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Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Discussion area for peaks outside of the USA.
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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby nyker » Mon Oct 15, 2012 8:07 pm

Well, you live in CO so you can get to 8000ft towns easily....sleep at 10-12,000 this week, then try and sleep on a 14er for the last few nights before your trip. Assume you are flying into Quito? ...then get up above Quito area (9500ft) and stay higher. Or, rent an altitude tent. I got up to 17,000 coming from NY (sea level) and staying in Atacama Chile (8000ft) for 5 nights, hiked to 14000ft, slept lower, then to 16000ft, slept at 8000 and then slept at 14000 and ascended to 17k the next day, no issues.

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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby Scott P » Mon Oct 15, 2012 8:11 pm

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.


It can certainly be done, but keep in mind that ascending that high without enough acclimatization carries a very high risk of permanent brain damage, even if you don't get edema.

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


Be aware that 14,000 feet is nothing like 19,000 feet. I did fine on Cotopaxi, but there were a lot of other people that weren't doing well.

Cotopaxi is indeed a beatiful mountain, but there are also many other mountains just as spectacular, that are at a lower elevation.

Here is Illiniza Sur as viewed from Iliniza Norte:

Image

Sur is at 17,267 feet and Norte is at 16,818 feet. Sur is actually more technical and exciting than Cotopaxi (but if you have a guide, why not?), but it is lower. 2000 feet doesn't sound like much, but at that altitude without enough acclimatization, it is actually a lot. Norte is more a rock scramble, perhaps equivalent or a little harder than the hardest Colorado 14ers, but has an awesome view.

Sincholagua is a really spectacular mountain:

Image

I got to see it from Cotopaxi and wished I had the time to climb it. It's a lot less crowded as well.

Any of these mountains are as spectacular as Cotopaxi and are still higher than anything else in the lower 48 states. If Cotopaxi was the only mountain in the area, I could see why people would be anxious to climb only that one, but if you are short on acclimatization time, there are better choices.

Climbing Cotopaxi really should be done after climbing a few 15, 16 and/or 17ers first.

I don't mean to discourage, but I have climbed a lot of mountains and have seen a lot of people sick as well. I've been over abitious and have got sick as well. Even if you don't get sick, withouh adequate acclimatization you are hurting your health.

Of course you might do it, but climbing something 2000 feet lower with only a short acclimatization time offers the advantages of having a greater chance of success and a much lower risk of getting sick or damaging your health. Luckily Ecuador is blessed with many beautiful peaks in the 16,000-20,700 foot range. You are still 28 and have plenty of years left to climb Cotopaxi.

This is my own advice/opinion/suggestion and obviously you will have to make your own choice. Either way, I wish you a good trip.
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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby cheeseburglar » Mon Oct 15, 2012 8:57 pm

You are taking a bit of a risk and there are a lot of pretty mountains to climb, like Scott says.
But it might go just fine for you. Depends on genetics, as far as I can tell. Nothing to do with physical fitness. The more fit people tend to climb too fast and get AMS.
The climbers in Quito head out and climb Cotapaxi without acclimatizing. It will be a bit like climbing Rainier from sea level, but different. No heavy pack to carry to base camp but thinner air.
The advice to get up and get down before AMS can get you has something to it, but the way I would approach is to hike up very slowly and make your approach and retreat rapid. You should try to never be out of breath. You should be able to climb and hold a conversation. This will be a very slow ascent rate. 500 vert per hour at best.
I think that will be the best thing to decrease your chance of a bad headache. Of course, it could be overkill. Maybe you are one of those lucky folks who handle thin air really well. Maybe not.
If you do get AMS, head down hill. For me and everyone I know, symptons are gone after descending 4-6k.
One other thing to think about is breathing going down the mountain. I have got altitude headaches on the descent several times. It's easy to relax and assume the work is over when you head down, but you are still excersizing and need to breath deeply.
Unless you really like suffering, then run up, get a bad headache, throw up a bit, and maybe get real sick in South America.
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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby climbingaggie03 » Mon Oct 15, 2012 9:22 pm

I definitely recommend Diamox, I took it when I was in college, I drove through the night from Dallas to CO springs, and started hiking, spent the night at barr camp (10,200) and summited the next day, I never got a headache nor did I have any N/V. I was fit and in my early 20's but I'd made a similar jump in altitude the year before and felt terrible, headache and ataxia (which sucks!) the keys to diamox are start taking it before you go, and drink lots of water cause it's a diuretic. You also might look into a vitamin supplement, cause it might flush some minerals out of your system. (I don't know if this is common in the outside world, but I've seen patients in the hospital have their potassium drop due to the diuretic effect of Diamox.

