31 Jul 2018
High Altitude Tips
One thing that many guests notice when they reach the Mammoth Lakes area is the high altitude. Because for everyone from the ultra-active to the exercise-averse, being at 7,800 above sea level (and that’s just the town) is bound to have some effects.
For most people, the transition isn’t too uncomfortable. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, sluggishness, and minor headaches. But every once in a while, we do have cases of more serious altitude sickness*, which can really put a damper on a vacation or, worse, lead to health complications.
First of all, what is going on at high altitude?
The higher up you get into the mountains, you may notice that the air has a crisper, thinner quality, and that’s because there is less oxygen at higher elevations. Within a few hours to a day, you will go through an adjustment phase, in which your body will figure out how to get back to normal. This stage is crucial, and the necessary steps to ensure a healthy transition may not be obvious.
So whether you’re a marathon runner or consider yourself to be more of a comfort enthusiast, here is a quick guide to ensure that altitude doesn’t catch you off-guard.
Give yourself time to acclimate.
Even as a lifelong local, I’ve made the mistake of trying to jump back into my previous exercise routine my first day back after a few months away. Not fifteen minutes into the intense kickboxing workout, I found myself being guided to a chair while I struggled not to faint. I may have been embarrassed at the time, but I realized how foolish it was to expect my body to adjust immediately to the lack of oxygen at high altitude.
And, it might be frustrating. You’ve probably been looking forward to this trip for some time. You only have a set time limit to do all the activities you want to do. But trust me. It’s way better to listen to your body and ease into your activities so that you don’t hit a wall early on.
Wear plenty of sunscreen.
Another consequence of the air being thinner at high altitude is that UV rays are stronger. In comparison, the air at sea level works as a kind of filter of light, so that you’re not directly exposed to the sun’s rays. In Mammoth, on the other hand, you’ll be much more prone to sunburn because the thin air doesn’t provide the same buffer.
Make sure, then, to wear plenty of sunscreen and a good pair of sunglasses. You’ll also see most locals sporting hats to help with glare.
You may be surprised to find out that high altitude also means dry, dry conditions. And, in most ways, that’s a good thing. Mammoth’s dry climate makes for great snow, beautiful summers, and a diverse ecosystem. But it also poses some unique challenges in terms of staying hydrated.
Without getting too technical, it’s helpful to know the three ways that high elevation strips you of hydration. To begin, at high altitude, your body produces twice the amount of water through breathing and sweating than it does at sea level. At the same time, low air pressure leads to quicker evaporation of moisture off of the skin. And, finally, the high risk of sunburn means that your skin might not be absorbing moisture normally.
Obviously, the best response is to drink way more water than you usually would. This can be tricky advice for folks to remember, especially because our mild temperatures don’t exactly remind us that we need to drink more water. So, get ahead of dehydration by always carrying a water bottle and reminding your loved ones to continually drink water.
You’ll also notice that most locals always have fragrance-free lotion at hand, as well as aloe vera gel to soothe sunburns.
Last, and most importantly: be patient with yourself.
We can’t stress this point enough. If you want to make the most of your trip, you’ll need to take the time you need to adjust, take special care to prevent dehydration and sunburn, and take every opportunity to rest.
If you follow these steps, you’ll be setting yourself up for a safe, fun-filled vacation in Mammoth!
*Altitude sickness can range from mild to life-threatening. If you notice someone exhibiting severe symptoms such as disorientation, fainting, and tightness in the muscles and chest, you should consult a doctor right away.