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Safely Acclimating to Altitude?

Old 01-17-19, 08:34 AM
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Safely Acclimating to Altitude?

For those who live closer to sea level and travel to the mountains...

I live at 1100 ft.

How long would it take to safely acclimate to 9000 ft atltitude of Silverton, Colorado? How about a four day bikepacking trip which includes several mountain passes - Imogen, Engineers, etc, all above 12,000 ft?

Note that I said "safely." I know it will take a long time to fully acclimate but my primary concern is altitude sickness.

I'm 55, in very good physical condition and rode 7000 miles last year. 4000 ft is probably the limit of what I could find for training within reasonable proximity to Atlanta.

I was thinking of arriving on Friday and driving around in a rental car for two days getting as much altitude as I can and then riding out Monday. This is what I did when I skied in Co but that was back in the 80's and skiing isn't climbing mountains on a bike. A friend got altitude sickness that trip and had eaten a huge, greasy breakfast that morning. Wasn't pretty.

Well, any thoughts would be welcome.


-Tim-

Last edited by TimothyH; 01-17-19 at 08:38 AM.
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Old 01-17-19, 10:17 AM
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I used to backpack between 10,000 and 13,000 feet when I was in my 20s. Lived at about 1000 feet above MSL. We usually found that as long as we made sure we ate as much as we should be eating even if we were not hungary, that was one important thing that kept us from getting sick. Another was sleeping at high altitude before we started hiking gave us several extra hours of acclimation. Regarding the food, several of us often found that we were not as hungry as we should be, but one of the group learned that skipping a meal was a good way to get sick soon after. We were eating light weight camping food, thus not much fat in it, mostly carbs.

Now that I am three times as old as I was when I did that backpacking I find that acclimation takes about three times longer.

I watch my heart rate to make sure that I am not overdoing things because if my brain says that I can climb a hill in a certain gear at a certain cadence just like a similar hill elsewhere, when I am at high altitude I need to be much more careful that I am not over-exerting myself. I do not have heart problems, I use the HRM the same way I used a tachometer in my truck, it was a way to see how hard the engine was working.

Regarding your plans, you said drive around at altitude, but I would add that you should sleep at altitude too, not just spend the daytime up higher. And pace yourself to make sure you are not over-exerting.

When I rode the Glacier Waterton loop, there were a few times on the route between Waterton and East Glacier when my heart rate monitor indicated that I was over my max, so I stopped for about 5 minutes until my rate was much lower.

Have a great trip.
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Old 01-17-19, 10:29 AM
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A day (full 24 hours) is probably enough, two is plenty, as long as you understand you're going to be slower. Don't push to maintain the pace you'd normally expect; simply be OK with moving slowly.
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Old 01-17-19, 10:33 AM
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On the Water

One of my friend's mother, a long term smoker , was on O2 , towing the tank around in CO.. moved to the Salton basin in Southernmost Cal
@ 200' below sea level she got to dispense with the supplemental rank..

Its the Oxygen you loose in proportion to the air density..

so hanging out in town a few days and being un ashamed to get off and walk the bike when you breathe too rapidly & heart rare is elevated



I had a couple get off and push hills in the Scottish Highlands.. on tour (50th birthday trip)



Now2 decades later in a town built on pilings and then filled in.. .. dredging keeps the shipping channel deep enough for shipping @ high slack tide..




....

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Old 01-17-19, 10:39 AM
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I used to go west to race, Durango and the C Springs area as well. I always did my best when I flew out the day before the event from 900 feet above sea level. The times where I went a week before to acclimate just didn't work out for me, the cumulative effect of mild hypoxia beforehand seemed to be a hindrance. For the trip you describe, there's not enough time to acclimate, it's going to take a while to make more red blood cells. I used to know a calculation that involved the altitude and how many days it would take to acclimatize. For the area around Durango I'm thinking it was 6500 feet or so; I know Molas Pass (on the way to Silverton for the Iron Horse) is 11,000. In my experience and opinion that's going to take between 30 to 45 days. Your body has some short term ways to help in the meantime, like a faster heart rate with a slightly reduced stroke volume. If you're healthy, don't have any cardiac/BP issues and are fit, get there as close to the start time as you can and let it rip.

