Nausea at 12,000 feet

Posted by: Whitney Zone

Nausea at 12,000 feet - 04/02/03 08:12 AM

Posted 04-02-2003
How to prevent nausea?

Last year I attempted the Mt. Whitney Day Hike. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the summit. At approximately 12,000 feet, I got extremely nauseated. It felt like I got hit with a killer 24-hour flu (vomiting, fatigue, no energy). I consider myself to be in good physical condition. I'm a runner and did several basic hikes in addition to mountain biking to prepare. I didn't do any high altitude training hikes though.
I had at least a full day and night at the portal to acclimate before the hike.
Any advice from others who may have had this problem and conquered it somehow the next time? We are doing the Day hike again this year and I'd like to make it to the top this time!


Posted by Doug Sr, 04-02-2003
Hi, Try going slow about 7 hours to get to trail camp , drink about 3-5 quarts of water several days before and try some type of electrolyte replacement added to each quart of water before and during the hike, eat snacks non stop as you walk and don't sweat or breath hard , Being in good shape may be your problem, train for a long walk 20 miles or so and see how you feel, Short term output might be strong, but Whitney requires long term output.
It's a day hike so about 22-23 hours is not uncommon, that averages to 1 mile an hour up and down so the walk is not really hard it's just long.
Read the post of people with similar problems.
We say see 5 new flowers, 5 new trees and 5 types of wildlife and you should be walking about the right speed. Good Luck Doug


Posted by Kashcraft, 04-02-2003
Sounds like classic altitude sickness. Go read the great replies people wrote on my question Sleeping Altitude/ Altitude sickness on March 26th. In summary: Eat lots, drink lots, and spend more time at 8000-10000 feet before going for the top. ( 1 extra night is a good place to start). Since you are in good shape, you may be going up too fast and not breathing deep enough. (People a little out of shape go slower and breath much deeper) Try pressure breathing: Completely exhale out and then suck in deeply..it helps. If you are prone to altitude sickness read up on Diamox and consider using it. Good luck.

Posted by Alan, 04-02-2003
I cannot overemphasize the importance of acclimation. Physical conditioning is only half the problem. The other half, acclimation, cannot be skipped without suffering the consequences (as you found out the hard way).

Personally, I don't like 20+ mile day hikes at any altitude (although I'll be doing one with my son's Scout Troop later in April, here in MO). Spending a couple of days up in the mountains is its own reward, although it means a tough first day backpacking as far as Trail Camp.

My usual regimen for any trip taking me over 12,000' is to spend at least two nights sleeping at or above 8,000' with a dayhike to at least 10,000' in between. (The "train high, sleep low" theory of acclimation)

To do Whitney, my son and I spent two nights at Mammoth Lakes (8,000+) and hiked up Glass Mountain (11,000) the day between. We backpacked to Trail Camp (12,000) and summited the next day. Neither of us had any significant altitude-related problems, although we both slowed down significantly between Trail Crest and the summit.

On other trips to the Sierra, I have short-cut my two-night rule and have been slightly nauseated at about 13,000' (climbing Mt. Ritter, 13,150'). Since I'm travelling all the way from St. Louis (500') just to get to the mountains in the first place, it would be false economy to try and scrimp on acclimation and suffer instead.

One other side note...go a bit easy on the electrolyte-replacement drinks, especially if you use Gatorade or Powerade. The sugars in those can mess up your digestion if you tank up on them. I have found that drinking plain water for about 2/3 of my intake and 'lyte drinks for the other 1/3 works out as a reasonable balance. Also, fructose-based 'lyte drinks like Reliv "Innergize" may be easier on your stomach, compared to sucrose-based ones like Gatorade. Depends on your particular reaction...

Whitney and other tales to be found on my WWW page.


Posted by wbtravis5152, 04-02-2003
Classic real bad case of AMS. It happens and sometimes with no real explanation. The worst case AMS I ever had was after acclimatizing for 2 days before going to 14,000'.

I've had success with a day of acclimatization and being hydrated and two days acclimatization had it really bad. Just stay hydrated and hope or see your doctor about Diamox.

Bill


Posted by Hike of your Life, 04-03-2003
Doug you give great advice, I learned what you said on the fly last year and it works.

Take your time and don't turn it into a track meet, drink lots of water, plan on not having any water above trail camp (so be prepared to carry a gallon or so above there), and if you're hungry all the way up and back you're probably OK. If not, leave. The mountain is not going anywhere.

When I thought I was getting sick last year I had read the advice here on this web site ahead of time and knew if I hadn't lost my appetite I wasn't going to drop dead. All I suffered was the usual bird legs I always get, and lots of growls from the mid-section, and yes, I made it all the way up.

Looking forward to next time this summer!


Posted 04-04-2003
As far as electrolyte drinks go, whether at altitude or not, an Air Force flight surgeon once told me that straight Gatorade or Powerade doesn't absorb well in your system - it's too "heavy" with carbs (sugar) - especially if you're drinking it *while* exercising. He told me it's best to dilute it by half or so, and drink plain water as well from time to time. At altitude, one must be careful, however. There are three different conditions that all start with the same symptoms: AMS, dehydration (hypernatremia), and "water poisoning" (hyponatremia). The last is particularly dangerous, because victims often think they're dehydrated, when in reality they've depleted their electrolytes. So they consume more water, worsening the condition. Therefore it's advisable to keep snacking on salty foods and dried fruit while hiking, even if you don't feel like eating. A handful every 15 minutes or half hour is all you need.

The same flight surgeon had done some hi-altitude research as well. I asked him about building a tolerance to altitude, as it seems to me that by the end of each backpacking season I acclimate quicker and feel less ill effects, even if trips are separated by a month or two. He said that the mechanism by which the body adjusts to altitude isn't well understood, and that there is some evidence that your blood and organs may develop a "memory" for adjusting in hypoxic conditions. Interesting if true....


Posted by Rick F, 04-09-2003
All the information here is excellent! The one thing I would add is the importance of being well rested before starting up the trail. I have completed several day hikes of Whitney and I too consider myself to be in good shape. The trips that have been the most difficult for me have followed several days of less than adequate sleep. I suspect this is very common. In the days preceding the trips we are busy getting gear ready, planning transportation, wrapping up loose ends at work, coordinating rendevouz with our hiking friends etc. All of this makes it easy miss out on valuable rest. My hardest trip was after a very hectic week of working nights, driving directly to the portal the morning of the hike and setting out tired with no substantial acclimitization. Consider all of the advice you are given, get plenty of rest and good luck on your next attemmpt!

Posted by Above the treeline, 04-09-2003
I agree on the sleep part. Anyone who has been hiking long has their own death hike experience, that almost made them give up hiking. Mine was 11,900 foot Mt, Nebo in Utah, attempted after about 15 hours of sleep in three days. (Thats what you get driving through the night the 1st night and getting up at 2:00 am to head to the mountain on my 3 night in Utah.) We always like to blame our problems on Altitude sickness. It may be just as much fatigue, or dehydration or other endurance issues that make you feel beat. Who ever gets much sleep the few days before you leave or the "night before the big hike" at the Portal? That is why a second night at the portal with a relaxing day and afternoon rest sure helps.

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