We’re all only too aware that when we ascend anything – a staircase for example, the nature of gravity means that we expend far more energy going up it rather than down.
If you enjoy hiking, it’s most likely that, at some point, you’ll be looking to climb steep hills and, perhaps, even mountains so it’s important to be well prepared as hiking at altitude takes a lot more physical and mental exertion.
Be Physically Prepared
It’s no use planning on hiking uphill unless you are in tip-top condition physically and, if you’re going to be carrying a rucksack, it’s even more important that you’re able to cope. The only way to adjust to carrying a heavy pack uphill is to train first. Work out at the gym focusing on cardiac and upper body work, along with strengthening your arm and leg muscles. Then, start practising actually carrying a heavy backpack. Load the rucksack down with bags of sand or some dumbbells and, even if you’re practising around town, try to include one fairly steep incline on your trip.
Up With the Lark
The best time to tackle uphill hikes is first thing in the morning. You should feel refreshed from a good night’s sleep, the air is cooler and you’re able to take more rest breaks as you won’t be fighting to get to your next campsite before nightfall.
Use Trekking Poles
Trekking poles give you the advantage of giving you some lift with your arm muscles instead of simply relying on your leg muscles. They also provide you with extra stability which is particularly important if you were to slip downhill with a heavy rucksack on.
Moving your legs
Avoid long steps, smaller ones are much better. You should be stood erect leaning forward slightly. Go slowly but try not to stop until you reach your next rest break. Step up and flatten the foot while locking the knee. This allows you to rest muscles as you go uphill. Tie your boots in a manner which prevents your toes from hitting the front of your boot with each step as that will become increasingly painful.
Dealing With Altitude
There are two main dangers to consider when hiking at altitude – sun exposure and oxygen deprivation.
Sunburn, which takes half an hour at sea level takes only 6 minutes at 3000 metres. You should wear sunscreen and dress appropriately for this. Even if it’s cool, you should bear in mind that sunburn is occurring rapidly and a wind, no matter even that it feels chilly, will only heighten the effect of the sun. As well as the usual areas you’d normally cover when protecting yourself from the sun, don’t forget the backs of your hands and make sure you wear sunglasses or, better still, wrap around anti-glare sun goggles as sunburn to the eyes can be excruciatingly painful.
Hiker’s reactions to the thinning out of oxygen as they climb ever higher will vary from person to person but it’s usually at around 3,000 metres that most symptoms of oxygen deprivation occur. They can include a headache, stomach comfort, heavy breathing and nausea.
To combat these symptoms hikers should drink more fluids than they feel they need. Where oxygen levels decline, blood tends to thicken making oxygen dispersal in the body less efficient. A couple of litres a day of water may be recommended at sea level but above 5000 metres, you should aim to at least double your intake.
Breathing through the nose is best as breathing through your mouth eliminates more water. Nausea can make you feel that you don’t wish to eat anything but you should conquer that feeling and try to eat more than you’d normally want as your body will have an increasing need for nourishment, the higher you go. High calorie meals are recommended, supplemented with sweets.
Take your time. Whilst logic might dictate that the sooner you get to the top, the sooner you can look forward to the descent, a slower pace with frequent rest stops allows the body time to adjust to declining oxygen levels. Furthermore, it enables you to enjoy the sights on the ascent which is, after all, one of the reasons you probably chose to go hiking at altitude in the first place.