Thursday, January 26, 2012

Altitude Sickness in Glacier

At 10,466 feet, Mt. Cleveland is the highest point in Glacier National Park. Reaching a maximum height of 8100 feet, the Siyeh Pass Trail is one the highest maintained trails in Glacier. And at only 6646 feet, Logan Pass is the highest point on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. These elevations are hardly comparable to the heights regularly reached by hikers on the 13 and 14 thousand-foot peaks of Colorado, or motorists on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park (12,183 feet), or even Beartooth Pass (10,947 feet) for that matter.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t experience altitude sickness in Glacier. Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), can occur in some people at elevations as low as 8000 feet. For most visitors and hikers in Glacier, this won’t be an issue. However, for adventurers looking to visit the Swiftcurrent Mountain Lookout at 8436 feet, or go off-trail to summit any of the highest peaks in the park, it is something to be aware of. Moreover, there is a small segment of the population that can experience mild symptoms of AMS at altitudes as low as 6500 feet.

At elevations over 10,000 feet, 75% of people will experience mild symptoms of altitude sickness, which include, headache, nausea and dizziness, loss of appetite, fatigue, shortness of breath, and a general feeling of malaise.

At higher elevations where moderate or severe cases of AMS can occur, be aware of severe headaches that aren’t relieved by medication, nausea and vomiting, increasing weakness and fatigue, and decreased co-ordination.

If you experience any of these symptoms, the best remedy is to descend at least 1000 – 1500 feet, or more, as soon as possible.

There are several steps you can take beforehand to help prevent altitude sickness:

* Stay properly hydrated. Fluid loss normally occurs during the acclimatization process, so you need to drink lots of fluids to remain properly hydrated.

* Eat a high calorie diet while at altitude.

* Take it easy and don't overexert yourself when you first arrive at high altitude.

* Avoid tobacco, alcohol and other depressant drugs.

* If possible, don't fly or drive to high altitude. Start below 10,000 feet and walk up.

* If you do fly or drive, don’t overexert yourself or move higher for the first 24 hours.

* If you go above 10,000 feet, only increase your altitude by 1,000 feet per day, and for every 3,000 feet of elevation gained, take a rest day to acclimatize.

* Climb high and sleep low. You can climb more than 1,000 feet in a day as long as you come back down and sleep at a lower altitude.

* If you begin to show symptoms of moderate altitude sickness, don't go higher until symptoms decrease.

* For more information you can visit the NOLS Wilderness First Aid altitude illness page.

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