High-altitude acclimatization in mountains - tips for beginners

Safety measures in Mountains, at high altitudes, are written by lives those who will never descend from these snowy peaks. Annually, due to the absence of the high-altitude acclimatization, people die all over the world…we boldly recommend to read this article till the end, it will take you a few time.

The highest point of the Pamir is the peak Kongur, 7620 meters. His height is far from Kilimanjaro but an accident happened just on the mark of 4500-5500 meters.

A group of climbers from Moscow, arriving to the foot of the mountain, began an ascent. Reaching 700 meters on the first day, they made camp at the high mark of 3400 meters (above Baltic sea level). The second day was hot and the group was continuing climbing up and gained the mark of 4200 meters. On the third day the effect of altitude acclimatization began but there was no one to complain, everyone was accused to the discomfort. During the third overnight they made camp almost on 5000 meters and one of participant of the group felt himself bad, he had symptoms of colds and he was taken down with a friend. Towards the end of the fourth day they made a decision to set up for the night earlier, and gaining 5400 meters, the group made camp and early in the morning they had started the summiting.

But the group had to leave a camp much more earlier and go not up, as they planned, but down. Approximately at 20.00 o’clock one of participants felt sick and after a few hours he lost consciousness. The patient was given all necessary injections, the night passed in preparation for the evacuation and without waiting for the dawn, the group began the descent. All climbers know that the altitude loss, which for all forces were spent yesterday, is the best cure for who lost consciousness.

The group worked to the point of exhaustion but it could not move as fast as they wanted, it was too hard to do. It was 40 hours after the first moment of altitude sickness symptoms, but their friend died. Medicals said that the reason leading to the death was a cerebral edema that was a consequence of… an insufficient training of dead man. Though he was a sportsman, he often went to skiing trips, before a mounting climbing he ran 10-12 km every day and he was almost the strongest in the group. But remembering the ascent speed we can understand the real reasons of the tragedy. There are people who assure that they cannot reach the altitude. But did most of them do the correct acclimatization on the height to tell a verdict about their possibilities’ limits? Maybe the strengths limit is not counted in meters but in days that you can spend for the climb and acclimatization?


The acclimatization

The mountain acclimatization can be conventionally divided into two phases: short-term and long-term adaptation.

Short-term adaptation is a quick response of the organism to the hypoxia as like to extreme conditions for compensation of the disbalance of deviations of the organism. The body's reaction happens immediately while decreasing amount of oxygen in the arterial blood. Respiratory rate, pulse and the level of hemoglobin increase in the blood. In the early stages there has been a redistribution of blood in the organism, an increase of cerebral blood flow that is the main reason of a headache during the climb. In this stage of the acclimatization the low blood supply of other organs disturbs thermoregulation of the organism, increases the sensitivity to effects of cold and infectious diseases. But at the same time the noradrenaline occurs and gives to the organism short-term adaptation mechanisms, though they are effective only for a short time. And exactly due to “extreme acclimatization” the most of climbers are able to conquer the top of Kilimanjaro, but it is a really big risk.

If you decide clearly that you have to conquer safely the summit of Kilimanjaro, in the name of all the Altezza Travel team we would strongly recommend 9-10 days climbing programs (7-8 days in the mountains). Because more than 25% of climbers do not reach the top of Kilimanjaro in the reason of the absence of the high-altitude acclimatization, but tour operators do not say about it… The good acclimatization could reduce this percent to 2-3% or less. I quote one of the European alpinists who climbed Kilimanjaro in 2012:

 "When I was reading a guidebook which said that there was a walking route and every healthy man could do it, and I could not understand why annually 12 000 people could not conquer the highest point of Africa? Now, looking backwards, I understand that most of those tourists went “for free”, they bought “the cheapest” equipment and chose the route for 5 or 6 days climbing, clinging to the description of touristic companies, but this is a big height and I have personally seen how tens of people were on their knees, unable to go further … I have seen people suffering from the altitude sickness in high-altitude camp, I have seen people evacuated from the summit. They saved nothing. If you have money to come back for the second attempt, so maybe it is better to pay a little bit more now than go home with unpleasant recollections? It is true, you get as much, as you pay"

If all expeditions had climbed Kilimanjaro on a program which provides altitude adaptation and gaining an altitude, we would never read these reports where climbers describe dizziness, nausea, sleepiness, powerlessness and other diseases.

Short-term or “extreme” phase of acclimatization -ends on 7-10th day and passes in long-term one when your organism has finally adapted to altitude.

The long-term adaptation strategy consists of algorithms removal of our organism from transportation of oxygen to its utilization, to save available resources. The blood system undergoes a whole series of changes. In the stage of the long-term acclimatization the number of erythrocytes in blood and the content of hemoglobin increase that extends their oxygen absorption capacity. Except the hemoglobin (HbА), fetal hemoglobin is produced too, which can join O2 at a lower proportional to the oxygen pressure that is so necessary in the mountains.


High-altitude experience

After many trips to the mountains, your organism produces a kind of “adaptation memory” for the adaptive reactions to altitude. Exactly due to it, next climb to the mountains, your organs and systems adapt to hypoxia. A new phenomenon appears.

The record of such “prints” or “memory” about altitude can be found on different levels and in many structures of the organism and first of all in the control system. During the second visit of the mountain areas climbers adapt much faster to the total effect of climatic factors and training load that increase the duration of “strong” acclimatization we discussed earlier.


Healthy nutrition

What exactly give normal or high level of hemoglobin for climbing in the mountains? As my feelings it softens first days at the altitude. Isn't that enough? One month before traveling the consumption of iron in your ration should be decreased by following products: 

  • high in iron: meat, leaver (especially of beef). From the meat the body obtains 6% of iron, from eggs and fish twice as low and only 0,2% from plants;
  • apples, spinach, currants, juices, mushrooms;
  • beans, hazelnuts, chocolate; 
  • buckwheat, oatmeal;
  • rye-bread;
  • notice the effect of tea and coffee. The tannin in tea and coffee holds an iron and doesn’t let it to be absorbed, don’t drink tea or coffee immediately after food;
  • specific additives that contain a medicament iron (the main requirement is a folic acid and cyanocobalamin).

We can recommend:

  • Gemohelper (iron concentrate and complex of essential amino acids)
  • Ferrum Lek (chew pills)
  • Fenyuls (capsules).


What conclusions should be done?

High-altitude cannot appear earlier than at the time measured by nature. The point of the good acclimatization is the correct time estimation that needs for the adaptation of your body to the safety altitude gaining. You should not overestimate your strengths, be at high-risk and shoes short climbing programs. If you do not have altitude experience and this is your first climb, so we strongly recommended 9-day Lemosho program (7 days in mountains + 2 days in the hotel before and after climbing). On this route you will have the most convenient way of the altitude gaining for the safety ascent to the top! It should be noted that all our groups have got oxygen systems, pulse oximeters and daily medical examinations, guides will always take control over your health and help you in every complicated situation!