Acclimatization and Its Rules
Acclimatization is the process in which an individual body copes up and adjusts to the change in its environment. The various factors of the environment change may be cold, heat, altitude from sea level, atmospheric pressure, etc. It allows the body to remain normal and maintain performance across a range of environmental conditions.
Acclimatization is the only better answer to High Altitude Conditions and not other chemical aids and medicines. We need to acclimatize well to complete a high altitude trek in a true sense and not be on medicines to do so. Our body is a miracle machine, and IS designed to acclimatize naturally.
We need to accept the true challenges of the Himalayas. Nothing unbeatable, but requires a systematic approach. Our summiters of Stok Kangri, who previously trekked on diamox with other groups, feels that they have 'TRUELY' summitted the 6153 meter peak by trekking without diamox and following a natural acclimatization course. They feel so complete and are positively motivated. Those who didnt know about diamox did not bother itself.So its just a mental block. Mountaineering is not always about success, but more about the journey and doing it like a purist. Its also about failures and learning from it or improving your physical / mental abilities rather than depending upon chemical aids.
How Do Human Body Acclimatize To High Altitude ?
With increase in altitude, the atmospheric pressure decreases which gives more space to the air molecules and the oxygen molecules goes far apart from each other. This results is low oxygen molecule per breath. Our body detects that and responds by increasing the breathing rate ( hypoxia) We call it breathlessness in laymen terms. We try to breathe more to consume more air. The process of breathing more reduces the concentration of Carbondioxide in our blood, which results in increasing the pH of our blood, thus making our blood alkaline and our body urinates more to re-acidify the blood by excreting bicarbonates. ( Diamox enhances this process which is given to patients with kidney problems )
On the other hand, the body increases the Hemoglobin count in our blood which are the oxygen carriers to hold more oxygen molecules in our blood. This process thickens our blood and hence our heart now need to pump thicker blood to the extreme organs, which further results in increased blood pressure. So a slight increased blood pressure and pulse rate in the high altitude is normal.
Acclimatization is a process which takes time depending on the individual body. Few acclimatize faster, whereas few take little more time. There are two kinds of acclimatization - Shorter and Longer. Longer acclimatization might take long time. The approximate formula is the altitude in kilometers multiplied by 11.6 days. So to acclimatize for a normal trek that goes up to 4000 meters, it might take 4 X 11.6 = 46 days!!
To our relief, our body is a miracle machine and adjusts very well, if given the time and proper processes are followed.
3 rules of Acclimatization
Acclimatization has 3 rules, which if followed, maximum acclimatization can be achieved.
- Climb High Sleep Low
- Slow Ascend, Do Not Over Exert
- Hydrate Hydrate and Hydrate
13 Ways to Acclimatize Naturally
- check your itinerary, do not over exhaust. Trekking in mountains should not be judged by time, distance, etc. Its not about achieving someting.Its to enjoy your time and be closer to the nature, witness its magical charm.
- walk slow on approach days, even if you can walk faster. That allows your body the time required to adjust to the new extreme environment.
- check your group size. Smaller groups allows to strengthen the safety measures and increase individual attention.
- bring a well hydrated body to the mountains. Start hydrating your body well before leaving your home, may be 2 - 3 days before you leave. A fit person always stays hydrated.
- do not consume high concentrated alcohol drinks 2 - 3 days before heading to the mountains, also while on treks, refrain from drinking hard drinks. Too much coffee isn't too good as well. Water, ORS, and other re-hydrating drinks are the best.
- do not cover yourself fully. Lets your sense organs sense the actual conditions outside and send correct messages to your brain to work it out for you. Allow your skin to feel the cold. Your ears are pressure and cold sensors. Keep that open while gaining altitude, unless there is a cold blizzard blowing.
- don't keep thinking about your body - let it do its work. You enjoy the nature.
- Don't be too brave and take no protection at all. Protect yourself from cold wind, especially your forehead, tonsils, fingertips, toes, etc. Always cover your forehead.
- Always keep yourself dry and retain the body heat.
- Get proper sleep. Its the most important thing. Its when your body recovers and prepares for the next day/ altitude. If there is anything that is disturbing your sleep, resolve that or bring that to immediate notice to your team mates and team leader.
- Ensure proper blood circulation. Enhance blood circulation by taking hot garlic soups, raw garlic, remaining active, but not by exerting too much.
- After reaching campsite, ease out a bit. Do not get into your tents and sleeping bags immediately. Have a light time. Explore the place. Go for acclimatization walks. If you have not followed "climb high sleep low" during the day's trek, do that now. Climb a bit higher which will be complimented with better views of the surrounding. Play games, discuss on topics, do some photography, or engage yourself in other interesting things. If you are feeling dizzy, or exhausted, take rest and let everyone know of your discomfort or lack of energy in putting that extra effort.
- Eat light but full. Consume less spicy foods and foods which are easy to digest.
When To Use Diamox
Finally, use Diamox, when you see that even after taking all these measures, your body is still lagging behind in acclimatizing to that high altitude. Take Diamox when periodic breathing does not let you sleep comfortably. (Not because of cold, but irregular breathing ) That happens mostly over 5000m ( sleeping altitude, not trekking altitude ). Sleeping is very important at high altitude because that's when you recover. Do not consume sleeping pills.