If you are happiest when the adrenaline is pumping around your body, high altitude hiking will meet your risk profile. It provides some amazing opportunities to test your nerve as well as your skill, but you will need to be prepared mentally and physically for the adventure ahead.
Here is a look at how to prepare for hiking above 8,000 feet, including coping with changes to your body and dealing with altitude sickness and the ability to deal with emergencies calmly, along with some tips that I learnt when climbing Mount Toubkal last year.
Teaching your body to adapt
To be classed as a high altitude hike you need to be tackling a route that takes you above 2,400 meters (8,000 feet).
Air pressure is affected by altitude. It is highest at sea level and gradually decreases as you ascend to greater heights. There is less oxygen to breathe in the air when the air pressure is reduced.
You have to learn how this decreased oxygen supply will affect your body. The key is to give yourself time to adapt if you are to avoid some serious issues with your breathing.
You can arrive at your base station in a suitable adventure vehicle, like the Jeep Patriot. Once there you will be hiking to heights beyond 8,000 feet. This raises the prospect of altitude sickness.
If you don’t give your body time to adjust to thinner air you might start to develop some sickness symptoms. These include a headache and a loss of appetite. Symptoms that are more serious include feeling dizzy and confused.
The sensible plan is to descend in order to get some more air in your lungs and seek medical help if required. Do not attempt to fight the symptoms and carry on. Take your time and ascend gradually to reduce the prospect of altitude sickness.
Dealing with danger
You need to be both mentally and physically prepared for high altitude trekking.
There is always the chance you will be faced with a scenario where you need to implement a contingency plan. If you find the teeth of your jumar have iced over and won’t grip the rope, you have no time to panic; you need to have the resilience and mental capacity to use a contingency strategy.
If you lack the relevant experience to deal with a dangerous situation without panicking, ensure there is a leader in your group who will take charge and deal calmly with the situation.
The optimum time to train your body and practice your skills is before attempting your high altitude hike.
Build towards the challenge by working on your physical fitness and mental agility. Practice how to find a good pace and rhythm for breathing and walking. You can do this by tackling less challenging hikes that are still considered to be at altitude.
Plan some summit acclimatization hikes as a gradual build up to the adrenaline-pumping challenge you are gearing up to.
Being fully prepared means being totally ready for your high altitude challenge so that you may enjoy the experience and stay safe.