True Adventure offers several trips to altitude, so whether you’re off to Everest Base Camp, the summit of Kilimanjaro or heading out on an Andean trek in Peru, Ecuador or Bolivia, following our expert tips below should help you enjoy the high life.
1. Get Fit
Your genetic predisposition to coping at extreme altitude is set long before you’re born, however, research has shown that exertion, as in extreme cardiovascular effort, is another key factor in getting Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and the good news is that it is controllable.
Very simply, get as fit as you can and then move slowly, especially above 3,000m. Young males, whose egos often demand that they show-off their athletic prowess by blasting up the steeper sections, account for a disproportionately large percentage of medical evacuations. The scenery in the greater ranges is truly awesome, so relax and enjoy it.
2. Layer Up
One of the most confounding aspects of trekking at altitude is the difference in temperature from sun to shade. 4,000m on an Ecuadorian volcano feels like you’re at the Equator one minute and, when the sun dips behind a cloud, 4,000m up on a skiing holiday the next. With so many variations possible, having lots of layers to play with is key. Carrying a windshirt, fleece, waterproof and insulating jacket will offer combinations suitable for anything from sub-zero to ‘is that an ice-cream truck I hear?’
3. Mind the Yak!
Yaks are the cute, furry cow-like creatures that account for a lot of the traffic on the EBC trail. Most of them also have two dirty great horns that are best avoided. Don’t be one of the people trying to barge past them. Give them at least a metre of wiggle room, tuck in out of the way on the uphill side of the trail, have a breather and let them pass.
4. Buff it up
The rasping, high-altitude ‘Khumbu Cough’, from which many people suffer, is caused by extremely cold and dry air irritating the lungs. Dust kicked-up by fellow walkers, mules and yaks only adds to the problem. Breathing through a Buff or face mask is about as much as you can do to avoid a cough that can last for weeks.
5. Wipe that frown off your face
The prospect of showering in a freezing teahouse is enough to make a grown man cry. A flannel and a bar of soap should see you back to civilisation without you smelling like the wrong end of a yak.
6. Go nuts!
Meat, like everything else, is usually carried up mountains in baskets by porters or animals and generally not considered safe for delicate Western constitutions. Eggs soon become the one reliable source of cooked protein in an otherwise carbtastic diet. A few bags of nuts or a selection of protein supplements will go a long way to balancing out your diet and preventing any loss of muscle mass.
7. Be honest
Treks like Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp are often pitched as ‘once-in-a-lifetime experiences’, but that is rarely true and such ideas can place unnecessary pressure on trekkers. Quite simply, if your body tells you to stop, it’s not the end of the world. Tell your trek leader and live to fight another day. Trying to pretend that all is well when you have a screaming headache, nausea and/or dizziness is dangerous to you and could jeopardise the chances of anyone completing the trek.