24 Mar Altitude Sickness – What You Need to Know
Today I reached my limit — 5,000 meters above sea level to be exact. I never thought it would happen to me, I thought I was pretty healthy. As we ascended to the glaciers of Pastoruri in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru, I slowly began to gasp for air.
I felt heaviness on my chest, the kind that you feel right before you’re about to burst in tears. Like a 200 pound rock pinning me down, making it impossible for me to breathe, or speak in any language. The cold pierced through every inch of my body. I was wearing 4 layers of clothing, yet I felt as if my bare skin was exposed to the frigid temperatures. I lost sensation in my hands and feet. My ears started hurting, my brain felt like it was about to explode in a million pieces.
Apparently, altitude sickness doesn’t discriminate. Your age, gender or fitness level are irrelevant, some people are simply unable to acclimatize to higher places as well as others. Many people need a few days or a week to feel normal. During a hike, the best remedy is always to descent to lower altitude if you start feeling any of the symptoms.
I thought about pushing myself, and hike until the very last stop when I saw an ambulance drive past me.I realized, this is no longer mind over matter. Every human being has his/her own physical limitations and I’ve clearly reached mine. If I ignore the warning signs, I’ll be risking my life every step of the way, in a very literal sense. Exactly eight years ago, on a Maundy Thursday, my father reached his at 78 years old.
Today I am humbled, thanking the universe for letting me see these beautiful glaciers, if only for a brief glimpse before they disappear forever.
Here are some tips on how to avoid altitude sickness:
1 Acclimatize your body for a few days before your big hike. Don’t drive up from sea level and expect to hike the next day.
2 Exercise as usual, do some yoga and pranayama to prepare.
3 Drink lots of liquids, avoid alcohol and caffeine. Mate de coca is the popular drink of choice in Peru.
4 Grab a bottle of Oxishot, basically it’s 100% pure oxygen in a bottle. Take a few breaths once you feel the first symptoms of altitude sickness like nausea, headache, shortness of breath, ear pain, pressure on chest. Repeat as needed.
5 There are several medications that you can take many different ways. Some, you’ll have to take 8 hours before ascent, and every 8 hours after. I’m no doctor so I’d rather not prescribe any brands here to be on the safe side, so feel free to do your own research.
On my next high altitude trip to the Colca Canyon, I took Soroji pills, the most popular and advertised over the counter brand in local pharmacies. It cost 16 soles for a pack of 10 capsules. I took it 8 hours before my ascending, and took it every 8 hours until I started feeling better and didn’t need it any longer. I used it together with my bottle of Oxishot, which I felt relieved my symptoms quicker.
Have you ever experienced altitude sickness? What helped you relieve your symptoms?