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Climbing in Colorado

Hello everyone I'm new here. I'm going to Colorado in July and I want to climb some mountains I'm going to climb Mount Elbert. I need some tips though I've been in Florida all my life and I've never been higher then 5,000 feet. What can I do to get used to the high altitude quickly and what should I bring?I have a backpack and camel back

You need time to get used to the elevation, as in a week.  The longer the better.  You need to realize that the weather in July above 9,000 feet can be terrible in the Rockies.  There are thunderstorms often in the afternoon, lots of wind and plenty of lightning.  You will be above tree line in exposed locations. Lightning is serious. You need the right clothing.  You need to be able to bivouac if you have to and spend the night. You need to be able to navigate situations like fog and low clouds.  You need to be ready for snow, sleet and hail.

Actually it sounds like you have little experience in the Big Mountains.  It might be best to find someone with more experience to go with you.  Find a hiking club in Denver.  Or start by getting some hiking experience at 8,000 feet first.  We want you to come home in one piece Axthony. 

Do not underestimate the challenge you are considering.  Mount Elbert is a big push, regardless there is a trail all the way to the top.  Make sure you have fun, and don't try to do this in too short of a time frame.

Many campers in the south are hammock campers.  Camping at and above tree line offers very few sites for setting up a hammock.  It can be done but you may have to settle for setting up in a boulder field that otherwise does not make for a good camp location.

Many southern campers use alcohol stoves.  Most find this kind of stove a poor match for the cold and breezy conditions you'll encounter in the high Rockies.  Borrow or purchase a canister or white gas stove.  

Ppine touched on the weather considerations.  You asked how to condition for altitude.  Mostly you get in real good aerobic fitness condition, especially your legs.  Find stair flights or stadium steps and work at ascending them at a rapid pace.  But do not descend rapidly - the risk of a down stair fall injury far exceeds any benefit gained engaged in that activity.  When you get where you can do 1000 - 2000' elevation per workout session on stairs, you will have met the minimal preparation to addresses the aerobic riggers of movement at high altitude. 

Everything takes effort at high altitudes for those who visit but otherwise live much lower most of the time.  Even merely walking can take considerable effort.  Physically fit people often find the experience very exhausting, partially due to technique.  You may ask: what is technical about walking?!  What folks don't realize is they are already short of breath just hanging out.  One's pulse at rest up high is considerably quicker than at sea level.  Many cannot get a good night's rest because their body is uncomfortable making due with less oxygen.  Whenever I want to walk or do anything physical, I find starting that activity right off with the deep, full breaths a runner typically makes at mid run helps reduce fatigue.  Failure to start your cardio breathing immediately will result in getting gassed quickly, very quickly!  Another thing to keep in mind is your capacity for exertion will be reduced, so approach all physical activities with diminished expectations and go about your routines at a moderate pace.  All high altitude activities are endurance activities.

Lastly it is very important to be mindful of what the negative impact of high altitude is on your body, and how to minimize this hazard.  There is a group of maladies loosely known as high altitude sickness.  Mostly this results in discomfort; headaches, nausea, swollen hands, lassitude.  But it can get extreme, accompanied by vomiting, loss of coordination, mental confusion.  In severe cases it can be outright dangerous, causing brain swelling and the lungs to flood with fluids.  If you find yourself stricken, stop any physical activity.  Descending to a lower altitude will usually relieve the effects when accompanied by rest, fluids and nourishment.

There are five things one can practice to reduce the likelihood of getting altitude sickness:

  1. Get well rested.  Practically every case of high altitude sickness I witnessed or experienced was preceded by fatigue.  Starting the day with inadequate rest predisposes one to fatigue.
  2. Eat your Wheaties!  Stay well nourished.  Forcing your body to rely on reserves is exhausting.  This is not the time for a low calorie diet.  Trust me, you will lose weight even on a pig out diet while climbing high mountains.
  3. Don't over extend.  This tip has two implications.  Don't set a pace that leads to exhaustion.  Be the tortoise, not the hare!  Likewise don't set an objective that is at or beyond your physical limitations.  Your body will be slow to recover from such exertions, and needs some reserves to stave off the affects of high altitude.
  4. Don't go too high, too fast.  Most people find spending a night or more at moderate altitude helps them cope with moving on to higher elevations.  It is a significant benefit worth the time commitment.  Likewise avoid huge daily gains in elevation.  The general rule of thumb is to limit elevation gains above 8000' to 2000' per day.  This is especially true for altitude newbies coming from sea level. 
  5. Stay well hydrated.  Dehydration is the most common contributing factor to high altitude sickness.  Dehydration will lead to fatigue.  Drink so you pee clear and pee frequently.  It would be a shame to have your trip ruined by such an easy to manage consideration. 


I would spend a couple of nights at 10,000 feet to acclimate and be ready for heavy climbing.

That confusion thing the Ed mentioned can be devastating, don't underestimate how easy it can be to wander off even a very well-marked trail. When first exploring a new altitude, I'd avoid doing it solo until I know how my body handles it. Learning to recognize and deal with that confusion is also easier with another (preferably more experienced and/or acclimated) person. 

A few days of acclimation would be good, a week would be better, and a month best. If you can find a place to stay at 7,000+ ft, even better. 

Drink tons of water, including during any pre-climb acclimation phase. It's not just that dehydration increases the already high levels of fatigue that low oxygen brings with it, it's also that your body needs extra fluids to increase its red-blood cell count, which is how it acclimates.

All that said, I'm a Florida kid turned Colorado mountaineer myself, and I strongly approve of this endeavor!

Heed the advice given, its awesome.

Thanks guys I will need your advice

It took almost 10 hours during our last round trip. Started for Mount Elbert Trailhead. Amazing experience.

September 22, 2020
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