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Training for altitude
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Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Training for altitude on 08/28/2008 15:19:12 MDT Print View

There seems to be a number of forum members who are interested in starting forums specific to training and fitness. Since we currently lack separate forums for these topics, I propose that training related topics go into this forum (as part of "technique"), and nutrition related topics go into the already existing Food, Hydration and Nutrition forum.

So my first training related question is what, if anything, can I do training-wise to prepare for altitudes I will encounter on the JMT. I have ~ one year to get ready, and I can't train at altitude. I know that increasing my VO2 Max is a good start, but are there any other specific tricks for flat-landers??

Edited by retropump on 08/28/2008 15:19:58 MDT.

Casey Bowden
(clbowden) - MLife

Locale: Berkeley Hills
Training for altitude on 08/28/2008 16:57:25 MDT Print View


If you start the JMT at the north end (Yosemite Valley) you will have plenty of time to acclimate before reaching the high passes. As an added benefit, it's much easier to get a permit leaving the valley floor than Whitney Portal. Just get in good shape and don't worry about the altitude.

Edited by clbowden on 08/28/2008 16:58:02 MDT.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Training for altitude on 08/28/2008 17:40:16 MDT Print View

Hi Casey

That's pretty much the plan already. I'm just a little concerned because I'm already very prone to migraines, and I understand that being at unaccustomed elevations can wreak havoc with migraine sufferers. That could totally ruin our trip! I doubt there is really much I can do to prevent this if it's my fate, unless I can train at altitude or simulate altitude. I know the JMT is not THAT high in the overall scheme of things, but maybe high enough to trigger my stupid head into rebelling!

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Re: Training for altitude on 08/28/2008 17:58:43 MDT Print View

Hi Allison,
A good way to minimize your chances of having problems with altitude is to arrive a few days early and gradually acclimatize. There are several campsites down in the Owens Valley at ~6700' in the Lee Vining area. You could camp there and day hike up in Tuolumne Meadows at an elevation of ~8500' for 2-3 days then sleep lower back down in the valley. It's a time tested way of acclimatizing, and Tuolumne is a beautiful place to spend a day or two. Good luck on your JMT hike.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Training for altitude on 08/28/2008 18:00:06 MDT Print View

Not that I am an expert by any means, but I don't think there's much you can do to "train" for altitude this far ahead.

I just came back from a summit up Mt. Whitney last week (14,500') -- and I think these four easy steps are probably all that you need:

1. Take it easy. I find that camping out the first night -- prior to any actual hiking -- really helped.

2. Take it easy. I find that starting off the day by purposely hiking slower than my usual pace -- concentrating on setting and sustaining a rhythm in both breathing and stride -- really helped prepare me for a long day's hike without much fatigue at all. In contrast, the past times when I started off too fast and failing to set a proper rhythm -- all the rest of the day was one endless struggle of stop and go!

3. Take an aspirin (or your favorite painkiller) at the first sign of headache (if you get one). As with breathing and stride, managing/stopping the first signs of discomfort goes a very long way to preventing pain/fatigue/shortness of breath, etc. from getting out of hand.

4. No need to overdo it, but be sure to take in plenty of food and water.

Hope this helps.

Edited by ben2world on 08/28/2008 18:01:52 MDT.

Nia Schmald
(nschmald) - MLife
Re: Training for altitude on 08/28/2008 18:37:01 MDT Print View

Nothing unusual that I know of. Well there is one method, but it will cost you.

You're right on with pushing V02 Max. Best way I know is high intensity interval training mixed with longer duration (.5 - 1 hour) runs.

Now if I could only follow my own advice. :)

As far as drugs go, I have had better luck with motion sickness medicines for nipping a migraine in the bud before it gets started. Stugeron (generic is cinnarazine) is the one I use.

Edited by nschmald on 08/28/2008 18:39:58 MDT.

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Training for altitude on 08/28/2008 18:57:35 MDT Print View

Right, Nia. I also understand the triptans (such as Imigran) are very good for altitude triggered migraines. I've also come across Viagra as being helpful for several altitude related problems (NO, not THAT problem).