I'd say your situation isn't ideal, but is realistic and possible. I think you're onto the right idea of spending as much time at as high an altitude as possible. Camp on evans, or even get someone to give you a lift to the top of pikes peak, hike around a bit during the day and I'd bet you can find a nice sheltered spot to spend the night.

I'm not sure about brain damage, I know that there haven't been alot of opportunities for clinical studies, but I don't that you're at risk of brain damage by going too high too fast. Not a bad idea to have some dexamethasone on hand just in case though.

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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby mts4602 » Tue Oct 16, 2012 5:33 am

I'm confused. I have read a ton of trip reports on Orizba which is 18,000+ where people from Denver spent maybe 1 or 2 days on the mountain acclimatizing and then summited. In fact it seems like no one spends much time acclimatizing before doing Orizba. Again this is just my thought from reading trip reports and I could be wrong, but I'm just confused. What is the difference between this peak and Orizba in terms of acclimatizing?
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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby Scott P » Tue Oct 16, 2012 7:11 am

In fact it seems like no one spends much time acclimatizing before doing Orizba.


I would bet that most people climb La Malinche (14er), Izta (17er) and/or Nevado Toluca (15er) before climbing Orizaba, plus Orizaba is almost 1000 feet lower and your sleeping altitude is ~2000 feet lower.

Plus, Orizaba, Cotopaxi, Kilimanjaro and Lenana Point probably have by far more cases of altitude sickness than any other mountains in the world.
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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby peter303 » Tue Oct 16, 2012 7:36 am

edhaman wrote:The mountaineering community seems to be full of anecdote-based advice on acclimatization, but it seems difficult to get any concrete scientific data.

I think this is accurate because it can vary so much between people. And even with one person it can vary from trip to trip. I suggest the best advice is listen and prepare for the worst experiences. You may well do better.

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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby jrbren_vt » Tue Oct 16, 2012 9:31 am

Not sure I understand the OP schedule, but if I understand the flight to Ecuador is on the 26th and the goal climb is on the 27th and 28th. If correct, I wanted to take this opportunity to salute the OP's faith in the airlines to a.) get him to Ecuador on time b.) get his mountaineering equipment and baggage to Ecuador without a days delay. Independent of anything else, this alone demonstrates the OP is far more courageous then I. It seems strange to me the OP has time spend a week hiking in Colorado the week before the Cotopaxi climb but no time to hike in Ecuador and get an earlier flight. So be it, carry on. If all goes well there should be no problems with this plan.
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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby Rarefied » Tue Oct 16, 2012 2:45 pm

Rarefied wrote: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?


As no physiologists have wandered by to take a shot at this, I made still another attempt to Google something of a precise answer. My previous Googles never led to anything specific -- namely, just that extra hydration offsets the effects of dehydration which, of course, is self-evident. So the question remained: Just what process within the body is the actual "triggering event" that makes elevated hydration desirable? I thought it might have something to do with aiding red cells' ability to deliver oxygen but that was just a pure guess.

Anyway, maybe because I worded the query differently this time, I did come up with one good clue on a Livestrong web page. And even that clue didn't come easily -- 'didn't get it until about the fifth site I visited including other Livestrong pages. The pertinent snippet is:

Physiology
High altitudes convey less pressure to the oxygen molecules in your body, reducing the amount of force driving air into your lungs and limiting oxygen intake. Your body compensates by getting rid of water to increase the concentration of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in your blood stream.
(emphasis mine)

So going by this, the body is purposely (even somewhat forcefully?) eliminating water in an ongoing effort to maximize the O2 capacity of the red blood cells. In turn, this accelerates overall dehydration which, if left uncompensated, will take a toll on the body in various ways. Thus, hydration to the rescue.

So while the process does involve red cells (at least I had that part right), it is the opposite of my original hunch. Instead of additional water aiding red cells in some way, the body/lungs want as much water removed from those cells as possible. What's that old expression? Right church, wrong pew? (Ironically, hydration appears to be in direct opposition to what the body is trying to accomplish. :-k )

Meanwhile, it remains a bit unclear to me if water directly helps counter AMS symptoms. I've always understood AMS to be a function of oxygen deprivation. But now that I've learned(I think) that water does not aid in oxygen delivery, it seems like it can't contribute to offsetting the symptoms. That is, unless dehydration is a secondary factor in AMS in which case H2O would help. Oh, this medical stuff is complicated!

