I was reading a travel log about La Paz, Bolivia and how some people get very bad altitude sickness when they fly in, as opposed to drive in, as they can take their time and get used to the high altitude.
According to the CDC, altitude sickness generally starts when people go over 7,000 ft (2,133.6 meters). It also says asthmatics, generally don’t have a hard time with altitude, you think they would huh?
Anyway, I thought I’d ask those who travel about their experiences with high altitude places like La Paz; Lhasa, Tibet; Colorado Ski Cities, or others
I do, but I already live at altitude, so it makes no difference.
Years ago, I worked for a company that had a regional meeting at Copper Mountain in Colorado. Copper Mountain is at almost 10,000 feet above sea level, and being that the region was the west region, many were coming from sea level in California. They went from altitude zero to a mile above by plane and then by van to 10,000 feet, all in about four hours. As anyone who has been to these sort of meetings can attest, the first night involves a lot of drinking. High altitude boozing with no acclimatization led to two employees taken to the emergency room and subsequent busing to Denver, plus attendance at the next mornings meetings at less than 50%.
It can be bad, for sure, but if you hydrate and refrain from alcohol for a day or two, things should be just fine.
I think that Litang in the Tibetan part of Sichuan is probably the highest city I drove through (and got off the bus to stagger a few steps to the bathroom and waiting room). It’s at 4,100M or nearly double the elevation you’re quoting. of course it was the middle of winter and butt cold (eg, frozen river cold and permafrost). I had been at least 7,000 feet for a few weeks before transiting Litang and going down a few thousand feet lower. .
The Jiuzhaigou/Huanglongsi airport is only 11311 ft / 3448 m but then almost everyone immediately goes down to hotels at about 2,618 m. You don’t feel that one too badly even though you can fly there from sea level.
The Lhasa Gongar Airport is 12,100 feet/ 3,700 metres. Lhasa city is 11,800 ft / 3,600 m. I remember moving pretty slowly the first couple of days in Lhasa.
16 or 17,000 feet was the highest I ever backpacked. I was sucking serious wind even though I had been acclimating at over 12,000 feet.
Oddly enough, altitude sickness is entirely dependant on how your body processes oxygen. Doesn’t matter how good of shape you are in or if you’re asthmatic. Tibetans, even those not born in Tibet nor ever at altitude, don’t seem to have a problem when they visit to high altitudes.
A lot of people “think” they have altitude sickness. Here’s the benchmark, if you walk 5 steps and feel like throwing up/passing out/head spinning, then you probably have altitude sickness. If you have to stop after speaking every second or third word to take a few breaths before sputtering out a few more words, then you probably have altitude sickness.
I spent a week or so in Quito (9,200 feet) last summer.
It wasn’t that bad (I had been at 2,000 feet for the previous few months and reasonably active, for what it’s worth) but I really did notice the difference, especially in the first couple days when climbing long and steep staircases. I also noticed that alcohol had a stronger effect, though I didn’t drink much. After a week in Quito, I went hiking in Cotopaxi National Park (12,000 feet) with a 50 pound pack and while this wasn’t debilitating, it was a hell of a lot harder than usual. Finally, at about 14,500 feet on the side of Cayambe (the highest point along the equator) I started to get the first effects of altitude sickness and though I pushed on to about 15,000 feet, I couldn’t have gone much higher. The headache, nausea, and blurred vision were really too much to handle, especially while going up slopes that steep.
I’ve spent time in Cusco, Peru, at 11,200 feet, and Quito, Ecuador, at 9,200 feet. While I would not have wanted to go jogging there, I can’t say I felt any serious hardship just walking around. I’ve been to places at 14,000 ft in Peru where just walking was tiring, and running was excruciating.
I spend a week or two every year in Angel Fire, New Mexico. Elevation: 8600 feet.
Sometimes I feel short of breath for about a day or two after arriving. The first night, especially, I have trouble falling asleep because of it.
Leh, Ladakh (3 524m/11 562ft) in the Himalayas. A delapidated bus held together by rope made the 400-odd kms trip from Srinagar during the monsoon season suicidal…I mean…interesting. Narrowly avoided two landslides and a head-on with an army truck. After 26 hours that proved how tenuous life is, and how insignificant we are, Leh offered a special and surprising gift: altitude sickness.
Of course being in one of the most isolated places in the world, and not knowing what altitude sickness was, meant that the headache, nausea and strangely affected balance was a virilent brain tumour.
I’ve lived at 11,200 feet for going on 20 years. We always recommend that visitors spend at least one night in Denver before coming up. We’ve seen a few people (mostly young or old) with altitude sickness. They were just miserable.
I would think that I would have great stamina (my Wife too, she’s a triathlete) down at sea level, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Or I just don’t notice it. Sort of a shame
I’ve been to Cusco, Peru and hiked to Machu Picchu via Salkantay. I did get altitude sickness on the hike. It was at it’s worst the night we camped at our highest altitude, so we didn’t turn back. I was throwing up, had one of the worst headaches I’ve ever had, and couldn’t walk more then 20 feet without having to stop and rest. It got progressively better as we descended the next day.
I landed in La Paz on my way to Santa Cruz a few years ago. We didn’t even get off the plane, but some people did disembark and others boarded. They had oxygen tanks for people who got too light-headed when the plane de-pressurized. I was dizzy, but handled it for the 30 or so minutes we were there.
I tool a trip to Tibet that went to both Lhasa (11,450 feet) and the Everest Base Camp (18,192). Lhasa was okay…I took the train up, so I had some time to adjust. The first couple days I had a light headache and felt a bit dehydrated, but by day three I was pretty much at 100%. The base camp was something else, though. A little 2k jaunt on fairly level ground was a grueling journey. Tiny grades became impossible hills. Even turning over in bed at night could get me a bit out of breath.
I lived most of my life at 7,000’ (Lake Tahoe, NV) and have been to Sana’a, Yemen which is over 7K… I ski at 8-10K with no issues and have been in the mountains near Ouray, CO at 11,500’ also no issue.
We just traveled from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon (7,000 ft). One of our friends suffered a brief bout of what he believes was altitude sickness on the ride. He said it felt like he’d gotten the flu. He thought it was altitude sickness because he’d had a similar occurrence in the Canadian Rockies.