I am better at the HI intervals than the running, but I can do longer duration biking. I suppose it's better than nothing!

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Training for altitude on 08/28/2008 20:06:54 MDT Print View

Allison, Nia,

So what was all that complaining about talking about training and fitness in the forums if you're going to go ahead and do it anyway? Seems to fill up the Last 50 Posts just as much this way as if a dedicated Training and Fitness forum were set up. Fie! ;-)

I don't think regular training for altitude can be done unless you live at altitude. You can get the benefit of strengthening your body with workouts at altitude, though, by regularly visiting the mountains, and you seem to already be doing that in NZ. As others have said taking a few days to acclimatize will bring your system around. But that would apply in NZ, too, no?

MIgraines are a real bummer, aren't they? I used to get them all the time, but for some reason they stopped about ten years ago. Does it help to be careful about the food you eat? (Oops, now I have to switch to the Food forum, right? :-D Sorry, just had to get that in...)

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: Training for altitude on 08/28/2008 20:18:44 MDT Print View

I'm dreadfully sorry to have cluttered up your last 50 posts, but in the forums current format that would have happened no matter which forum I posted in.

Training at altitude is not so easy in NZ unless you are into mountaineering. Most of the area above ~8,000ft are difficult to access and difficult to climb mountains. They appear higher because they mostly rise straight from sea level to the top, unlike the Sierras. This must be similar in Japan? Most of the easily accessible hiking is below 6000ft. There are many stretches of the JMT that are higher than the highest mountain in NZ (if I DID decide to take up mountaineering). I will just do as everyone advises and be as fit as I can, and acclimatise slowly from Yosemite southwards....and maybe carry some Viagra! Oi!

I can't answer your question about food and migraines as you correctly surmised. You'll have to raise that one in the nutrition forum LOL. But seriously, I mostly know which foods to avoid (especially red wine), but for me the most important prevention is to avoid dehydration. That's a real killer for me.

nathan frisch
(nathanfrisch) - F

Locale: Southern Appalacians
Training for altitude on 08/28/2008 21:03:27 MDT Print View

Get a prescription for Diamox (Acetazolamide) from your doctor before you go. It is known to successfully combat the symptoms of altitude sickness. My girlfriend did this since we are leaving for the Peruvian Andes on Sunday. I am allergic to Sulfa drugs, so my doctor recommended that I use Ginkgo Biloba as an alternative treatment for altitude related problems.

Max Hoagland
(maxhoagland) - F
Pee on 08/28/2008 21:30:19 MDT Print View

My comment would be NOT to take any painkillers because in some instances they increase the effects of dehydration, they also (obviously) mask aches and pains in your body that could indicate dehydration.

Also, make sure you always pee clear! Solution for everything: drink enough so your pee is clear. This is especially important when you are changing your elevation. The only time it's okay for your pee not to be clear is in the morning. It's hard to monitor the color of urine when you are in the woods because all your pee isn't collecting in a nice toilet bowl. I usually pee in my platypus and hold it up to the a light to make sure it's clear.

PS I forgot to mention that a nurse told me that herbs and medication work, but what works more is the water you drink with them. I was prescribed the medication (acetazolamide) but she told me it only is for severe symptoms.

Edited by maxhoagland on 08/28/2008 21:48:18 MDT.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Pee for Fitness! on 08/28/2008 22:08:36 MDT Print View

I usually pee in my platypus and hold it up to the a light to make sure it's clear.

Gak! I certainly hope you don't also drink out of that platypus, too! At least you get a "golden light" every morning even on rainy days!;-P

Though from the discussion the other day about Survivorman I wonder if there are some people here who might actually welcome it!

I've always found that my migraines usually started up after a lack of hydration and a lack of sleep. They always started with a ring of starlike lights in my eyes.

Allison, the mountains here in Japan are very similar to those in New Zealand. (I guess that's why so many historical movies about older Japan are filmed in New Zealand, though the vegetation is all wrong). Must all the walks be mountaineering? What about some of the tramping tracks like the Milford or Ruahine area? Don't they get you to at least about 2,000 meters? Not super high, but at least some altitude. Or maybe New Zealand mountains are just a lot wilder than those in Japan?

