Beginners Guide to High Altitude Trekking

Most Himalayan treks in Uttarakhand come under high-altitude treks and many others come under very high-altitude treks. To enjoy and get the most from your trekking experience, it is important to understand the requirements for high-altitude trekking and the effects of high-altitude in our overall health.

Altitude Guide in the Himalayas

Altitude above 8,000 ft. (2,438 mts) is considered to be the high altitude and generally have easy treks. Very high altitude starts from 12,000 ft. (3,658 mts) and continues till 18,000 ft. (5,487 m) and they come under moderate to tough treks. Altitude beyond 18,000 ft. marks are extremely high altitudes and generally require mountaineering experience for those treks (BMC or AMC courses). 

Why Is the Knowledge of Altitude Required While Trekking?

With an increase in altitude, the air becomes thinner and atmospheric pressure decreases. This means that the oxygen molecules that are present in a given volume of air in high-altitude are lesser compared to the oxygen molecules present in a given volume of air in lower altitudes.

As a result, if you had been breathing 200 oxygen molecules per breath at lower altitudes, then you will be breathing only about 100-150 oxygen molecules per breathe at higher altitudes. In order to get the same amount of oxygen that you are accustomed to breathing, you increase your breathing rate, known as ventilation.

The lesser amount of oxygen in your body and more exhalation of carbon dioxide from your body leads to many reactions such as dehydration, low appetite, and other hypoxic conditions.

Hence, it is important that you know about the changes that altitude brings in your body and prepare for your trek accordingly.

Our body is a wonderful creation. Despite a change in environment it doesn't take long to get accustomed to the new environment. The process of our body getting comfortable and adjusting with high-altitude, is known as acclimatization. But in order to make the process of acclimatization as smooth as possible, you have to follow the guidelines of high altitude trekking and take things at their own pace, without hurry. 

Things Required for High Altitude Trekking

Whether you are planning for your first high-altitude trekking or have already completed quite a few of them, knowing the requirements of a high altitude trekking and preparing efficiently is a good practice to abide by.

Here, we discuss three key areas that you need to focus on for high altitude trekking.

1. Physical Fitness

Physical fitness is one of the most important things required for high altitude treks. You will be covering long distances and the low level of oxygen per breath will require you to have a good level of physical fitness in order to complete your journey without fail.

2. Visit a medical professional

Before you decide on going for high altitude trek, get a medical check-up from a doctor and familiarise yourself with any health condition that you may have. By doing so, you will be able to effectively plan for the trek.

3. Begin training in advance

Begin your training at least two months prior to the day of the trek. You need to build your endurance, stamina, and core strength for successful completion of the trek and if not two months, then one month is the minimum time that you

4. Gradually increase your exercises

Start training by walking, running, or cycling and gradually increase your pace. Also, try yoga and other breathing techniques as they will come in very handy during your trek.

Incorporate basic and fundamental exercises like lunges, squats, step-ups, push-ups, and stretching. Gradually increase the number of repetitions. The basic notion is to focus both on cardio and strength training. Hence, mix and match them in a schedule that will fit you.

We advise you to devote at least 30 minutes per day for training. Along with training, maintain an active lifestyle throughout the day. Take the stairs instead of the lift, walk whenever it‘s possible, and get moving more often at the office and home. Overall focus on your physical & mental endurance, interval training, strength training, and breathing exercises.

5. Increase your trekking distance

If you have never trekked in high altitude, start off by trying your hand at trekking at altitudes slightly higher than the ones you are accustomed to. Also, work on gently increasing your trek distance. Doing these two things will make your high altitude trek easier as you will have already set yourself up in the flow of it.

How to Minimize Altitude Sickness and Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

It is important to understand Altitude sickness and AMS before heading out for a high altitude trek. If you experience headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, stomach aches, or weakness of any kind then you may be suffering from Altitude Sickness. When the intensity of the sickness increases, it is known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).

You should always prepare yourself for these problems and continue your journey by following the ways that best prevents Attitude Sickness. 

Below are some points to remember in order to minimize Attitude Sickness and prevent AMS.

1. Don‘t climb too quickly

One of the main reasons for attitude sickness is climbing and gaining altitude way too fast. Never exert yourself and take rests between your ascents and descents. You may want to reach the endpoint fast but trust us, slow and steady beats altitude sickness.

