By Michael Russell
Summertime is the time when folks want to take to the wilderness. If you are planning a hiking trip into the mountainous areas there are special considerations. One of these is making sure that you are physically fit enough to undertake this sort of trip.
Occasionally travelers who are not accustomed to higher altitudes can experience Altitude Sickness. Another term for this is Mountain Sickness or hypoxia. When you travel in the mountains, you need to be aware that your body needs to work harder to maintain the normal ratios of oxygen in the bloodstream because the air pressure is 30% lower at the higher altitude due to the fact that the atmosphere is less dense. If you are not accustomed to these elevations or have not accustomed your body by gradually acclimating yourself, the results can be serious. Thus it is a good idea to attempt your hiking or climbing trip after you have already spent a day or two in the mountains at a base camp or in the cities, in a relatively restful atmosphere.
Symptoms of altitude sickness begin with fatigue, loss of appetite, sleeplessness and progress to weakness, headache, and sometimes nausea and vomiting. After a few days at higher elevations, the headaches may progress to memory lapses, ringing in the ears, and difficulty in balance and walking. If early symptoms are recognized and treated, the progression of the sickness may not continue any further. Treatment includes rest, fluid ingestion, and pain meds for the headaches. Sleeping pills may make the problem worse and should be avoided. The important of “hydration” or water intake can not be emphasized enough. Drinking plenty of fluids helps to ease most of the symptoms quickly. Getting plenty of rest also is important in any situation when the body is stressed .
The milder form of oxygen deprivation is known as hypoxia, the more severe and life threatening condition is known as pulmonary oedema and /or cerebral oedema. Both of these latter conditions are unusual, yet may become a cause for concern for elderly people with weaker hearts or heart conditions, where the flow of oxygen to the bloodstream is already impaired. This condition can also exist with mountain climbers who have not acclimated their bodies gradually to higher elevations and treatment must be taken immediately. Symptoms include coughing bloody mucous, weakness, shortness of breath, cyanosis, and rapid heat and breathing rates, impaired judgment and even coma. The victim must be evacuated immediately to lower elevations below 5000 feet.
Most of the time these conditions are quite unusual in an ordinary travel situation but if you are planning on doing rock climbing or mountain climbing it is important that you are in good physical health to begin with.
Another important consideration when traveling in wilderness mountain areas is good planning. When you are going into wilderness areas, do not leave an area without alerting someone of where you are going and when you expect to return. Do not wander off willy nilly without taking with you enough supplies to last you at least 48 hours. Even if you are not planning on camping overnight on your hike, emergencies can occur and it is wise to be prepared. Carrying a well equipped backpack is a must. A pack should include basic first aid essentials, energy bars or similar in the way of food, extra clothing and a tarp or emergency thermal blanket, and waterproof matches. Water is most essential and is also the heaviest thing to carry. Two litre bottles are the minimum, and you should obtain water purifying tablets and pack these along with you so that you can purify water from a stream or river if you need to.
Also do not forget the importance of these three words: NEVER TRAVEL ALONE. The buddy system is a must when traveling in the wilderness.
Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Safety