Have you ever wondered what it is like to go hiking in high altitude?
A few years back, before I left for Kilimanjaro for my first ever high-altitude trek, I did not know what to expect, I asked lots of friends around me and did my research on Google, read so many articles and blog posts about what high altitude was, what it felt like to hike in high altitude and how to prevent getting high altitude sickness.
What I discovered was that you basically won’t really know what it is and how much it will affect you until you are up there, no one really knows why it affects some people more than others and why some people have different symptoms than others (from mild to severe), regardless of their fitness level or even how many times they’ve climbed.
So, what exactly happens and what does it mean to your body? Well, the higher on a mountain you get, the lower the air pressure becomes, meaning there are fewer Oxygen molecules holding themselves together and thus harder for your body to absorb and it just starts to feel like you are not getting enough oxygen.
It may start to affect your body and how it is used to doing its normal daily functions on sea level. But your body soon starts to adapt or “acclimate” with time. I have many times forgotten that we are at a higher altitude and I walk off somewhere in my normal sea level speed, only to stop half way just to catch my breath; what was just a few steps, felt like I just sprinted a mile!
From my own experiences, I have felt some usual symptoms such as headaches that ranged from mild to so strong, it affected my mood, I felt like people talking and the sunlight were a disturbance. I have on other occasions felt nausea. I have been lucky though as I have also seen others get severe symptoms; from respiratory problems to hallucinations, and the best way for them to get relief was being helicopter out of there on to lower altitudes.
The following are some things that have helped me:
• I stay hydrated and drink lots of water, soup and tea
• Eat well, even if I lose my appetite, I force myself to eat the whole plate
• Have some slices of lemon with me; good for nausea
• Go slow, in Kilimanjaro, the saying is POLE (Swahili for “Slow, Slow”)
• don’t get angry and stay calm. You don’t want to get your blood pressure high up
• Sleep well
Most importantly, I found it imperative, to be honest with yourself and the guides. If you are taking any medication or experiencing anything out of the ordinary, let them know. They might try to accommodate and take it slow so you get more time to get used to it.
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Words + Photos by: Hanady Alhashmi