So you have noticed the elevation information in my hiking guides and may be wondering why do I need this information and what am I supposed to do with it? Simply, I am trying to share if it is a high-altitude hike or not. Hiking at 8,000 to 12,000 feet above sea level is considered high-altitude hiking.
Roughly, you lose an average 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000 feet of elevation you gain. It’s a rough estimate because there are other factors that affect the temperature such as clouds vs. no clouds, etc. So head over to a higher elevation and escape the summer heat. But first, there is something you need to know about high-altitude hiking.
“There are serious risks involved with high-altitude hiking, including altitude sickness, acute mountain syndrome and pulmonary edema, all of which can result in death. Before you go on a high-altitude hike, you need to train your body to work efficiently and effectively in environments with less oxygen.”
If you live at sea level, you will feel the high altitude symptoms quicker than people who live in Denver for example. Denver sits at 5,280 ft whereas Los Angeles sits at only 285 ft.
We live near a beach where the elevation is only 66 ft. The first time when I felt the mild high altitude symptoms, we were at about 8,000 feet. I noticed my breathing was shallow. I felt light-headed and my legs got tired only after 2 miles. At high altitudes, the thinner air makes it harder to breathe. After we got home from that hike, both Xena and I passed out on the couch and took a long nap. For a day or so, I had a dull headache.
So, how do you train for a day hike in high elevation?
- Get a good night sleep and hydrate well the day before
- Get a rich high carbohydrate diet before and during your hike
- Get to the trailhead 20-30 minutes early and give yourself time to acclimate to the elevation
- Keep mindful deep breathing
- Go slow. Find your comfortable pace where you can breathe easily which means you probably need to slow down your normal pace. This helps you to gain altitude gradually.
- Know when to take breaks. Don’t push it through. When you can’t get your normal breathing back and you are getting light-headed, it’s time to stop. If you start to feel sick and symptoms don’t get better after a break, retreat to a lower elevation.
- Hydrate well and avoid alcohol
- Don’t forget your hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. The sun is stronger so you will need good protection from the harsher sun.
- Pack layers. Temperature changes can be expected as you gain elevation and you may need a jacket at the peak.
- Use trekking poles for better weight distribution and be nice to your knees. This is especially helpful for downhill hiking for those hikes with a big elevation gain.
If you don’t have the time or don’t have high mountains near you to go hiking often to get acclimated to high altitude, the best way to train for a high-altitude hike is doing cardio exercises such as running, cycling and swimming and improve your VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen your body can consume and use in one minute). Well, there you have it. Train your body and enjoy climbing those mountains that are calling your name!