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Old 01-17-19, 10:43 AM
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Hmm... probably not something to worry too much about (10 000ft), Unless you are very susceptible to altitude sickness. You may want to read this wikipedia page to get an idea. I would venture to say that if you ride to such elevation, you probably will acclimatize as you go. Just take it easy on days where you climb more than, say 3 000ft (1 000 meters). If you fly from sea level to high altitude and ride intensely from the get go, you probably want to speak to your doctor in order to learn a bit more about symptoms (be able to make the critical distinction between mild ones such as excessive farting, and serious ones such as edema) prevention and treatment.
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Old 01-17-19, 10:50 AM
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Originally Posted by TimothyH
For those who live closer to sea level and travel to the mountains...

I live at 1100 ft.

How long would it take to safely acclimate to 9000 ft atltitude of Silverton, Colorado? How about a four day bikepacking trip which includes several mountain passes - Imogen, Engineers, etc, all above 12,000 ft?

Note that I said "safely." I know it will take a long time to fully acclimate but my primary concern is altitude sickness.

I'm 55, in very good physical condition and rode 7000 miles last year. 4000 ft is probably the limit of what I could find for training within reasonable proximity to Atlanta.

I was thinking of arriving on Friday and driving around in a rental car for two days getting as much altitude as I can and then riding out Monday. This is what I did when I skied in Co but that was back in the 80's and skiing isn't climbing mountains on a bike. A friend got altitude sickness that trip and had eaten a huge, greasy breakfast that morning. Wasn't pretty.

Well, any thoughts would be welcome.


-Tim-
All I can suggest is the suggestions you’ll find on-line in many places. I can’t tell you from my personal experience since I’ve lived above 4000 feet my entire life but the information you’ll find on-line is pretty standard and we’ve used it many times for friends and relatives when they visit. Drink more water than you really think necessary. Don’t go with just water bottles. A Camelbak will encourage you to drink more and you’ll have more water with you.

Be well versed in the symptoms of altitude sickness...headache, mild nausea, shortness of breath (although you are going to have that any way), etc. If the symptoms worsen you could be headed towards high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). Both are life threatening.

It’s best if you have a companion so that you can check on each other but if you are going solo, don’t be afraid to turn around and head to lower altitude if you have to. Altitude sickness isn’t something you can just “push through”.

One final note on water, the area you are going to is heavily mined. Some of the water sources you’ll find are mine drainage and, as such, can be contaminated. A water filter won’t remove the possible heavy metals either. Just be aware of your water source. Just because the water is colorless doesn’t mean that it is clean.
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Old 01-17-19, 10:58 AM
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I have lived in Wyoming since 1990 - anywhere from 5000 to 7500 ft.
Ridden and hiked much higher.

I've encounter many people from low altitudes who get altitude sickness.
Once sick, the ONLY cure I know of is to go to lower altitude.
So the idea is not to get altitude sickness in the first place.

1) Gradual altitude increase and 2) time are the best methods.
Thus, better to take a train than a plane to Denver.
(There is the scenic Durango & Silverton train to Silverton - - )

Arriving where? Denver? Durango?
Denver is at 5280 ft; Durango is 6500. Big difference.
Silverton is at 9300 with uphill from there.
(I've toured with full load over many of the dirt passes there.)

If Denver, I would drive south on I-25 and then west on US 160 for a gradual climb.
(US 285 or I-70 puts you pretty high, pretty fast.)
If Durango, maybe head west to Mesa Verde N.P. and the cliff houses.
Or lower, south to Aztec N.M. and the ancient Puebloan ruins there.

Alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine can jump-start altitude sickness. I'd avoid all.
Also, drink plenty of water and consider one aspirin per 12 hours.
Good food & good sleep always help.

Best - J
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Old 01-17-19, 11:10 AM
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I was out in central CO about 18mo ago and I could ride gravel the same way I usually do on the afternoon of day 3. We stayed at 7200'. My gravel rides were between 6800' and 8000'.
Im not nearly as Herculean as you though, Timmy.

