December 16, 2003
High elevation affects your body and influences the weather. It impacts every decision made in planning for a trip: route and clothing chosen, evaluation of fitness and ability, and amount and types of liquid and food consumed.
The effects of altitude are usually felt immediately upon arriving in the mountains. All excercise is harder work at first. Visitors might experience heavy breathing, rapid heartbeat, fatigue, headache, nausea or insomnia. This is normal. In Aspen, each breath takes in only 70 to 80 percent of the oxygen available at sea level.
You can minimize the effects of high altitude by drinking lots of water, avoiding alcohol, eating light, high-carbohydrate meals, increasing physical activity gradually, and rest when tired. After about four or five days, most visitors begin to feel better.
Water loss occurs rapidly when excercising at high altitude. Low humidity and direct sun cause perspiration, a potent combination. While exercising, the movement of air over your body is accelerating water loss from skin. If you are thirsty, dehydration has already begun.
Drink water or sports drinks before, during and after exercising. Try to consume no less than a pint of liquid per hour while excercising. Drink every 15 to 20 minutes even if sensation of thirst is absent. Carry a large water bottle for access to water.
Before setting out, check route descriptions for water or other liquids available on the trail. Refill your bottle and stop often to drink.
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With less atomosphere to filter out the sun’s harmful rays, mountain travelers are more vulnerable to sunburn. There is five times more ultraviolet light here than at sea level. Apply sunblock lotions or wear protective clothing. The intense sunshine can produce withering heat in open areas. At midday it can sap energy, deliver headaches and contribute to dehydration. In hot weather, try to get out in the early morning or late afternoon. And drink lots of water to avoid heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Rocky Mountian weather is notorious for its volatility. Sunny summer mornings are often followed by afternoon showers or thunderstorms producing hail or even snow. Rain can chill the rider or hiker, contributing to hypothermia and can impair visibility. Dirt trails can become slippery.
Start early and adjust your plans to conditions. Always travel with a waterproof, breathable jacket, even on short trips. Rain pants and plastic bags to wear under your shoes are also good insurance for longer trips.
Cool mornings are common even in midsummer. A wind-rain shell adds warmth and can be removed as the day heats up. In other seasons, long sleeves, leggings, and fleece are good. The real danger is cold combined with wetness and/or wind. Hypothermial is loss of heat in the body’s inner core. It affects the functioning of all bodily systems. If unchecked, it can kill.
A landscape of peaks and valleys channels wind in unpredictable ways. It often seems to be blowing from all directions. One trick is to follow the daily up-down air flow. In the early morning, air heats and moves upslope, offering a tail wind. In late afternoon, the air cools moving downslope. Deal with strong headwinds by conserving energy: Settle into an easy pace, keep a low profile on the bike, rest occasionally, and snack on sweet foods.
Always retreat when bad weather threatens. But if caught in a lightening storm, find shelter in a place with cover, in a low but dry spot. A stand of trees of similar heights is good. If you are in the open, crouch down, making yourself small. Distance yourself from any and all metal objects. And always avoid the company of a lone tree or boulder.