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Re: Training to prep hiking Rocky Mountains coming from sea level

Looking for ideas to train from sea level to hike Rocky Mountains. Anyone know of any good videos? Apps?

9 Replies

I seem to do a majority of my hikes either in Wy, Co, or the Sierra, the one thing I can say with certainty, coming from sea level in VA in enough time to acclimatize, maybe 2-3 days if you can.

Hike up to say, 10K, then sleep low, repeat and/or hang around as long as you can at, say 7-8k, then head out.

Sometimes you get can away with only 1 day acclimatizing, as I do for my WY trips, but I'll stay at right around 10K for the first few days, going slow, drinking a lot of water, getting enough rest, keeping my fingers crossed, lol.

The JMT FB pages deal with this A LOT.  There are also several FB pages dealing with ONLY acclimatization, dealing with primarily the JMT, but great tips for any trip.

Good luck!

REI Member Since 1979

Second what Phil said.  Get yourself in good physical condition, of course, but being in shapeis not the same thing as being acclimatized to altitude.  Time at height is how that happens - climb high, sleep low is good advice.  Good fluid intake is important.

And do acclimatize.  the illness that can occur are no fun at all

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Climbing stair is a great way to build up the muscles and cardio. Something like a 2-3 stories up and down, 15-20 reps (or more!) one or two times a day. Ideally wearing whatever shoes you will be wearing while hiking and along with your backpack with some weight in it. 

I'm not at sea level, but still only live at about 1000 feet elevation which is not really any advantage, when it comes to taking hiking trips to the mountains.

But, having made several trips out there, I can make a few recommendations.  The first is simply doing as much hiking as you can in places with elevation changes before you go to get in shape.

That said, even being in great shape doesn't guarantee you won't be affected by the higher elevations.  When it comes to the elevation in the Rockies, make sure you give yourself a couple days when you get out there to acclimate before doing any major hikes.  And, if you can stay at a lower elevation for a night or two, and then go up to higher elevation for a day hike to adjust that is a good way to adjust to the elevation. 

While hiking allow yourself more time than you normally would for a given distance, stay well hydrated and nourished, and take more frequent breaks.  You will likely notice a shortness of breath, which is normal, but if you start experiencing dizziness, headaches, or nausea you need to descend to s lower elevation as soon as possible to recover; altitude sickness is nothing to mess with. 

Get outdoors, stay safe, and happy trails!
Todd the Hiker

Apart from being aerobically fit there is not too much you can do to prepare until you get there.

Most people don't develop any serious symptoms below about 8000 feet.  You may notice a slight shortage of breath when exerting yourself.  If your plans don't take you above that I wouldn't worry about it too much.  Commercial airliner cabins are kept at the equivalent of 5-8000ft.

If you are going about 8000ft for very long then first thing is to understand altitude sickness.

Plan on acclimatizing for one or two days once you get there before you attempt any major exertions and have an alternate plan if it turns out you are particular sensitive.  You can get a prescription medication, diamoxx,  which can help if you know you are sensitive or as a precaution. Otherwise ibuprofen has been shown to be helpful assuming your health allows you to take it.  

It is very important so stay hydrated because it is much drier in the mountains.  Also sun protection is very important.  The altitude exposes you to much higher levels of UV.

Altitude is no joke, so, cudos for wanting to prepare.   Great tips here so far here.  I'll add ..start drinking water a day or so before your trip.   Also, once on your trip,  listen to Your body and don't be influenced by the group.   Have a plan B (like 2 cars) if you or others in your group need to go back to lower elevation.  Lower elevation is often the Only solution.  Carbs- often overlooked is that your body metabolizes carbs differently at high altitude so carry quick carb snacks always, and be well nourished especially the night prior to a big hike day.   I also carry electrolyte powder or tablets in my pack.  I don't use them always in my water because I drink as much if the water is flavored, but break out the electrolytes when the body feels extra taxed.  

Before the trip, I try an Altitude Training Mask As a bonus you will look super serious about Covid. Day of the trip, I drink LOTS of water prior to flight and through the entire trip. On the trip, I consider an over the counter boost pill.

*I am not a doctor, I cannot confirm that any of this would work or that it is what is right for YOUR specific situation. These are things I have personally done and work for me.

This is not an area of your life where your phone will help you very much.

Hey there! I did quite a bit of high altitude expeditions when I lived in Chile, climbing a few mountains over 20,000 ft high and several over 15,000 ft high. The type of training we used to have was very similar to what Ed Viesturs describes in this article.

As @OldGuyot mentions, each person's body response to altitude depends mostly on genetics, and no amount or type of training can change that. However, the Rockies are not that high (about 14,000 ft), so most likely you won't have any problems, provided that you train for the type of hiking you want to have. Here are a few pointers:

  • First of all, learn to recognize symptoms of pulmonary and brain edema (it's very unlikely that will happen below 10,000 ft high, but you never know). If you have edema, the best/only thing to do is go to lower altitudes a.s.a.p. and get medical help.
  • Don't confuse edema with feeling like crap at higher altitude: headache, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, etc. It usually gets better after one full day and when you're active (e.g. walking).
  • If you're not planning to sleep above 10,000 ft of altitude, you probably don't need to acclimatize. You should be fine hiking as high up as you want and coming back to your camp at lower altitude. If you set up your camp above 10,000 ft, you'll be better taking it easy for at least one day.
  • You need to hydrate more at higher altitudes. As far as I understand, it's because a) shortness of breath makes you lose more water, and b) the blood becomes more acidic and your body adjusts by eliminating the acid through the urine, so you urinate more.

Good luck, and have fun!

Farther. Higher. Longer.