For the past 10 days I have been spending my time acclimating to the altitude that has ranged from sea level to approximately 13,000 feet. Altitude is no joke. Go any where in the world from sea level to 10,000 plus feet and you will quickly discover your body gulping for more oxygen.
For the majority of the past 4 years, I have been swimming in the Pacific Ocean, learning to surf and free dive. It was an incredible experience; one I most relate to as my “happy place.” I wanted another adventure, another challenge and here I find myself at 10,000 feet enjoying another form of paradise.
Upon arrival to Pike National Forest near the Continental Divide, in Colorado, I only needed to take a 20 foot hike to realize I was in a different atmosphere. I arrived in the evening and was able set up my tent before nightfall. It was a beautiful night, filled with bright stars, a view of the Milky Way as the evening made way to a late straggler, a nearly full moon. There's nothing like a sky unpolluted lit up at night with stars.
The very next day I was keen for adventure and wanted to explore around my camp and get in a little exercise. I did a little yoga and animal movement practice and I began my hike. It was obvious that it would take my body a little getting used to the thin air so I kept an even, slow pace and began my ascent. I hiked for about 30-45 minutes in all, and soaked in all the beauties of the mountainous pine and alpine woods. The wild flowers were in full bloom and the scent of pine needles filled the air. It was all that I needed in the moment. That night, I had a slight tension headache, but lots of water and sleep cured it.
In the following days, I hiked reservoirs, old mine claims, followed rivers to waterfalls, saw 1000 year old Bristol Cone Pine trees, and visited one of the highest lakes in North America, Lake Emma. I've been in awe since I've been here and Lake Emma so far has been the crown of my experiences, in both beauty and elevation. I began the hike from Kite Lake, 12,139 ft (3,700 m) and ended at Lake Emma 1.6 miles later with a 629 feet elevation raise. It wasn't the most difficult hike I've done by any means, but there wasn't another hiker on the trail as I took in all the amazing colors from the wild flowers as the sun was setting over the four 14'ers encompassing me (Mt. Democrat: 14,148 ft or 4,312 m, Mt. Cameron: 14,238 or 4,339 m, Mt. Lincoln: 14,286 or 4,354 m, and Mt. Bross: 14,172 or 4,319 m).
At this point, I was above the tree line and the valleys and fields were filled with vibrant, green plant life and every color of flower imaginable. The path followed a small mountain stream coming down from a beautiful waterfall which cascades over the edge of a rocky cliff from the lake and intersects with the remnants of winter snow that never melts up in this altitude. I've been on many hikes, and this was one of the most beautiful landscapes and sceneries I've experienced. I still have plans to summit all four of those 14'ers in one swoop (a total of 9 miles), but for now they wait.
A lot of people warn to take time to acclimate before doing anything too strenuous. I've found that it's good advice but at the same time, every one is different and so is every situation. One day I may feel great and energetic and go hiking and feel fine. Others, from time-to-time may find me gasping for air and a slight headache before bed. The best advice I can give is listen to your body. Try something small if you feel up for adventure and see how you feel. Your body will be able to tell you if you're up for it or not.
Here are my four tips for acclimating to elevation:
1) Listen to your body.
2) Stay hydrated
3) Go slow and easy
4) Start off small and work your way up
It's no fun if you push yourself and get altitude sickness and are laid out for two days. You can't do much hiking like that. Focusing on your breath can be a great practice to compliment your hiking adventures, especially if you are an active hiker. Many yoga breathing practices are useful to get the full capacity out of your lungs and strengthen them while you oxygenate your body. This can make a huge difference and I'd give a lot of credit to my breathing practice for helping me acclimate quickly on this venture.
With my sights set on hiking as many 14'ers I can while here, I see that I still have preparation to do. Every day I'm hiking, biking, exploring and swimming at different intensities and altitudes. I feel more and more comfortable every day and excited for the adventures that await.
Stay tuned as I keep you updated on my raw journies in the Rocky Mountains.
Venture responsibly, live life to the fullest, stay safe and happy trails!
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