Mount Bierstadt ( elevation 14,065 feet), is the summit of the Chicago Peaks on the front range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. It is accessible from Guanella Pass, which stretches from Georgetown south to Grant, Colorado. This is a gorgeous area, but be prepared. Even if you don’t hike the dog-friendly (on leash) 7.3 mile out-and-back Bierstadt trail from the summit of the pass, you are still at 11,670 feet from the vantage point of my photograph and at risk of altitude sickness, if you’ve come directly from a low altitude within a day. Don’t be deceived – being physically fit has nothing to do with who does or does not get sick.
I’m not a medical professional, but I have been in the position of aiding someone who had a very bad case of altitude sickness. We were in the middle of nowhere and it was very scary. At a time and location like that, you can’t “Google” an answer, since you won’t have an internet connection and more-than-likely won’t even have cell service. So, know what to do ahead of time.
Here’s what I have learned in my research:
To avoid altitude sickness –
- drink extra water and avoid alcohol and caffeine for a few days before your trip and for the first day or two after arriving at the higher altitude
- get plenty of sleep the night before (and if possible, follow the “climb high; sleep low” axiom of sleeping at an altitude 1000 ft. lower than where you were hiking or sight-seeing during the day – especially for the first few days, as altitude sickness quite often doesn’t show up until a day after arrival)
- acclimate to higher altitudes in increments for a few days – so if coming from the desert and into the Rockies, spend the first day in Denver or a similar altitude, then go higher the next day
- if you must go straight to an altitude above 8,000 ft. in one day, make sure to rest, hydrate, not smoke and not drink alcohol on that first day
- eat plenty of carbohydrates (free pass for eating breads, pastas, grains and cereals. Yippie!)
- remedies/aids with mixed opinions include: a high-dose daily intake of vitamin C, ginkgo biloba and lemon water.
If you do experience altitude sickness (trouble sleeping – due to lower air pressure reducing available oxygen intake; headache; fatigue and nausea), take ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, drink lots of water (a tincture with ginger extract drops, will ease nausea), eat some carbs and rest. In extreme cases (symptoms mentioned previously, plus breathing problems, lack of coordination and lethargy to the point of passing out), move to a lower elevation as soon as possible, as life-threatening cerebral or pulmonary edema may be present.
Image registered with the US Library of Congress. Any use requires licensing from Martha Lochert.