Essential Tips High Altitude Camping

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Essential Tips for High Altitude Camping

Knock, Knock, Knocking on Heaven’s Door

For those of you who did not spend your last year Rocky Mountain Way but want to join the Mile High Club through some alpine camping, we here at Campers and Gear are ready to help you out, or should we say up. However, let’s get something straight, this is not your Mom’s camping, that is unless your Mom is Wanda Rutkiewicz, who climbed 8 of the 8,000-meter peaks. No this is serious business that you need to be prepared for.

High altitude camping is generally defined by setting up camp at elevations between 1500 and 3500 meters, with camping at higher elevations being considered very high camping and extremely high camping. Prolonged periods at high elevation can be hard on your body, making it important to be informed and prepared.

Under normal circumstances at high elevations, your breathing becomes more rapid and heavier, you can feel a shortness of breath, have changes in nighttime breathing, and your urination will increase. Symptoms of altitude stress include irritability, nausea, restless sleep, and headache. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) also includes dizziness, fatigue, and can progress into mental confusion and impaired motor skills. Worse case scenarios include high altitude pulmonary and cerebral edema that can be fatal. To be at your best and safest while enjoying high altitude camping follow these important tips:

  • Acclimatize yourself over periods of 1-3 days
  • Start your ascent below your destination elevation and climb no more than 300 meters or 1000 feet per day
  • If you feel the symptoms of altitude sickness coming on, don’t force your way through
  • Remember that the only cure is to descend

Understanding the elements of weather and climate at high altitudes when camping is very important.  During the day, it can be bright and sunny, and that sunlight can make it seem warmer than it is.  However, when the sun sets the temperature will drop rapidly and both day and night can have severe winds.  It is important that you prepare for these factors when considering where to camp and what gear to bring. Here are some other very important tips we recommend:

  • Use established campsites and leave no trace behind
  • Avoid mountain passes that can be wind tunnels
  • Avoid areas where lightning strikes are more likely such as ridges and exposed ground
  • Choose wisely when picking your sleeping bag
  • Expedition and mountaineering tents are best for high altitude camping
  • Layering of clothing is the best approach
  • When climbing on ice use boots with shanks or crampons built for the task
  • Pack an altimeter
  • Carry a personal locator beacon in case of avalanche or other emergencies

There are some important things to understand about cooking, eating, and drinking while camping at high altitudes as well:

  • Wood above the tree-line is scarce so bring your own fuel
  • Use liquid and multi-fuel stoves instead of butane
  • Allow longer times for boiling water because of decreased air pressure
  • Because you urinate more, drink more water
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Carbohydrate-rich foods will help you remain fueled up

Remember that you are literally closer to the sun and that the air is dryer and follow these two important tips:

  • Wear good UV rated protective sunglasses
  • Use high SPF rated sunscreen

And finally, just like you want to camp on a pristine mountain, so does the next guy.  Leaving no trace behind and disposing properly of your waste may not be glamorous but it is the right thing to do.  Explore these helpful tips:

  • When camping at higher elevations pack your own sanitation kit. WAG Bags (Waste Alleviating and Gelling) are portable toilet bags that are odor neutralizing, degradable bags that contain a powder that turns human waste into a stable gel for easy transport
  • At lower elevations without rocky or frozen terrain, a small shovel can be used to bury waste
  • Packing only the essentials limits the trash that you have to descend with

Now that you know, go ahead and get a bird’s eye view, reach for the stars, and be king of the mountain. You’ll find that high altitude camping will take your breath away, figuratively as well that is. So go on and get your high on!

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