Royal Gorge, Cañon City - CO © Christine Handel
The Rocky Mountains are notorious for taking the breath away, literally. No flatlander wants to be caught flat-footed in the mountains, but few know that the symptoms of altitude sickness can appear as low as 5,280 feet. This is often the case when traveling from sea level to high altitude – especially for those who come unprepared to deal with altitude adjustment.
How many Colorado visitors have you entertained that spent part of the day in bed with a splitting headache? Most are eager to jump in with both feet, but because of the lack of available oxygen at higher altitudes, they do more “gasping” than anything else. The predictable series of declining health conditions (headache, nausea, lethargy) often associated with high altitude acclimatization can lead to a spoiled vacation, leaving everyone with the sinking feeling they’ve been had.
According to a recent study, 50 percent of visitors to Colorado’s mountain resorts experience altitude-related discomforts, such as headache, nausea and lethargy. Many of these folks choose to fore go the activities that drew them to the mountains in the first place: cycling, skiing, shopping, dining, hiking, a wedding dance. This is, more often than not, a disappointing return on a pricey vacation investment, and is damaging to Colorado tourism.
Anyone who lives at high altitude and entertains flatlanders knows the drill and dispenses advice accordingly: “Drink more water. Take it easy. Put the beer down.” But, not all visitors know (nor want) to heed this advice. Especially when they catch their first glimpse of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Be a good host, and share these simple tips with your flatlander guests. You'll all have a better time!
Five easy tips for altitude adjustment
- Drink more water. High altitude and increased sun exposure cause rapid dehydration during the altitude adjustment process, which can lead to headaches.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine, at least for the first day at altitude. Alcohol deprives the brain of oxygen, and both deplete the body of the water it needs to adjust.
- Spend one night at 5,280 before heading to the mountains. A slow ascent is the key to an easy adjustment. Plus, the Mile-High City has a great night life! Show it off!
- Decrease salt and fat, increase carbs. Salt and fat are culprits in water depletion and sluggish metabolism. High altitude may contribute to the body’s depletion of muscle glycogen (AKA, bonk), especially during strenuous activities, and carbs can fix this problem.
- Take adaptogenic herbs. Research has shown that herbs such as ginseng and rhodiola, both used by Tibetan Sherpas for altitude adjustment, might speed up the adjustment process and minimize symptoms such as headache and fatigue. Altigen™, an all-natural herbal remedy formulated by the doctors at Denver’s own YAO Company, contains both these herbs.
Of course, it's always advisable to consult with your medical doctor if you have any condition that might be exacerbated during a visit to high altitude.