Hiking at altitudes higher than 6,000 feet (1,828 m) is more difficult than hiking at low altitudes. This is because, at this point, the air contains less oxygen than it does at lower altitudes. Therefore, if you want to do a high-altitude hike, you will need to spend time training for your hike, you will need to pack the right equipment for your hike, and you will want to take precautions during your hike to ensure that you have a safe, enjoyable high-altitude hiking experience.
Planning a high altitude trek soon? Know how to prepare for a high altitude trek.
Training for your hike
A. Begin training well in advance.
Plan the amount of training you will do based on the difficulty of your hike, and your current fitness level. This is one of the main important aspects when preparing yourself for a high altitude trek. If you are reasonably fit, and attempting a challenging hike, then you will probably want to schedule at least 3 months of training before your hike is scheduled. If you are really out of shape, you may need to train for much, much longer.
Remember that you can never start training too early, but you can start too late. Have a talk with your doctor to make sure that you will not be endangering yourself by taking on this challenge.
B. Train for your hike at higher altitudes.
If possible, train for your hike at altitudes at or above 5,000 feet (1,524 m). This will create the ideal training situation, as your body will get used to performing in low oxygen conditions. If this isn’t an option for you, don’t worry. There are several other steps you can take to train yourself for your hike.
C. Use biking as a way to improve your cardiovascular endurance.
Biking is one good way to improve your cardiovascular fitness. If you are not training at higher altitudes, you can still improve your fitness by biking up hills whenever possible.
Be sure to wear protective gear while you are biking. A helmet should not be optional. You won’t be able to enjoy your hike if you seriously injure yourself because you chose not to wear protective gear while training.
D. Go swimming to improve cardiovascular endurance.
Another excellent way to improve your cardiovascular fitness is to swim. An added advantage of swimming is that it forces you to control your breathing (since you have to hold your breath during certain strokes).
Stick to strokes such as the crawl stroke (also known as freestyle), which will require you to keep your face in the water for a few strokes before you turn your head to breathe. Practice holding your breath for up to 5 or 6 strokes before taking a breath if you can.
E. Run to improve cardiovascular fitness.
Another great way to train for your hike is to get into running. Next, to actual hiking, running will be the most similar type of training in terms of movements, so this will be a great way to get your legs prepared for what lies ahead.
If you have never run before, you will have to start out slow, but eventually, you will want to work your way up to 3 to 5 days of training for 30 minutes to an hour each training session. During each session, you will want to train at a pace that keeps your heart rate at 70% to 85% of your maximum heart rate.
You can calculate what your maximum heart rate should be by subtracting your age from 220. Therefore, if you are 20 years old, your maximum heart rate would be 200. Meaning that you should try not to ever let your heart beat faster than that. 70% of your maximum heart rate would then be 140, and 85% of your maximum heart rate would be 170. Thus, during your training, you will want to keep your heart beating between 140 and 170 beats per minute (BPM)
A heart rate monitor is perfect for this. Typically, a heart rate monitor is a strap you can purchase at online or at sports supply stores. The strap wraps around your rib cage, just below your chest. The strap then, typically, reports your BPM to a watch that you wear on your wrist.
F. Climb stairs to strengthen leg muscles and lungs.
This is another great way to do something that resembles what your hike will be like. You can find a tall building, put your pack on, and simply start walking up the stairs. Try to do something like this at least one day per week.
If you can’t find a tall building, look for a local high school football stadium. Here, you can walk up and down each row of stairs over and over again. Aim to train for 30 minutes to an hour.
G. Train with your pack on.
When you are hiking, you will likely be carrying all of the supplies you need for your entire trip in a big backpack, which means it could be pretty heavy. Pack in everything you will want to take on your trip and wear it while you are training (or at least the weight of what you plant to pack), this way you will know what to expect, and whether or not you can manage the weight you have packed.
If you are struggling to carry the weight at a low altitude, then you need to reduce the weight significantly, as you definitely won’t be able to manage it at a higher altitude. Obviously, you can’t wear the pack when swimming, but you can wear it on the bike, while running, or even while out for a walk.
During the trek
1. Stay hydrated.
Before your hike begins, you should be well-hydrated. During your acclimation stay, you should be drinking 2 to 3 litres of water each day to prepare your body for the hike.
During the hike, keep a 1-litre bottle of water in your pack, and drink often to keep yourself hydrated. If there are stops along the way, refill your bottle, even if you think you won’t need it.
2. Have snacks to keep your energy levels consistent.
At higher altitudes, your body will burn energy more quickly, so have some snacks such as dried fruit and nuts, fresh fruit, or a bag of chips to eat as a snack.
You will want the snack to be high in carbohydrates, so you can quickly replenish your lost energy. Beef jerky, chocolate, and hard candies offer good, lightweight snack solutions.
3. Climb slowly to prevent burn out.
This is especially important if your hike begins at a lower altitude and increases steadily. You will notice as you hike that you begin to tire more easily, and you may feel short of breath. Take frequent breaks to recover, and go more slowly.
Once you have reached an altitude above 6,000 feet (1,828 m) consider resting for a day or two to give your body some time to acclimate.
4. Remain aware of your physical condition.
On a long hike, it can be easy to slip into a state where you aren’t really paying much attention to how you’re feeling physically. However, when you are hiking at high altitudes, you should remain aware of what is going on with your body, especially as you ascend higher and higher.
If you begin to experience nausea, a lack of hunger, a lack of thirst, or if you notice a headache, are feeling dizzy, having trouble breathing, or losing control of your coordination, stop. Tell another member of your hiking group. Don’t ignore these symptoms, as they may be early signs of altitude sickness.
Don’t try to tough it out. These symptoms may subside quickly with a bit of rest, but they could also turn into something more deadly if you aren’t careful.
5. Focus on deep, even breathing.
If and when you start to notice some shortness of breath, stay alert. Focus on taking deep breaths in and out, and make sure that the breaths are even. This will help you avoid over-exerting yourself. If you feel that you are over-exerting yourself, stop and take a break for a few minutes to regain control of your breathing.
6. Stop and rest every 1,000 feet above your normal altitude.
Each time you ascend another 1,000 feet above the altitude that you live in normally, you should stop and rest for 2 hours. This will give your body a chance to acclimatize and will help you avoid the dangerous consequences of ascending too quickly. This may mean taking more time than you hoped, and may mean camping overnight, so be prepared for this reality.
7. Be prepared to turn around.
With high altitude hiking, it is important that you be ready to turn around and call it quits if any of your hiking group begin to experience symptoms of altitude sickness.
It may feel disappointing, but it is better to be safe than stuck on the top of a mountain with a person who is suffering from severe symptoms of altitude sickness.
Happy Trekking and we hope this will help you in understanding how to prepare for a high altitude trek.