Monday, January 14, 2013

Altitude Sickness

Back in 2010 when I went to go hiking in Yellowstone, I was aware of altitude sickness and wanted to make sure that I didn't have any problems with it. To that end, I made sure to spend several days and nights strolling around in and sleeping at elevations at, or above, 8,000 feet above sea level. This I did before tackling any of the 10K-foot peaks on my hiking list.

During that trip, I never did suffer anything like altitude sickness. Or any kind of problem hiking rugged western peaks. So I figured I was among the lucky who arnen't particularly bothered by high altitude.

Boy, was I wrong!

Apparently my breaking point for suffering symptoms of altitude sickness is about 11,500 feet. Because whenever I'd get to, or break that level in Colorado I'd get sick.

The first time the illness manifested in me was on the hike to see Chasm Lake on the shoulders of Long's Peak, the highest summit in Rocky Mountain National Park. I began to fee queasy not long after we broke the treeline (11,000 feet or so), and began to get really sick the higher we went. My hiking companions soon had to leave me behind because I just couldn't keep up with them. Occasionally one would lag back to take photos and I'd crawl ahead, but they would catch up in due time.

At one point, when I was taking photos of a particularly spectacular view, Andy Kunkle caught up to me and I was quite literally babbling like a complete idiot. He was worried and suggested that I turn around. But I was just at the shelf of rock below Chasm Lake and by Jove I was going to climb on up and see that fucking pond!

And this is why altitude sickness is so freaking dangerous. Your judgment is impaired and you end up doing stupid shit that gets you injured or killed. I could very well have gotten hurt pushing on beyond what were my limits, but I did it anyway. Fortunately, I didn't get any sicker or hurt, but I continued to suffer from altitude sickness for most of the remainder of the trip, finally acclimating to the high elevations at the very end of my vacation.

Standing below this vast peak, like the prow of a ghost ship cutting through the clouds, I was very sick, but not too sick to be struck by the awesome beauty of the place. It was here one of my hiking pals found me babbling like an oxygen-starved diver.

And the big fool says, "Push on."

What I refused to turn back before seeing.

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