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Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

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Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby srbeck » Mon Oct 15, 2012 8:23 am

So I’m hoping to climb Volcan Cotopaxi in Ecuador which has an altitude of 19,300…. on October 27& 28th

Due to scheduling I won’t be able to extend my stay in Ecuador prior to the climb, and consequently need to acclimate here.

I’ve got a private guide who was recommended via some users on summit post who believes I’ll be fine.
I still wanted to see if anybody here has any experience with the matter?

Currently I’m planning on an overnight climb above 12 this week, and then starting this weekend the afternoon of sat the 20th through the 25th going to the mountains, (see below) climbing some 14ers and sleeping anywhere 10-12,000
Do you think this will provided enough acclimatization for 19,000?

Weather permitting I’m planning on heading to the San Juan’s and climbing Umcompahgre, San Luis, Red Cloud, Handies and possibly Wetterhorn. I’d like to camp around treeline most nights and should I get a calm night go higher.
If the weather goes south I’ll probably stay in Leadville and do day hikes in the Swatch

Oh, and I’m not keen on taking Diamox but if you’ve had a good experience with it let me know.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby Scott P » Mon Oct 15, 2012 8:35 am

Do you think this will provided enough acclimatization for 19,000?


No. People have done Cotopaxi with less acclimatization, but I wouldn't recommend it. Even if you did it, climbing acclimatized really isn’t as fun and you decrease your chances of reaching the summit.

Does it have to be Cotopaxi? What about one of the Ilinizas or Sincholagua, for example?
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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby mtnjim » Mon Oct 15, 2012 9:16 am

I think of it as "South American style". Get up and get down before you get sick.

I assume you haven't been higher than Colorado high and this will be your first time at that altitude. It should work. As Scott says, more acclimatization would be better, but it's certainly possible. I've been down there 3 times and have always been able to allow myself time to acclimatize.

With the acclimatizing you'll be doing here before the trip, you should be able to do the climb. Just be prepared to feel kinda crappy. Lots of folks who don't climb at all succeed on Cotopaxi on their first time at altitude. Lots don't, too. While it's possible to get a bad enough case of AMS that it could be a real problem, it's really rare. That said, you won't be able to tell how you'll do til you get there.

Have fun. Hope you have at least a little time to look around. It's a great country!

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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby edhaman » Mon Oct 15, 2012 9:57 am

The mountaineering community seems to be full of anecdote-based advice on acclimatization, but it seems difficult to get any concrete scientific data. I've found this study done by the military:

http://archive.rubicon-foundation.org/xmlui/bitstream/handle/123456789/7616/ADA423388.pdf?sequence=1

A quick reading seems to indicate that it takes several days at altitude for an increase in red blood cell levels. In checking other (very basic) information from various medical websites, the National Institutes for Health, and Wikipedia, I found no support for the idea that one can "get up and down fast before getting sick," unless you are doing so very fast in a car or airplane.

That said, I have a friend who flew from the California coast to Africa and climbed Kilimanjaro with no problems. On the other hand, I also know someone who flew from England to Africa and had to turn back on Kilimanjaro due to altitude sickness.

The only "advice" that seems to be accurate is that (unless you've have problems in the past) there is no way to predict how you'll do on any particular trip to altitude.

Edit: There was also some good into in this thread: viewtopic.php?f=16&t=37657&hilit=acclimatizing

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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby pvnisher » Mon Oct 15, 2012 10:55 am

In this case, as many other cases, the best thing to do is to try your best and see what happens.

Sounds a little trite, but you won't know for sure until you get there, and you have limited time, so do all that you can, and hope for the best!

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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby crossfitter » Mon Oct 15, 2012 11:20 am

edhaman wrote:A quick reading seems to indicate that it takes several days at altitude for an increase in red blood cell levels. In checking other (very basic) information from various medical websites, the National Institutes for Health, and Wikipedia, I found no support for the idea that one can "get up and down fast before getting sick," unless you are doing so very fast in a car or airplane.


I believe it takes several weeks to fully acclimate with red blood cell production, but that is not the only mechanism for acclimation. Within hours of ascending to higher altitudes your body initiates the hypoxic ventilatory response. Without going into too much detail, a few physiologic changes force you to start breathing more rapidly. Interestingly enough, one of these changes is responsible for increasing urinary output which is another reason why drinking water is more important at altitude.
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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby sstratta » Mon Oct 15, 2012 1:20 pm

