If you, like many others, want to spend your winter holidays amid snowy mountains, you need to take care of few things. You don’t want your exciting adventure trip to go wrong! Cold weather combined with high altitudes can be harmful to your body, especially if you’re not used to it and expose your body to extremes without acclimating. In this article, we will discuss the various issues that you may encounter. Aside from that, we will share some tips on how to prepare for a high and chilly trip.
Common difficulties encountered at higher altitudes
- High altitude illness occurs at elevations above 5,000 feet and is caused by a lack of oxygen, which is exacerbated by cold exposure.
- Hypothermia is a deadly condition that claims the lives of many hikers, travellers, and climbers. It happens when the core body temperature falls to 35°C or lower. Outside temperature drops by 6.5°C for every 1,000 m (3,280 ft) gain in elevation, increasing the amount of oxygen required to maintain body temperature.
- As you ascend and the air cools, air pressure drops and air particles, including oxygen molecules, scatter. As a result, the same cold breath of air at high altitude contains less oxygen than that at sea level. When your body suddenly receives less oxygen, it attempts to compensate by consuming more oxygen. This causes your breathing to become more rapid. Because there is less oxygen in your blood, your body increases the amount of oxygenated blood. This causes your heart to beat faster, increasing your pulse rate.
- The bone marrow, which is in charge of managing blood cell count, begins to produce more red blood cells, which is bad for the body because it can lead to clot formation, especially during inactivity.
- Low temperatures constrict blood vessels, limiting blood flow and decreasing oxygen levels. This, once again, causes your heart to work harder than usual, raising your heart rate and blood pressure.
- At normal temperatures, the heart and liver produce the majority of your body heat. As the body’s core temperature drops, these organs produce less heat, resulting in a protective shut down to conserve heat and protect the brain. Low body temperature can slow brain activity and breathing, leading to confusion and fatigue, impairing your ability to understand what’s going on and make wise decisions to get to safety.
Risk of Acute Mountain Sickness
Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is the most common type of altitude-related health concern among mountain climbers, hikers, and travellers. Symptoms can include dizziness, headache, muscle aches, and nausea, and they usually improve with rest.
AMS develops when acclimatisation does not coincide with the ascent to high altitude. This occurs when you ascend too quickly or go from sea level to high altitudes in a day and your body does not get as much oxygen as it needs. Your symptoms will range from mild to life-threatening depending on the speed of your climb and how hard you exert yourself.
How to handle AMS?
Early symptom detection is critical because AMS is easier to treat in its early stages. The primary goal of all forms of mountain sickness treatment is to climb down or descend to a lower altitude as quickly and safely as possible. If you develop symptoms, you should stop climbing. Extra oxygen should be administered whenever possible. To prevent further heat loss, mild hypothermia can be treated by applying heat to the victim’s body. This can be accomplished by removing all wet clothing and placing the person in a sleeping bag with a source of heat. Individuals suffering from severe mountain sickness and hypothermia may require immediate hospitalisation.
Tips to follow while travelling at higher altitudes:
- Use a layered clothing system to keep your body warm in the winter. It typically consists of a base layer, fleece, and a waterproof breathable jacket, but in extremely cold weather, you may need to add some additional layers. Warm hiking boots, a warm hat, and waterproof gloves add warmth and protection. Maintain adequate insulation and avoid getting wet or exposed to the elements.
- Climb the mountain slowly and gradually. Rest for a day or two for every 2,000 feet (600 metres) above 8,000 feet (2,400 m).
- When possible, sleep at a lower altitude.
- Prepare to identify early symptoms of mountain sickness and report them immediately.
- If you are travelling above 10,000 feet (3,000 metres), make sure you have enough oxygen to last the distance.
- Consult your doctor about medication that will help your body quickly adjust to higher altitudes and reduce minor symptoms of mountain sickness. Such medicines should be taken the day before your climb and for the next few days.
- Before planning your climb, consult your doctor if you have anaemia or are at risk of having a low red blood cell count. Anaemia reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, making you more susceptible to mountain sickness.
- Maintain proper nutrition and hydration. Avoid alcoholic and/or carbonated beverages. Consume high-carbohydrate meals on a regular basis.
- If you have heart or lung disease, avoid high altitudes.