Several years ago Beth came across a list of the 10 greatest hikes in the world. At that time we began contemplating a trek along the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu while we are both still physically fit. As I'm sure you are thinking....just how fit do I need to be and I would guess like me, you have read quite a few blog posts about undertaking this venture. When you watch the clips on YouTube of people on the Inca Trail you will be struck by 2 things (1) a lot of them are not in the best of shape and (2) most of them are wheezing. Since you need to book your trip about 6 months in advance you will have time to get yourself more than ready...Tip #1...start walking now. Beth has already done over 300 miles as we get ready for our trip in two weeks. She has used the "map my Run" app and it will keep track of just how far you have gone. Tip #2....if you are over weight ,remember it will be a lot easier going up and down if you dont have to carry extra weight. I suggest looking into a healthy diet/life change like the Paleo approach. A good place to start is by just giving up processed foods and staying on the lower carbohydrate side of macronutrients. What we have been told for years about what is and is not healthy is mostly reversed and the food pyramid is upside down. I dont want to preach so just shop on the outer isles of the store and stay away from boxed foods....it could actually end up saving your life.
One thing everyone is concerned about is AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) and for good reason. AMS is somewhat unpredictable and your level of fitness doesn't really tell you if you will be affected . Being more fit can make the symptoms more tolerable and recovery easier , you can still get sick if you are not careful. To that end, Beth and I went to Colorado last week to hike at altitude as a self test. We flew to Denver and then met friends in Boulder to hike in the Flat Iron mountains for 4 days and reproduce the distance we will be hiking in Peru. While it is not Dead Woman's Pass (13,900 feet) we did get up to 9,000 ft and did 6-9 miles a day without any significant difficulty.
Here are some signs of AMS to watch out for:
- Nausea & cramps; Dizziness
- Loss of appetite
- Shortness of breath
- Disturbed sleep
- General feeling of malaise
- If possible, don't fly or drive to high altitude. Start below 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) and walk up.
- If you do fly or drive, do not overexert yourself or move higher for the first 24 hours.
- If you go above 3,000 metres (10,000 feet), only increase your altitude by 300 metres (1,000 feet) per day, and for every 900 metres (3,000 feet) of elevation gained, take a rest day to acclimatize.
- Climb high and sleep low! You can climb more than 300 metres (1,000 feet) in a day as long as you come back down and sleep at a lower altitude.
- If you begin to show symptoms of moderate altitude sickness, don't go higher until symptoms decrease.
- If symptoms increase, go down, down, down!
- Keep in mind that different people will acclimatize at different rates. Make sure everyone in your party is properly acclimatized before going any higher.
- Stay properly hydrated. Acclimatization is often accompanied by fluid loss, so you need to drink lots of fluids to remain properly hydrated (at least four to six litres per day). Urine output should be copious and clear to pale yellow.
- Take it easy and don't overexert yourself when you first get up to altitude. But, light activity during the day is better than sleeping because respiration decreases during sleep, exacerbating the symptoms.
- Avoid tobacco, alcohol and other depressant drugs including, barbiturates, tranquilizers, sleeping pills and opiates such as dihydro codeine. These further decrease the respiratory drive during sleep resulting in a worsening of symptoms.
- Eat a high calorie diet while at altitude.
- Remember: Acclimatization is inhibited by overexertion, dehydration, and alcohol.