Well I guess I'll share my story: I recently got back from Ecuador and climbed Cotopaxi on Sept 27/28th. I was in the coastal rainforest for two months prior to that though doing an internship, so I wasn't acclimatized at all. Originally my plan was to climb Pasochoa (4200m), Illinizas Norte (5126m), Cotopaxi, and Chimborazo - in that order. But due to scheduling issues I had to climb Cotopaxi right after Pasochoa instead of doing Illinizas first...long story. Cotopaxi turned out to be a successful climb though, despite only getting to 4200m the day before (I climbed Pasochoa on Sept 26th) and never sleeping above the elevation of Quito. I didn't get ANY sleep though at the Jose Ribas Refugio (which is at 4850m) the night before the climb, since it is very hard to sleep at that elevation unless you are acclimatized. The climb itself was noticeably harder physically than it otherwise would've been had I been more acclimatized, and we went at a slightly slower pace, but it was still a success. The sunrise from the summit was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. I climbed Illinizas Norte two days after Cotopaxi, and that was a piece of cake since I was acclimatized from Cotopaxi. Chimborazo was also a success a couple days after that, although that climb was pretty challenging due to difficult route conditions. So that's just my story...I feel like I handle altitude pretty well though (I've never had any AMS symptoms in CO or any other place I've climbed), so not everyone could've done the same schedule I did in Ecuador. I'm working on a trip report that I'll post soon, but if you have any other questions feel free to send me a PM. Have a blast - Ecuador is a pretty amazing country!!!

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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby James Dziezynski » Mon Oct 15, 2012 2:40 pm

Hmm... tough call if you haven't been around that elevation previously. I've camped on 14ers for 4-5 nights before hitting the 16k - 18k range and it's worked like a charm. Much higher, I'd want to give myself at least a night or two at a high camp. But that being said, I'm guessing if you're fit I bet you'll be ok -- if you're rushing for a weekend ascent, don't discount Diamox...

One other note... just my style, but I would have trained previously and used the week to mostly relax and acclimate. Camping on Evans or something like that where you just do little day hikes rather than get up and down big peaks everyday. I'd try to camp high and acclimate and camp a bit lower if you are feeling bad.
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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby bking14ers » Mon Oct 15, 2012 3:07 pm

I've also read it takes about 2-3 weeks to fully acclimate to the altitude you are at. How long does it take for you to de-acclimate?

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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby srbeck » Mon Oct 15, 2012 5:21 pm

Wow, thanks for all the advice/information! I’ll try and address everyone, but forgive me if I miss something.

Scott, I looked at Sincholagua and it seems like a great option. I think I’ll check with my guide to see if we could switch last minute, depending on how I feel at the refuge (15,000)? It looks like Sincholagua is only 18 miles from Cotopaxi!

JimS, sstratta and James thanks for sharing your experiences on the subject. I was reading too many stories about cerebral/ pulmonary edema and started questioning my decision making. I don’t feel as if I’m being reckless and hearing from you helped confirmed my suspicion.
Physically I’m not so worried; I did a Rainier climb earlier in the summer with less training and more weight. I never have altitudes sickness at 14,000, even when I go from strait from Denver and sleep at 12-13,000

It seems that everyone’s general sentiment is that ideally I would have more time higher, but as pvnisher said I need to “see what happens.”
I’ve turned around on multiple mountains and would rather turn around on cotopaxi than wonder what might have been… Either way it’ll be a great trip and we’re headed to the Galapagos after my attempt.

Edhaman, thanks for the great report I’ve always been under the assumption that your haematocrit rate started to change immediately but took two weeks to fully adjust. It’s a fascinating subject and bking 14ers I also wonder how long it takes to de-acclimate? I’ve heard it also take two weeks but don’t know that for sure

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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby Jelgan » Mon Oct 15, 2012 5:36 pm

bking14ers wrote:I've also read it takes about 2-3 weeks to fully acclimate to the altitude you are at. How long does it take for you to de-acclimate?


Much faster (a few days). When there's less O2 around the body needs more red blood cells, and it can only produce them so fast which is why it takes a couple weeks to get fully adjusted. When there's more O2 around the body thinks it doesn't need so many red blood cells and just flushes all the extra ones out, happens pretty quickly.

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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby Rarefied » Mon Oct 15, 2012 7:10 pm

crossfitter wrote:Interestingly enough, one of these changes is responsible for increasing urinary output which is another reason why drinking water is more important at altitude.


Can someone who understands physiology please explain in some detail (yet in a way a layman can understand! :wink: ) the precise role water plays in countering AMS symptoms? Is it as simple as substantial hydration (both pre-hike & ongoing) enhances the distribution of oxygen-carrying red cells throughout the body? Or is it something else such as, say, the extra water causing accelerated kidney activity which, in turn, brings about faster cleansing of the blood making it perform more efficiently? Or maybe it's not so much a blood process as it is something else? I honestly don't know.

Like everyone else, I've heard -- and heeded -- the advice forever. But the precise mechanics behind the practice have never been quite clear to me. Thanks.

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