What to Expect When Camping and Hiking at High Altitude

The Cleveland Clinic describes “high altitude” as being 8,000 to 12,000 feet above sea level. And because Sequoia High Sierra Camp sits at an elevation of 8,282 feet above sea level, it can be described as a high-altitude camp. Although it just barely meets the criteria for high altitude, people who have never experienced it before may be surprised to experience how it affects them—at least initially.

Some people don’t experience any major symptoms of altitude sickness at the elevation our camp sits at. However, it’s important to know that there’s a chance you will experience some mild symptoms during your first few hours at camp so that you’re not taken by surprise.

The most common symptom is fatigue and reduced energy levels.

At the elevation of our camp, many people experience no symptoms at all until they begin to perform a strenuous activity, such as hiking or trail running. Because of the reduced oxygen levels at high altitudes, people often find themselves becoming tired more easily than when they are at home or closer to sea level. It’s important to consider this symptom when you first arrive at camp and save more strenuous activities for later in your trip after your body has had time to adjust.

Another common symptom is disrupted sleep.

During your first night at camp, you may find yourself waking up more frequently than normal or having a more difficult time falling asleep. This is due to your body acclimating to thinner air and reduced oxygen levels. Go to bed early on your first night and book activities later on your second day to allow yourself more time in bed to catch up on lost sleep.

Headaches are often reported by people experiencing mild altitude sickness.

Around 12 to 24 hours after arrival at camp, you may feel a headache coming on. People who drive from at or near sea level to reach our camp in a single day may be particularly vulnerable to this symptom and other symptoms of altitude sickness.

Take It Easy on Your First Day to Reduce Symptoms

Mild altitude sickness rarely interferes with people’s ability to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the High Sierra Wilderness. But it can be helpful to take it easy on day one and even part of day two of your trip to avoid symptoms, especially if you or someone in your party is at high risk of altitude sickness.

People who are considered high risk include:

  • People with heart and/or lung conditions
  • Women who are pregnant
  • People who live at or near sea level
  • People who have experienced altitude sickness in the past

How Likely Are You to Develop Altitude Sickness?

The Cleveland Clinic says that around half of all people who travel to elevations of at least 8,000 feet will experience some degree of altitude sickness. That number climbs to 75% of all people who travel to at least 10,000 feet above sea level.

That means that if you’re traveling with your family or a group, some people may experience mild altitude sickness, while others may not. It’s important to be accommodating and considerate of those who do experience it, while also knowing that the mild symptoms typically resolve after just a day or two of acclimation.

How Can You Treat or Prevent Altitude Sickness?

A 2012 study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine found that taking 600 mg of ibuprofen before and during your visit to high altitude can reduce the likelihood of developing altitude sickness by 26%. It also reduces the severity of symptoms in people who do develop altitude sickness.

Other tips for preventing altitude sickness include:

  • Stay hydrated—Drink plenty of water at camp and while hiking.
  • Avoid alcohol—Many people liken altitude sickness to hangovers from drinking, and alcohol consumption can worsen that feeling.
  • Eat plenty of carbs—Carbohydrates are fast and efficient fuel sources for your body, and they can stave off the effects of fatigue and exhaustion associated with altitude sickness.
  • Pay attention to your body—If you feel the effects of altitude sickness coming on, take a break or head back to camp, especially early on in your visit.