2. Drink plenty of water

Water is your savior. Drink more frequently and fill up your bottle whenever you get the chance to. Take a few sips of water with every stop/rest. Also, stay well-hydrated before beginning the trek.

3. Snack up

Keep snacks high in carbohydrates like dry fruits, chocolates, fruits, and nuts to maintain your energy levels when you are feeling tired. Your guide may be able to get you some local products

4. Monitor your physical conditions

If you experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, loss incoordination, difficulty breathing, lack of appetite and thirst, or any form of pain or weakness, inform your group/guide. Whenever you feel any kind of weakness, stop right there, take deep breathes and have water. Do not climb further unless you fell alright. If the symptom persists for long periods, then it will be better for you to descent.

5. Acclimatize before ascending

Every 1,000 ft. altitude gain should be accompanied with a proper rest of 2-3 hrs at that altitude so that your body can adjust to the environment, i.e. acclimatize. That is why it is essential to proceed slowly and keep track of your altitude gain as you move ahead.

While camping too, keep in mind that you don‘t camp too higher as compared to the altitude you had camped the next day. Your camping altitude should not increase,/ae by more than 1,500 ft. from the previous night‘s altitude.  

Equipment & Clothing required during High Altitude Treks

All the fitness training and safety precautions will go down the drain if you don‘t have the proper equipment with you while trekking.

A mantra to follow while packing for trekking is to pack light but pack all the necessary items without fail. You have to consider the terrain, climate, and think of every possible thing that will be required for the trek. With our years of experience in high altitude trekking, we have curated a list of essential equipment and clothing that you will require for your high altitude trek.

Equipment

  • A rucksack, a sleeping bag, a duffel bag, and a tent
  • Personal toiletries, sunscreen (high SPF), lip balm, cold cream
  • First-aid kit (medicines for headaches, diarrhea, vomiting, and altitude sickness, pain killers, insect repellent, antiseptics, cotton, Band-Aid, blister plasters, etc.)
  • Route map, compass, torch, whistle, Swiss army knife, matches
  • Water bottles, Snacks, Sunglasses
  • Camera with spare batteries
  • Trash bags (do not leave waste behind)
  • ID Card & Passport photos

Note: If you are travelling with us, we will arrange the tents, ropes, and route maps.If your trek package includes skiing or other adventure activities, we will provide the gears for them too.

Clothing

  • 2-3 quick dry T-shirt- Carry at least one T-shirt made of synthetic materials. Avoid cotton T-shirts as they do not insulate when wet.
  • Warm fleece jacket& pants
  • Windcheater& Raincoat
  • Thermal wear for camping
  • 2 Wind proof and water proof trek pants
  • 2-3 pair of socks- Use full-length socks and avoid 100% cotton socks. Carry separate socks for trekking and camping. Woollen socks are best for camping. Buy socks that absorb sweat for trekking.
  • Good quality trekking shoes suitable for rain and snow.
  • Slippers for camping
  • Woollen cap & sun cap
  • A pair of woollen gloves& scarves
  • Undergarments and innerwear as per your need
  • Towel

Note: Carry a waterproof layer just in case and try walking with your backpack on to get some practice before the trek.

Best Season for High Altitude Trekking

In Uttarakhand, the best season for high altitude trekking is during the summer months of April – June and post-monsoon months of October – November. For snow trekking December to March months are ideal.

These months offers one of the best views of the landscape and unobstructed trails. It is quite risky to trek during the monsoon season and we don‘t recommend it.

 Most high altitude treks remain inaccessible during winter season due to heavy snowfall. There are some notable winter treks in Uttarakhand, though like Kedarkantha trek, Har ki Dun trek, Kuari Pass trek, Chopta-Tunganath-Chandrashila trek, among others. 

Beginners Guide to High Altitude Trekking Travel Tips

  • Check you fitness level according to the trek you are planning
  • Always check weather conditions and plan it when weather is most suitable for that trek
  • Train and exercise before commencing any trek
  • Carry clothing according to season and as many medications as possible
  • Follow the instructions of the guide in high altitude treks

Uttarakhand Travel Tips & Blog Articles

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