Edited by butuki on 08/28/2008 22:09:31 MDT.

Nia Schmald
(nschmald) - MLife
Re: Re: Training for altitude on 08/29/2008 00:22:43 MDT Print View

Hi Miguel,

Actually I don't think I did complain about cluttering up the forums. I misunderstood the OP that he wanted BPL staff to cover fitness training. And I also complained about the poor usability of BPL forum software which I just did again here.

(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
Training for altitude on 08/29/2008 15:57:28 MDT Print View

On your flight, ride in one of the wheel wells, instead of riding in the pressurized cabin, to acclimatize to the thin air. It's cheaper, too.

Denis Hazlewood
(redleader) - MLife

Locale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
Re:Wheel well transportation on 09/02/2008 20:01:51 MDT Print View

Do wear a warm hat!

Lynn Tramper
(retropump) - F

Locale: The Antipodes of La Coruna
Re: Re: altitude training on 09/02/2008 20:54:11 MDT Print View

I don't see how the wheel well method would work. I thought I needed to do many hours of aerobic exercise of many days to aclimatise. How much aerobic exercise could I get in a wheel well, unless you count shivering to keep warm as aerobic??

Miguel, I agree hydration is critical (at any altitude!). As for high places, the higest thing I've done this year was 1870m (6135 ft). The highest point on the Milford is only 1069m, and the highest mountain in the ruahines is 1733m. Hardly thin air material. Anything much above that is getting into mountaineering terrain and permanent glaciers, which is not my cup of tea. In my youth I climbed Mt Aspiring (3080), Mt Earnslaw (2890) and Jagged Peak (2705), but they all require crampons and ice axes and other things that I no longer want to engage in (like 3am starts). Oh well, I will just rely on good general hiking fitness and aclimatise as I go.

Chris Wheeler
(ChrisW) - MLife

Locale: Stratford, Ontario
Re: Training for altitude on 10/26/2008 11:42:31 MDT Print View

Allision I had serious altitude problems when I fist hiked the JMT three years ago, but I fell in love with that area of California and decided I would do as much as possible for my trip back their the following year. My problems were headaches and waking up in the middle of the night convinced I was drowning.

I live a few hours from Toronto, Canada at an altitude of 1000 ft, in very flat farm land, and until going to the Sierra's I had only backpacked to a maximum of 8000ft. Training at altitude was just not an option for me.

As others have stated the headaches were easily solved thru altitude acclimatization and drinking extra water, I now make a point of drinking 3/4 Litre of water at mid day break, as well as my normal water consumption along with Acetaminophen.

Next I spoke to my doctor who ran blood tests, and ECG, and chest x-ray, all showed negative results. The MD thought it might be an allergy and gave me a puffer, but that also has shown to be negative.

I changed by arobic exercises, I had been doing Interval training on the cross trainer for 1 hour, I stepped this up by decreasing the time to 20-30 minutes but increased by maximium heart rate to 220 - age, I only reach this very high rate for a few seconds on the up interval and try to drop my heart rate by 30 beats in the down interval. I find this rather extreme exercise easier on the stationary bike.

A few more things I changed although they aren't related to training. I now take Ginko biloba twice a day at 60ml. Mountain climbers have had some success with Ginko and in Canada it does not require a prescription. I start the pill 2 weeks before the trip and continue to the trip is over.

I raised my head when sleeping by making my pillow much bigger. I now put the empty pack under the head of the Thermarest, and the pillow a Mount-Bell UL propped up by my clothing stuff sack velcroed to the mattress. The inflatable pillow is tied to the mattress by its front holes. I also take an extra hour for sleep to help with the altitude.

On my last trip on the JMT, I did an altitude acclimatization hike of a week. I did an easy hike through the Emigrant Wilderness area and kept the altitude below 10000 ft.

The night before doing the JMT this year I slept at Horseshoe meadows at an altitude of 10000 ft, and experienced very mild symptoms compared to my first night three years ago which was also at HM. I hope this long post helps.