Ordinary trekking holidays present enough of a challenge but when you throw some high altitudes into the mix, things start to get seriously tough. High altitude trekking holidays involve more thorough preparation and a greater physical test that you have to be able to meet.
So, exactly what should you expect when setting off on high altitude trekking holidays and what do you do if you encounter some of the difficulties you might face?
The physical demands
It might seem obvious but it’s worth stating that high altitude trekking comes with some increased physical demands in terms of gradients, lack of facilities and difficult terrain. You are more likely to encounter poor weather and cold temperatures and it will all be harder work because the air you breath has less oxygen in it.
While trekking is an inclusive sport, anyone suffering from cardiac issues or other health problems should always speak to their tour operator and doctor before booking to see if the trek is suitable for them.
This can be slightly confusing as one man’s Everest is another man’s gentle stroll. Putting all subjectivity to one side, trek gradings should give you a general idea of what to expect regardless of your ability and fitness, so it is always worth asking.
Gradings do differ as there is no standardised system but on the whole they will be divided into four categories: easy, moderate, strenuous and challenging. These will range from casual trekking that more or less anyone can take on in the easy section, to physically demanding, high altitude treks above 4,000 metres.
The effects of altitude
Generally speaking, altitudes of under 3,000 meters won’t have too many noticeable effects, but once you get above this height that starts to change. For some people the effects will be very mild, including shortness of breath, general discomfort and a dull headache.
Other people can suffer more serious symptoms such as nausea, migraines, swollen limbs, severe difficulty breathing and dizziness. If this happens then the only way to recover is to descend to a lower altitude.
The best way to cope with altitude sickness is to take it slowly, don’t rush and try to trek high up and sleep low down if possible. Drink as much water as you can, as much as six litres a day, which will help to relieve headaches. Try not to take any medication as this can act as a sedative and be potentially dangerous at high altitudes.
The most important thing to remember on high altitude trekking holidays is to listen to your guide and accept their decision as final. No matter how fit or experienced you are, altitude can do funny things to people (including impairing judgement) and your guide will always know the best course of action. And remember altitude affects different people in different ways some much more seriously than others.
Where to go on high altitude trekking holidays
With mountains on every continent there are high altitude trekking holidays to be had all over the world. Some popular choices include the Himalayas in Nepal, India, Tibet and Bhutan, Mount Kilimanjaro the highest point in Africa, The Inca Trail in Peru, climbing Mont Blanc in Europe and trekking in the Alps of Europe and the Southern Alps of New Zealand.
Despite all the difficulties you may encounter high altitude trekking holidays are really worth the effort. The obstacles and conditions might be tougher but then the rewards are equally great. Not only will you get majestic views, but the feeling of achievement at the end of your trek will be incredible. And after all, isn’t that what trekking is all about?