High on a Mountain Top

2009 Table RockI love to hike, but living at 60 feet above sea level in California for the last 12 years has turned me into a wimp when it comes to cardiovascular capacity.  I was born and raised in a community where the elevation was higher than the population at 6,200 feet and the first time I hiked to Table Mountain, (all the locals called it Table Rock when I was a kid) I was just 14 years old.  There are two routes and both start at 7,200 feet elevation.  One route takes you straight up the face and you gain 4,000 feet in 4 miles. (You seriously feel like a mountain goat!) The other route known as Huckleberry, gains the same amount of elevation but it’s 6 miles one way with a lot of switch backs.  I’ve climbed this mountain in every combination-up the face, down huckleberry.  Up huckleberry and down huckleberry (oh my word, I will NEVER do that again!) It is a breathtaking 11,000 feet at the top of Table Mountain.  You can see the gorgeous view of the Teton’s to the east and a patchwork quilt of farm land to the west as you look down on the valley floor.  I’ve hiked this terrain probably a dozen times.  I love it.  I usually spend a week or so in the valley floor and my body easily acclimates to the higher altitude, but that first time I run up the stairs from the basement I remember, oh ya, my body is NOT use to this!!

I fully appreciate going back to Cali in better shape than when I left.  Last year I decreased my long distance  time by a minute and a half per mile by training up here in the altitude.  That really helped me achieve by running goals last year as I ran in two Ragnar Relays and a Half Marathon (one of which was the weekend after Ragnar-S-T-U-P-I-D on my part!)

I’ve been very blessed to not get altitude sickness when I come home and hike or bike or run, however, it can be a real problem for some people.  So here are some high altitude health tips to keep in mind while on vacation or going back home to the mountains.

First of all, beware of the SUN.  Being at higher altitude you are more likely to get a sunburn and can even sunburn your eyes (snow blindness) because the atmosphere is thinner and doesn’t filter out the ultraviolet rays.  Wear a wide brimmed hat that will protect your scalp and ears as well as wearing UV filtering sunglasses.

Second, be aware that NOSE BLEEDS are more common in dry air and particularly in the morning hours.  If possible, use a vaporizer and a nasal emollient, such as vaseline to prevent this problem.  If you do obtain a nose bleed, pinch your nose at the bridge for 5-10 minutes.

DEHYDRATION occurs much more frequently when you are in a higher altitude than at sea level.  This is due to the low amount of humidity which is in the air.  Normal intake of water on a daily basis should be half of your body weight in OUNCES.  At higher elevation if your urine is dark in color, or has a strong odor or feels ‘hot’ while urinating, drink more!  Do not wait for your body to get thirsty before you drink water.  Cold water will enter your blood stream faster than room temperature.

FROSTBITE happens when the skin and underlying tissue are frozen.  The most common areas for frostbite are fingers, nose, toes and cheeks.  Initially the frostbitten areas will look white and then turn red.  If the skin is a purple hue it usually means that there is a more severe freezing problem.  Most of the time frostbitten extremities feel numb or start to tingle and will initially hurt with re-warming.  Seek medical attention if you suspect you have frostbite.

The effects of ALCOHOL and other drugs are dramatically increased at higher altitude, approximately double for the sea level inhabitant.  Hangovers are worse at higher altitude .

The reduced amount of oxygen at higher altitude may have adverse effects on preexisting  MEDICAL CONDITIONS.  New or increased symptoms such as shortness of breath and a rapid pulse may occur with heart and lung problems.  Blood pressure can also increase and the extremities may start to swell.  

A.M.S (Acute Mountain Sickness) is a syndrome which can range from mild headaches to an incapacitating  illness.  It generally occurs when people sleep at an altitude of 8,000 feet or above.  Symptoms include, headache, nausea, insomnia, fatigue, lack of appetite and light-headedness.  Fluids, and rest over a 24-48 hour time period will help reduce the symptoms.  Beware-alcohol, tranquilizers, sleep meds and antihistamines may make A.M.S. worse and could progress to a more serious illness known as high altitude cerebral edema. (H.A.C.E) This medical emergency includes an incapacitating headache, neurological symptoms such as a “drunken” gait, and may proceed to a coma.  Prompt emergency care is very critical.

I hope you are more prepared to tackle the Tetons, Mt. Whitney, Half Dome or any other mountain that your heart desires, even Mt. Everest-which is my life-long dream…idk maybe in the next life…..!!



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