Earlier this year I successfully summited Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous US, after almost exactly one year to the week that I had to give up on a previous attempt due to acute mountain sickness (AMS), or altitude sickness. Thankfully I didn’t have any issues or symptoms of AMS this time round because of several factors that I’ll go into here shortly.
I’d like to thank each and every one of you that over the past year has left a comment of encouragement on my blog, sent me an email, mentioned me in a tweet, or reached out to me via Facebook. I read each and every message that I get and do my best to respond to every one, but wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you for all the kind words – it means so much to me and helps more than you can imagine.
AMS – Doing Things Differently
As I mentioned, this was my second attempt at summiting Mount Whitney and I had already decided that regardless of the outcome it was going to be my last. That spurred me on to take this a little more seriously and make plans to combat the symptoms of AMS in as many ways as I could.
I was convinced that on my last trip to Whitney I did not consume anywhere near enough water each day, so one of the first things I did differently this time was to stay fully hydrated. Being dehydrated during any hike can be a bad thing, but once you bring high elevation, heat, and a strenuous hike into it play it can become very serious. There were plenty of reliable water sources along the trail, so I really had no excuse not to be fully hydrated at all times. Everyone is different and has different hydration needs, but I had set myself the goal of drinking at least 4 liters of water per day and I stuck to it.
Overall Fitness & Health
A few months before my trip to Mt. Whitney, I had participated in a team endurance event called a GORUCK Challenge (GRC), which is modelled after the military’s special operations training. To get in shape and prepare for the event I had trained hard for 5-6 months increasing my running distance, lifting weight, and starting a daily crossfit work out regime. By the time of the GRC I had dropped 30 lbs, lost six inches on my waist, gained a lot of muscle, and significantly increased my stamina and endurance.
I successfully completed the GRC #192 on June 29th and vowed to maintain that same level of fitness going forward in order to be in shape for my Whitney trip. With an extra three months of physical training between my GRC and the Whitney hike I was in much better shape than I was at the same time last year. Good livin’ as we say in the GORUCK family.
Despite being in better shape than last year, or probably even since college, I wanted to leave nothing to chance, so I made a point of talking to my GP during my annual physical about the AMS symptoms I had experienced last year and whether or not he would recommend trying Diamox (Acetazolamide) to combat AMS. I was unfamiliar with Diamox as a medication for AMS until someone left a comment on my previous Whitney blog post suggesting I look into it – another reason why my readers are awesome.
My doctor reminded me that although I was in much better shape than before and had vowed to hydrate properly, AMS can strike even the most healthy of people. He agreed to prescribe me a 5-day low dosage of Diamox for my hike. The tablets were to be take twice a day at elevations starting the day before the hike. I almost laughed out loud when I read the list of potential side effects, there was one in particular that was very well documented – Diamox was a diuretic! Another reason to make sure that I was hydrating properly.
Drink Supplements (Acli-Mate)
Finally, I had some cool new drink supplements called Acli-Mate that were said to be able to help reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness if taken three times a day starting at least three days before being at altitude. Knowing I was going to be doing a lot of drinking on this trip, I thought that it couldn’t hurt to add some flavor to my water at the very least. So I took the packets with me and used them three times a day to supplement my drinking and really enjoyed all of the flavors except mountain grape – yuck!
I’d like to give a huge shout out to Glen Van Peski and the rest of the Gossamer Gear gang (Grant, Dave and Michael) for providing me with the packets of Acli-Mate for my trip to Mt. Whitney. We were all at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City together in August and toward the last day of the show they spotted the Acli-Mate booth giving out drink samples and selling the packets. Intrigued and curious, they very thoughtfully bought some of the packets to try and knowing that I would be going to Whitney that same month, gave me as many as I needed for my trip – they’re all really cool guys.
Having successfully summited Mt. Whitney after a four-pronged approach to tackling AMS, I found myself unable to determine exactly which one thing had the most impact on combating my symptoms. If I had to guess I’d say it was the medication, followed closely by proper hydration, but can’t say for certain. I strongly believe that all of the things I did differently helped in their own way and the cumulative effect was the complete lack of symptoms – either way I’m extremely happy with the outcome.
Stay tuned for a follow up post on some of the cool new gear that I got to test out during my recent Whitney trip. Oh the things I do in the name of blogging – gotta love it :)