Harvey: Yep nothing like time at elevation, but I wonder whether you agree that general physical conditioning means "the less you'll feel the altitude".
I also wonder whether you would distinguish between AMS and general endurance and shortness of breath in what it means to "feel the altitude". I am pretty sure general condition has nothing to do with AMS and thought the same about endurance and wind, but less sure of the latter.
Salty is correct. Shortness of breath (SOB) without AMS is simply Mountaineer's Foot, ie, pooped and cannot put one in front of the other. Happens at sea level, too, but moreso where atmospheric pressure is lower. Same as your car- gotta push on the gas or downshift to maintain speed uphill. Cars can keep it up, or at least until they overheat. Human engines are not as sturdy.While being conditioned may help one avoid this for a while, or get ahead of the pack, it is felt in the scientific community that youth and athleticism actually increases the risk of AMS by going too high too fast
. . Obviously, there is huge individual variation and exceptions to many general rules. Messner, for example, did not have a champion cyclist or marathoner VO2max. He just had "it" whatever "it" is.
First of all, "feel the altitude" probably wasn't the best way to put it. I really meant having the altitude become a major factor in the hike (like being a real pain).
While there are some who might negate the benefits of good conditioning by going too fast, there are probably many more who go too fast because they hiking with people who are in better shape than they are and feel pressured to keep up. It works both ways. My remarks on the benefits of conditioning assume that variable is constant and that one will hike at a proper pace with adequate breaks. Personally I use a heart rate monitor to pace myself (along with feel of course, but higher up it's harder to trust how you feel and you get an idea of how much work you're doing by monitoring your heart rate, making it easier to put a limit on your pace).
Anyway it wasn't to be taken out of context but rather included the condition that one has made an effort to get acclimated beforehand. Acclimation alone won't get you to the the top of Whitney without "feeling the altitude" but both that and proper conditioning can.
I dayhiked Whitney twice this year. The first time was with my brother Doug ("Dug" here) last month. I spent the extra day in altitude as I have always done the last 5 years and we did the hike in a pretty fast time and I did not feel the altitude at all. I was astounded by that, as I hadn't felt that way in many years on the trail. The last few years I did the same altitude prep but being in lessor conditioning (although still in good shape, running and doing practice hikes like Clouds Rest or Granite Pass), the altitude still kicked my butt as usual. I don't know what happened this time, but I do know that I was in the best condition of my life, so I know that helped me not "feel the altitude".
Then I returned to Whitney 3 weeks later to hike it with my wife. This time we just drove to the campground and spent the afternoon and evening, like in the old days of our (relative) youth. Still in great shape, but without that extra day at altitude, I really felt the lack of oxygen. And we took over 3 hours longer to do the hike!
So it's not always about going too fast. But less conditioned people, due to hiking slower, will spend a lot more time above 12000 feet and that makes a big difference in how much you "feel the altitude". And as a general they will have higher average heart rates which will require more oxygen, even without taking into account spending more time in the danger zone.