'High altitude' is a very attractive words and a cap which many people love to wear... In other to do so, people do crazy things. Its a good sign, but to do it in the right way is the right thing to do.
Few so called The Indian Trekking Community and other big commercial companies suggest to be on Diamox right from Delhi, compromising the entire ethics of the so called High Altitude Trek. For them, Diamox is an aid, just like your trekking pole with the help of which you complete a trek. They make you a failure right from the beginning and instead make their BUSINESS successful. Even then, they have stories of people dying on treks due to High Altitude Medical Problems !! Not once, but many a times !! WHY ??
Starting Diamox from Delhi itself is like walking with your trekking poles in a flat metal road of Delhi !! Apart from creating a medicated bunch of high altitude trekkers, they also create a trekker who fears to venture out alone or in a smaller group !! For them, it works. It increases their business. But for the trekking fraternity - its a failure.
For a base level of understanding of what is Diamox and when does it come to picture, please read the article High Altitude Seriousness first.
MYTH BUSTER - DIAMOX DOES NOT HEAL AMS. IT JUST SPEEDS UP ACCLIMATIZATION BY RELAXING THE LOAD ON THE KIDNEYS, NOT GUARANTEED TO HELP YOU ON TREK. PEOPLE EVEN ON DIAMOX DIE OF HAPE AND HACE. WATER IS RATHER YOUR BEST FRIEND ON HIGH ALTITUDE
From our stand, we believe that mountains are beautiful, but with the beauty also comes the fact that they are high, hard and difficult to climb. Trekking to the mountains is not only about the beauty of it, but also about facing the challenges offered by it. Use your aid, but only after accepting the challenges of the mountain, fighting it out.. you do not know, you might win it. Actually your body IS designed to win over it...?
Thinking inline with Sir Reinhold Messner, who believes using oxygen on mountains lowers the altitude of the mountains you are summiting. Similarly, using a medical aid when its not required lowers the difficulty offered by the trek, terrain and the altitude of the Himalayas.
Don't you think we need to try our miracle body out there in the mountains?? There are many mountaineers in our country who don't even know what Diamox is, but have reached terrific heights on the Himalayas!! Not knowing about Diamox is not good either. However, I wanted to highlight that when our body is tested on high altitude by following all the basic rules of acclimatization, it performs extremely well. So why to start on Diamox before even knowing if you require it or not??
The mighty Himalayas is also about PURITY of ascend.
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. We need to acclimatize well to complete a high altitude trek. Our body is designed to acclimatize naturally.
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 in breathe rate ( hypoxia) We call it breathlessness in laymen terms. We try to breathe more to consume more air. 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!!
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
Excessive hypoxia makes our blood alkaline and our kidneys react immediately by eliminating bicarbonates with the urine to restore the blood pH level. That's why we urinate more in High Altitude. It is here where Diamox come into picture and does its work. It is a diuretic and helps remove excess water and salt from the body, making the blood thinner and hence lowering the blood pressure.
Diamox is a medicine at the end of the day, a chemical drug, which is only to be taken when required. We believe, your medical kit should always contain high altitude medicines when venturing into the Himalayas, namely Diamox, Dexamethasone and Nifidipine. ( What A High Altitude Medicine Kit Should Contain ). However, you need to use it decisively and only if required.
Rather than being on Diamox, and being on false belief that you will acclimatize well, take other very basic mandatory safety measures.
- check your itinerary, do not over exhaust. Trekking in mountains should not be judged by time, distance, etc.
- 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 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.
- 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 and send correct message 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. Protect yourself from cold wind, especially your forehead, tonsils, fingertips, toes, etc. Always cover your forehead.
- Always keep yourself dry.
- 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.
- After reaching campsite, easy out a bit. Do not get into your tents and sleeping bags immediately. Have a light time. 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.
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, and that happens mostly over 5000m ( sleeping altitude, not trekking altitude ). Sleeping is very important at high altitude because that's when you recover, and to sleep well, you might chose to be on Diamox.
Remember, FEAR is a form of advertisement, to build the value of overcoming it, which in return attract more customers to make it a trending style.. However, rate your ventures... Is that actually so HIGH ??
Use your knowledge and common sense, if you need help, consult.