If you arent feeling up for riding, rent a downhill MTB at a ski resort and dont pedal at all! We did that for a day and the highest starting point was 11,800' which was incredible! I think I pedaled 20 times for the entire day. Incredible workout and experience as an alternative.
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Old 01-17-19, 01:45 PM
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Alright. I'm much more at ease with this.

Melancholics always waiting for the other shoe to drop and planning for worst case scenarios.

Still in the planning stages and might not even happen but I'm seriously considering this.

Thanks fellas!


-Tim-
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Old 01-17-19, 05:30 PM
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When i was forty, I started out from sea level, San Diego, and rode to Silverton, and on over Red Mountain. I didn't have any problem. If you ride a lot of hills before you go, you shouldn't have a problem.
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Old 01-17-19, 09:12 PM
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I am 56 years old and very enthusiastic about bicycling but not too serious about it if that makes sense. I love riding, but don't feel a need to go fast everywhere I go. I mention that for a reason.

Let me back track a bit. I live below sea level in NOLA. I ride out in Colorado almost every summer and most of that riding is done between 8000 and 12000 feet. I have never had altitude sickness. I do get the altitoots. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-a...atus_expulsion That's about the extent of it for me. BUT, I do not sprint, attack or otherwise overexert myself. I did that few times when I first went out west. It was a mistake. I lost my lungs, and it was without warning. I went from "I'm fine" to "oh crap, I can't breathe" very quickly. It's pretty unsettling feeling like you are breathing through a straw. I can go long and steady out there, but can't do interval or burst kind of stuff. I do feel like after 4-5 days my lungs have adjusted some. Even if I stay out there for a few weeks, I never get into the kind of condition where I can go full out on a sprint without shortness of breath. That probably speaks to my conditioning though.

Reading some of your posts here. You are probably more serious about going fast than I am, and I'd just say use caution. High altitude affects us all differently. When you get out there, take a moment run a moderate 20 yard dash and see what that does to you. You'll learn a bit about your lungs from doing so. Beyond that know and pay attention to the signs of altitude sickness and have a response plan if you start getting symptoms. Do the trip brother, just do it. It will prove to be a life defining trip for you. Riding the Rockies is a spiritual experience.

Stop for food in Ouray. Eat cannelloni at the Bon Ton and a steak at the Outlaw. The Bon Ton's cannelloni is the best on the planet. The Outlaw grills a darned good steak and it has a pretty cool atmosphere. The whole town revolves around off road riding of some sort.
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Old 01-17-19, 09:34 PM
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I live a little above sea level, and flew to Switzerland when I was 48 for a bike holiday. I began at about 400 metres, slowly headed uphill for a couple of days, and then began to ascend a 2100 metre mountain pass. Although I did not suffer from altitude sickness, I reached a point that my leg muscles refused to work. On Day 4 or 5, I checked into a hotel and rested for almost a week before I could continue. My legs simply couldn't deliver power to the pedals.

My big mistake: trying to do too much too quickly. Had I rested for one or two days after my first day of climbing, my guess is that I would have been OK.

That's the trip I learned to take it slow when engaged in endurance activities at high altitudes!
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Old 01-17-19, 10:10 PM
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When I was in my early teens I lived at 500 feet and backpacked at 8000-10500 feet, sometimes passing over saddles and summits that were higher. The first night at 9000+ we would notice headaches (including my father who was in his 40s at the time.

Later I moved to 4500 feet and would still backpack at 8000-10000 feet, and the first night I would experience a headache.

Now I'm 50, and I live at 5000 feet. We Popup Trailer camp now and when I'm over 8000 feet I sometimes get a headache the first night. The kids do too.

In each of these cases the headache passes. And the next few days it's just a matter of getting used to the thinner air. I don't think in a week's time your body can really get used to the thinner air at 9500 feet, for example. You can function just fine, but next to the guy who trains at that elevation daily you're going to struggle (all other things being equal). But to function at 90% of normal, a day or two.

