Other Things To Consider
Mountaineering may bring an entire set of circumstances and conditions with it that are not usually encountered with sport climbing. You and your party must be prepared to be able to deal with all of the physical strains that are associated with high-altitude climbing. You might have to plan your climb around minimum-impact camping requirements, group size limits and permit systems in many cases.
At altitudes over 8,000 feet (and as low as 5,000 feet occasionally), the body starts feeling the effects of the atmosphere having decreased amounts of oxygen. High altitude cerebral edema (HACE), high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and acute mountain sickness result from decreased levels of blood oxygen. Altitude illness may strike anybody at any time at any altitude. Individuals who are very fit and spend time getting acclimated are just as at risk as those who are non-acclimated or unfit. Having good luck with altitude previously is also not a good indication of how well you will end up faring on trips in the future. These things make altitude sickness very frustrating.
Symptoms of moderate altitude illness are shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, weakness, headache, irregular breathing while sleeping and difficulty sleeping. More serious HAPE conditions include rattling and coughing sounds in the chest and fluid filling up in the lung in addition to the other symptoms already mentioned. In rarer cases, swelling of the brain, or HACE, shows up as loss of coordination or disorientation as well as milder symptoms. Descending to a lower altitude is the best way to treat all of the symptoms.
Minimizing altitude effects:
If you are moving to a different camp on the same peak or climbing several peaks, the adage for mountaineers is to go down to a lower altitude for sleeping. In other words, “climb high and sleep low.”
Make sure you drink a sufficient amount of fluids. To help prevent altitude sickness it is important to stay properly hydrated. While climbing it can be very helpful to carry a water bag with you that has a drinking tube, since you can drink often without having to stop.
When mountaineering it is just as important to eat properly. Altitude might make you nauseous or suppress your appetite, but eating can reverse these symptoms. To maintain your energy make sure to consume carbohydrates.
Pressure breathing, which is exhaling air forcefully, appears to regulate how much oxygen is in the blood and lungs. It may slow your pace down as well, which may help with decreasing altitude symptoms. Doing pressured breathing and taking measured steps in rhythm can frequently help climbers reach their summits with less problems.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol since they may dehydrate your body.
If you get a headache that does not go away after taking ibuprofen or aspirin, or you get a persistent cough, or feel disoriented, dizzy or nauseous, then go down to a lower altitude.
The information we are providing here is not comprehensive and shouldn’t be taken as a substitute for advice from a qualified wilderness medical professional or physician.
The sport of mountaineering is becoming more and more popular, and as the mountains are becoming more crowded there are more places that are requiring you to obtain a user permit in order to limit human impact and traffic. Advance planning is required for many of the mountains that are climbed frequently to allow for registration and permits. Make sure you contact the right land manager or agency before you prepare to climb.
A majority of climbing parties have at least 2 people. For safety reasons not many climbers go solo. Rope teams climbing on rock are usually 2 individuals, while glacier teams may range from 2 up to 4 people with 3 being the typical number of individuals.
In national parks and wilderness areas, group size is required to be 12 or fewer people. In sensitive subalpine areas party sizes are limited even further to help reduce the impact made on campsites. Group sizes on snow are not as critical, since this sensitive terrain is already protected. The major concerns are waste management and the experience of the other climbers.
Waste removal and sanitation are become problematic on some of the more popular mountaineering routes as there continue to be an increasing number of climbers. Waste doesn’t break down in cold environments and just stay wherever it is left. On Mt.McKinley and Mt. Rainier, among others, a bag system has been implemented by the National Park Service to ensure that human waste isn’t left scattered on the mountain. The ranger station gives climbers blue bags before they start to climb and it is expected for them to clean up as they go. There are certain Mt. Rainier climbing routes that have barrels to deposit the bags in. Then a helicopter carries these barrels off of the mountain. Not all climbs occur inside of national parks obviously, which have the resources and funding to manage waste. It is up to climbers in other area to leave the route clean.