I'll apologize if this was too tangential for the original topic. But another poster's comment about water intake brought this aspect to mind. And by the way, any physiologists who pass by are encouraged to elaborate, correct, etc. After all, I'm just some guy who tried to teach himself some physiology from something he found on the Internet!


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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby DaveSwink » Tue Oct 16, 2012 3:07 pm

Rarefied wrote:
Rarefied wrote: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?


As no physiologists have wandered by to take a shot at this, I made still another attempt to Google something of a precise answer. My previous Googles never led to anything specific -- namely, just that extra hydration offsets the effects of dehydration which, of course, is self-evident. So the question remained: Just what process within the body is the actual "triggering event" that makes elevated hydration desirable? I thought it might have something to do with aiding red cells' ability to deliver oxygen but that was just a pure guess.


I am just a layman too, and we will probably get some better help from the medically-educated on the forum, but I have found it useful to think of the acclimatization process like catching a cold. Acclimatization is a stress that the body must adapt to, and during the adaption period (whether building white blood cells to combat infection or building red blood cells to increase O2 transport) it is important to avoid other stresses. So, it helps to stay warm, get adequate rest, food, and especially hydration to facilitate the body's adaption processes (just like when you get a cold). Just my sense of how things work, but it has guided me pretty well in the past.

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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby MountainHiker » Tue Oct 16, 2012 3:15 pm

I am also not a doctor, but have read a few things on the subject. There are multiple reasons for hydration being important. One of the more obvious is breathing out moist air and breathing in drier air. When combined with increased breathing that means moisture loss. Also at play is the extra breathing means CO2 loss relative to O2 intake. This results in a diuretic effect when the body tries to compensate. It’s a good sign if you are up several times to pee when you arrive at a new elevation. Even without the physical exertion from the climb extra hydration is important when ascending to a higher elevation.

I haven’t always had as much acclimation time as I wanted in country. Living in Colorado allowed me to arrive more acclimated than someone arriving from sea level. In addition to climbing fourteeners close to departure I would sleep as high as possible. Having a vehicle I can sleep in added to the possibilities. In summer I slept on top of Mt Evans. In winter I’ve slept on mountain passes. Also the cabin pressure in the airplane is about 8000’, so the acclimation routine can begin ahead of the trip.
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Re: Enough acclimatization? Or asking for trouble?

Postby srbeck » Tue Oct 16, 2012 4:42 pm

I’m really enjoying the conversation surrounding how the body acclimatizes. I’m sure it’s the cyclist in me but I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone has ever experimented with EPO (which primarily boots red blood cell production) as an acclimatization aid? I did a little looking around and found several sites which basically said the same thing; that the higher red blood cell count had little to no effect on AMS/high altitude performance without the added ventilatory acclimatization.(Just thought somebody else might find it interesting)

I thought I might clarify my planned schedule and why it isn’t possible to spend more time in Ecuador. The trip is operated by my wife’s employer (she is a travel agent) and they are footing part of the bill. In addition to the discount she will also be paid for part of the time we are abroad. We were also only granted two “pre-nights” and thus I’m locked into the dates.

10/18 denver >5, sleep >10
10/19 climb >13, sleep >5
10/ 20 denver >5, sleep >10
10/21 climb >14, sleep >10
10/22 climb >14, sleep >10
10/23 climb >14, sleep >10
10/24 climb >14, sleep >10
10/25 denver >5, sleep >5
10/26 fly to quito, sleep >9
10/27 drive to Cotopaxi, sleep >15
10/28 date of the climb in question

So in the 10 days leading up to the climb I’ll be spending 7 nights above 10,000 and weather permitting spending five days climbing in Colorado. Not to open a can of worms, but what does everyone think is the upper limit that can safely be climbed with my acclimatization?

I’m not truly set on getting to the summit, nor on Cotopaxi’s summit more so than any other of the beautiful mountains that have been suggested (thanks for all the recommendations). What I’m truly interested in is experiencing a higher elevation, the higher the better, without health complications.
I rarely feel winded or particularly challenged by the altitude of 14,000, and would feel like I was shorting myself (pun intended) if I only went to 15 or 16. All that said the mountain climbing is a bonus to the vacation and not what we’re flying down for, so I don’t want to get sick and ruin the rest of the trip.

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