Elevation sickness with worse symptoms than just a first day headache can be dangerous, and can sometimes only be relieved by coming down below 7000 feet again. Some people are just more sensitive to it than others, and some people will be more sensitive this year and less next. It's hard to predict. But it is sort of different from just having that first day headache, and less common at 8000-10000 feet. It becomes progressively more common at higher elevations. At 20000 feet nobody's going to last long before they have to come back down. This is why Everest expeditions maintain camps below the summit where they are less likely to suffer elevation sickness.
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Old 01-17-19, 11:09 PM
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Depends on one's fitness, IMO.

In my mid 20s, I was extremely fit (cardiovascular, strength). I found that a day or two of acclimation was generally necessary at the 10Kft level, somewhat less if at the ~8Kft level, and not really necessary (for me) below <6Kft or so.

In my mid-40s, I found that a zero-acclimation attempt of a modest hike at 8Kft was a serious strain. I suspect that it would have been far easier had I had a couple days' of acclimation preceding the hike. Had to go much, much slower than I'd anticipated. (Though, it's an apples-to-oranges comparison, given the levels of fitness in question.)

That said ...

If you've got the time, I'd suggest coming a couple days ahead of time, for anything high-exertion in the ~10Kft (+/-) range. Allows for proper prep, recovery from the travel, shopping, whatever.
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Old 01-17-19, 11:13 PM
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Thank you all, and especially you Paul, for this enthusiastic, lucid and encouraging post.

I've copied and pasted this to my notes.

Originally Posted by Paul Barnard
I am 56 years old and very enthusiastic about bicycling but not too serious about it if that makes sense. I love riding, but don't feel a need to go fast everywhere I go. I mention that for a reason.

Let me back track a bit. I live below sea level in NOLA. I ride out in Colorado almost every summer and most of that riding is done between 8000 and 12000 feet. I have never had altitude sickness. I do get the altitoots. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-a...atus_expulsion That's about the extent of it for me. BUT, I do not sprint, attack or otherwise overexert myself. I did that few times when I first went out west. It was a mistake. I lost my lungs, and it was without warning. I went from "I'm fine" to "oh crap, I can't breathe" very quickly. It's pretty unsettling feeling like you are breathing through a straw. I can go long and steady out there, but can't do interval or burst kind of stuff. I do feel like after 4-5 days my lungs have adjusted some. Even if I stay out there for a few weeks, I never get into the kind of condition where I can go full out on a sprint without shortness of breath. That probably speaks to my conditioning though.

Reading some of your posts here. You are probably more serious about going fast than I am, and I'd just say use caution. High altitude affects us all differently. When you get out there, take a moment run a moderate 20 yard dash and see what that does to you. You'll learn a bit about your lungs from doing so. Beyond that know and pay attention to the signs of altitude sickness and have a response plan if you start getting symptoms. Do the trip brother, just do it. It will prove to be a life defining trip for you. Riding the Rockies is a spiritual experience.

Stop for food in Ouray. Eat cannelloni at the Bon Ton and a steak at the Outlaw. The Bon Ton's cannelloni is the best on the planet. The Outlaw grills a darned good steak and it has a pretty cool atmosphere. The whole town revolves around off road riding of some sort.
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Old 01-17-19, 11:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Paul Barnard
Do the trip brother, just do it. It will prove to be a life defining trip for you. Riding the Rockies is a spiritual experience.
.
I believe you said that right. 😎 I came out here for physical therapy, and ended up stronger, in more ways than one. 🙂
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Old 01-18-19, 03:09 AM
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"THE ALTI-TOOTS!!!!!!" Thank you, Paul Barnard, for explaining THAT........

I've never done any cycling at altitude but have done 7 week-plus long backpacking trips to the northern Rockies since I hit 50. Myself and all my companions live at less than 100 ft above sea level but are all pretty fit riders. We always spend 1 night acclimating before hitting the trail, either in Pinedale WY (7200 ft), Cooke City MT (7600 ft) or Red Lodge MT (5600 ft) before heading up to 10,000-12,200 for the actual week on foot. Mild headaches and lack of appetite have been the usual symptoms, along with them toots, but only for a day or so. I think the acclimation time does help. Myself, I experience frequent awakenings and hilariously vivid dreams the first night above 10k, but am OK subsequent nights.

