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Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Climb High, Sleep Low

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Our trek to Everest base camp began at Lukla, situated in the Khumbu Valley of Nepal at slightly more than 9,000 feet altitude above sea level. This is the usual jumping off point for a hike from the Nepal side into the Everest region, unless you come from the Tibet side or originate your journey in Kathmandu.

Understanding that it's not uncommon to see manifestations of acute mountain sickness (headaches, fatigue, nausea, poor sleeping) or high altitude pulmonary edema, which is a form of fluid in the lungs (shortness of breath, decreased exercise tolerance, cough, low grade fever) at altitudes as low as 8000 feet above sea level, we were very aware of how fast we ascended, and our sleeping altitude. Many people show their susceptibility to high altitude illness in their sleeping patterns, with disturbed sleep being a manifestation of a poor breathing response to low concentration of oxygen in the thinner air at high altitude.

So, we were careful to sleep at the lowest altitude that was practical for our journey, and to never ascend more than 1000 feet a day. If anyone felt poorly in a way that might represent high altitude illness, we slowed the pace of hiking and ascent, and considered the need to stay at that altitude for an extra day, or even descend if the symptoms were severe or appeared to be worsening. Fortunately, everyone was in good shape, and our group only suffered a few headaches and one episode of moderate mountain sickness.


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Tags: Climbing High

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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