The information contained on this page is merely a summary of my knowledge. I am not a medical doctor. Consult your physician to receive reliable information before traveling to high elevations.

High Altitude begins to affect the average person at 8,000 feet of elevation. The summit of Pikes Peak is 14,115 feet, well beyond this limit. Most people who travel from a low altitude to a high altitude will experience at least some symptoms related to altitude sickness.

What is commonly refered to as Altitude sickness is broken down into three categories.
  • Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)- Mild to moderate symptoms, posing no long term health risk.
  • High Altitude Pulmonary Edemia (HAPE)- Fluid collecting in the lungs due to inadequate acclimation. Potentially deadly.
  • High Altitude Cerebral Edemia (HACE)- Fluid collecting in the brain due to inadequate acclimation. Very deadly.

HAPE and HACE are extremely rare below 12,000 feet elevation. However instances are on the rise in Colorado due the the ability to travel so quickly from sea level to a high elevation. A person can now easily find themselves waking up near sea level, flying to Colorado, and then driving over a 11,000+ foot pass. This gives the body very little time to adjust.

What is AMS?

In simple terms AMS is the result of your body not getting enough oxygen for an extended period of time due to the thinner air found at high altitudes. Symptoms usually take between a half hour and two hours to set in. Physical activity increases the speed and severity of the appearance of symptoms.
Mild symptoms include:
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced congnitive abilities
Moderate symptoms can be:
  • Vomiting
  • Mild Disorientation
  • Clumsiness
  • Mild Memory loss
Severe symtoms can be (generally only associated with HAPE and HACE):
  • Wet crackling sounds in lungs when breathing
  • Shortness of Breath even after resting
  • Significant Disorientation
  • Loss of muscle control, trouble speaking
  • Significant Memory loss/ loss of conciousness
These lists are not exhaustive of all symptoms but are the most common and easily recognized.

How can I prevent AMS?

There is one medication that can help. Diamox helps the body begin producing more red blood cells (the bodys main method of dealing with high altitude) even before you go to a high altitude. This medication must be started a week before going to high altitude to achieve its full effectiveness.

The most effective method is to allow your body to acclimate over several days. Climb high, sleep low is the mantra for this. Take a hike up to 10,000 feet, then sleep at 6,000-8,000 feet that night. Take a hike up to 11,000 feet the next day and return lower to sleep again. A few days of this and you will have significantly fewer issues when hiking up the Barr Trail.

Once on the trail there are a few things you can do to help prevent symptoms from setting in. The first and most important step towards preventing the effects of AMS is to drink plenty of water. Carry 3 to 4 liters of water for the Barr Trail. You will need to urinate more often, and this is the goal since it will give your body more opportunity to expel the excess lactic acid in your system.

Slowing your pace will also help prevent AMS. Since there is less oxygen, you must reduce your exertion accordingly. Find a pace that works for you and the faster hikers should slow their pace to accoodate you.

What do I do if I experience AMS?

If you do begin to suffer from AMS, treat symptoms appropriately. Treat a headache with asprin. Asprin will open blood vessels and encourage more blood flow which may help the cause as well as the symptom. For nausea take a couple of Tums. Be sure to rest when you're tired, overexerting yourself will just make the problem worse.

Keep an eye on other people you are with. As AMS sets in cognitive abilities drop, that means that they may not have the presence of mind to notice they are getting AMS. A study was done where a group of people who were not acclimated to high altitude were given a set of tests similar to SATs at sea level and then at 14,000 feet. Their scores at 14,000 feet were 30% lower than at sea level and the time to complete the tests increased 25%.

If any of the severe symptoms appear in anyone, that person must descend immediately with another person. Never leave a person suffering from Altitude Illness by themselves. Descent to a lower elevation will usually begin to alleviate symptoms immediately.

The link below is an article (in pdf format)written by the BMC:
Mountain Sickness