Camping may take you to high places where altitude sickness (also known as AMS, or acute mountain sickness) can be a
concern. Fortunately, altitude sickness is seldom a problem for people at elevations of less than 8,000 feet above sea level.
Going to a place that is higher than you are accustomed may leave you short of breath because the atmosphere around you becomes thinner and contains less oxygen. Within a few days your body will acclimate to higher altitudes by producing extra red blood cells to carry more oxygen to your tissues and organs, and you should feel fine.
Taking steps to help prevent altitude sickness is far better than suffering from it during a camping trip. The following suggestions can make your alpine adventures more comfortable and more fun, too.
• Drink plenty of fluids. As a rule, take in enough water so that your urine remains clear rather than dark yellow.
• Give your body time to acclimate gradually as you go higher. Spend a few days at 5,000 to 7,000 feet and then a few more at 8,000 to 10,000 feet.
• “Climb high, sleep low.” Use this mountaineer’s trick for acclimating by hiking upward during the day and then descending to a lower camp for a good night’s rest.
Altitude Sickness Symptoms
Watch for any or all of these symptoms of altitude sickness: headache, nausea, unusual tiredness, loss of motivation. Going down a
few thousand feet in elevation will almost always relieve these symptoms. Rest, fluids, and food may also help. If symptoms persist or worse, seek medical assistance.
The symptoms of altitude sickness also can be warning signs of hypothermia. Begin treatment for hypothermia by making sure that the person is warm, is wearing dry clothing, is sheltered from the wind and chilly or wet weather, and has had enough to eat and drink. If the person does not rapidly improve and the elevation is above 8,000 feet, treat for altitude sickness as well.
Stress and anxiety about outdoor adventures can sometimes cause a person to suffer from hyperventilation—quick, shallow breathing that can upset the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body. Someone experiencing hyperventilation can become light-headed, faint, and sometimes feel tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes.
The symptoms of hyperventilation usually will go away if the person relaxes and slows his breathing. Removing the causes of his anxiety is important, too, either by moving to a different location or by talking through the situation. Extensive or repeated episodes of hyperventilation might be signs of other medical concerns and should be checked out by a physician.