s advised that hikers take it slow at high altitudes. Once you reach 10,000 feet you should aim to only hike 1,000 feet per day. Any more than that can overwhelm your body and keep it from acclimating properly.
An old saying for hikers is “climb high and sleep low”. This means that if you climb over 1,000 feet in a day then you should backtrack to a lower elevation to sleep.
Preventing altitude sickness is also about knowing your body. If you start to see signs of altitude sickness in yourself or others then you need to begin descending immediately. Make sure to stay hydrated throughout your climb and give your body plenty of fuel by eating a lot of carbohydrates.
Never drink alcohol during a hike at high altitudes. Avoid things like sleeping pills, tobacco, and anything else that could interfere with your body’s functioning. If you have prescription pills that you need to take daily then you should discuss your plans with your doctor before taking on this adventure.
Tents for High Altitude
Climbing a mountain can be a life-changing experience and you want to do everything possible to make it a positive one. Bringing along the right tent could mean the difference between finishing your hike or having to cut your trip short.
Finding a good tent for your high-altitude hike is of the utmost importance. You’re going to want something that keeps you warm, is lightweight, and provides adequate shelter from your environment.
If you’re a regular hiker then you probably already have a tent that has served you well on previous hikes. However, for this particular experience, you may want to consider getting a new one.
There are tents made specifically to withstand the conditions you’ll experience at high altitudes. These are typically referred to as mountaineering or 4-season tents and they have features that average camping tents lack.
Designed specifically to withstand extreme weather conditions, 4-season tents are the perfect choice for high-altitude hikers. They’re made with stronger fabrics, reinforced stress points, stronger poles, and provide more warmth than average tents. The design is made to be strong enough to stand up against harsh winds and snowfall.
These tents will keep you warm and safe even in the harshest high-altitude environment. The additional features 4-season tents offered do tend to make them heavier and more expensive than the average camping tent.
They’re well worth the investment to keep you safe and warm on the long, cold nights you’re likely to experience hiking at high altitudes. If you’re worried about the extra weight then it would be worth it to look into ultra-light 4-season tents as well.
Gear for Altitude Hiking
If you’ve hiked before then you know how important your gear is. Bringing along the right gear can mean the difference between having an easy or difficult hike. When you’re hiking at a high altitude you’re going to want to consider bringing along some additional equipment.
Basic hiking gear that you should be bringing along includes:
- Sleeping bag
- First-aid kit
- Extra clothes and layers
Once you’ve gathered up the basics, it’s time to think about the gear that can help make your high-altitude hike easier. You’ll want to bring along the gear that will help you while hiking, keep you warm, and protect you against the elements.
If you’re going to be hiking up a mountain then chances are you’re going to run into some snow. In the event of a major snowstorm, you could be at risk of snow blindness.
Snow blindness is essentially a sunburn on the eyes. It can cause extreme discomfort and bring your adventure to a standstill if you’re not prepared.
Bring along a good protective sunglasses to help block your eyes from UV rays to prevent damage to your eyes. It’s also a good idea to use strong sunscreen to protect your skin.
Depending on your fitness level and where you’re going to be hiking it could be beneficial to bring along some trekking poles. These provide you with extra stability, balance, and help relieve stress on your joints while hiking. Using trekking poles can help keep you from over exerting yourself.
You may also want to bring along a headlamp and extra batteries. It can get dark quickly at high elevations. The last thing you want is to be scrambling to get your camp set up in the dark after a long day of hiking.
You may want to include a satellite phone in your pack as well. When you’re hiking at a high altitude you’re likely to be out of the regular cell phone service range. Having a satellite phone ensures that you can reach out for help in emergencies.
Enjoy The Climb
Hiking at high elevations comes along with a lot of risks. The weather conditions can be brutal and altitude sickness is a real danger to be aware of. But an adventure like this can also be an immensely rewarding, and even life changing experience!
There’s nothing quite like standing at the top of a mountain and seeing the world around you look so small. It’s a feeling that you can carry with you for the rest of your life.
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About the Author
Hussain is a passionate hiker and traveler that love the outdoor and enjoys what nature has to give, whenever he can he love to write and give tips & honest reviews to help others get out there and just seek more unforgettable experiences.