|Altitude Sickness in the Rocky Mountains|
Let there be no doubt, Rocky Mountain National Park is a high elevation park. Even if you're not a mountain climber, altitude sickness is something every visitor to the Rocky Mountains should be aware of. Most trails in the park begin above 7,800 feet, and abruptly climb higher. Elevations on park roads range between 7,800 feet and 12,183 feet - the highest point on Trail Ridge Road. At this lofty spot there's 35% less oxygen in the air than at sea level. Atop 14,259-foot Longs Peak, the highest mountain in the park, oxygen levels are 50% less!
Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), can occur in some people at elevations as low as 8000 feet. AMS can also affect as many as 20% of all visitors who travel from sea level to above 8,000 feet, regardless of their physical condition.
Above elevations of 10,000 feet, 75% of all people will experience mild symptoms of altitude sickness, which include, headache, nausea and dizziness, loss of appetite, fatigue, shortness of breath, and a general feeling of malaise.
At higher elevations where moderate or severe cases of AMS can occur, be aware of severe headaches (that aren't relieved by medication), nausea and vomiting, increasing weakness and fatigue, and decreased co-ordination.
If you experience any of these symptoms, the best remedy is to descend at least 1000 – 1500 feet, or more, as soon as possible.
There are several steps you can take beforehand to help prevent altitude sickness:
* Stay properly hydrated. Fluid loss normally occurs during the acclimatization process, so you need to drink lots of fluids (water is great, but no alcohol) to remain properly hydrated.
* Rocky Mountain National Park rangers recommend that you spend at least one night at 7,000 or 8,000 feet prior to setting out. This will allow your body to begin to adjust to the change in elevation.
* Adjustment to high altitude is best done by acclimating slowly; build up to higher elevations over several days. If acclimating slowly is not possible, take it easy, walk slowly, avoid strenuous walks and hikes, and take time to enjoy the scenery.
* Eat a high calorie diet while at altitude.
* Avoid tobacco, alcohol and other depressant drugs.
* If you go above 10,000 feet, only increase your altitude by 1,000 feet per day, and for every 3,000 feet of elevation gained, take a rest day to acclimate.
* Climb high and sleep low. You can climb more than 1,000 feet in a day as long as you come back down and sleep at a lower altitude.
* If you begin to show symptoms of moderate altitude sickness, don't go higher until symptoms decrease.
* For more information you can visit the NOLS Wilderness First Aid altitude illness page.