One year we had a friend along who was the only non-cyclist, and he was really sucking air compared to the rest of us, so aerobic fitness helps. The same trip, the most experienced among us inexplicably got woozy and passed out at dinner in Red Lodge and dislocated his shoulder. Got it popped back in at the local clinic, put on his pack in the morning, and was GTG for the week.

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Old 01-18-19, 07:06 AM
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One of the cool unintended benefits of riding out west is that when you come back home and ride, for the first few days you feel like you are riding on high octane.
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Old 01-18-19, 09:50 AM
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I spent a week driving back and forth over the Continental Divide on I70 last year for work. I wasn't doing much physical, took me about a day to feel normal. Never encountered any serious symptoms, just noticed a bit of short breaths that first day. Probably helped we landed in Denver and drove up to the 9500' or so we were staying at.
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Old 01-18-19, 03:16 PM
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Not trying to convince you or anything.





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Old 01-18-19, 03:43 PM
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but you do -- where was it?
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Old 01-18-19, 08:22 PM
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Cycling in Peru and Bolivia a year and a half ago, I had to make sure to stay safe at altitude. A lot of the Altiplano is close to 4000m (~13,200ft) though the highest point I cycled was in photo below at 4528m (14,856ft).

The general guidance was "sleep low, climb high" and once one was at a spot of adjusting to pace to a level not much more than +300m (1000ft) per night. I wondered at what point to let that kick in, but figured from past experience including growing up in CO and a lot of hiking and backpacking - I wasn't personally concerned below 12000ft (3650m).

I started at sea level in Peru but then also spent a few days in Arequipa at 2300m (7600ft) before starting the Altiplano. Less about acclimatizing and more about taking advantage of the 2nd largest city in Peru to take care of things. From there it was essentially three and a half days before I reached the photo below.
* The first day wasn't much, just to town of Yura 2590m (8500ft) because it was last place I was certain to find a place to stay indoors.
* The second day was largest amount of climbing - in this case up to 4000m (13,200ft) where I slept near a toll booth on the road. I felt fine even though had wondered previously if it made sense to make less climb.
* The third day was a climb up to Imata at 4450m (14,603ft). That night I could definitely feel the altitude. It wasn't quite a full headache but did feel it just a bit in my head.
* The fourth day, included the photo below and then slight descent.

I spent the following three weeks all in excess of 3500m (11500ft) with one minor exception (down to Tupiza and then back up) and never noticed any headache type symptoms. I was winded just slightly more if there was a 6% grade or so, but nothing serious.

The highest I've been before that was Taglang La Pass 5328m (17,480ft). That was on the Manali to Leh Highway in India We had originally planned on cycling that distance but ended up on the bus for other reasons. That was definitely noticeable even walking the short distance outside the bus as a tourist.

I do think cycling at altitude does take more - though you often also have chances to work up to the higher altitudes. Everyone seems to have slightly different levels at which it really kicks in and after which you need to be much more careful in adjusting. As I mentioned previously, I didn't notice that much in guests we had visiting us in Summit County (9000ft) but I'd expect the thresholds to start kicking in for more people after 10,000ft.
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Old 01-18-19, 08:54 PM
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Originally Posted by gauvins
but you do -- where was it?
Crested Butte CO.
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Old 01-18-19, 09:23 PM
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Not to hijack the OPs thread but I have had similar concerns. But I am going to be much lower. 3800 feet. My problem is no chance to acclimate. I will be going from pretty much sea level to that altitude in a day. I realize it is not that high but again I have never ridden that high before. I will be 60 at the time. In better shape than most people my age, but not as good as some.

Since I don't know what to expect I will likely keep that day short maybe 28 miles. I just checked and I live at ~1000 feet. Thought it was much lower. So I am guessing a 2800 feet gain is no big deal? I am not too worried about altitude sickness, been light plane many times at 9-10K feet with no issues. I am more concerned about performance.

If I do OK there I might try higher one day, Maybe the Ice Fields Parkway which is also not that awful high. So how many days should I give myself for a place like that?
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