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Which place to camp the first night to prevent AMS?

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Which place to camp the first night to prevent AMS?

Postby GunnyJC » Thu Jun 30, 2011 3:46 am

We are all flying into Las Vegas from areas that are approx 1000 ft elevation and then driving thru Death Valley to Lone Pine to get our permits for the Cottonwood Pass trail (already reserved) which we plan to take up into Miter Basin & hopefully bag a couple of summits in that area. We can (hopefully) find a spot at the Horseshoe Meadows trailhead (9900 ft) or we can stay that first night in a campsite I have reserved at the Whitney Portal Campground (8000 ft). I've not had much issue with altitude sickness, but the other three people in the party have never been in alpine conditions. We have all been taking ginko biloba now for a few days to help prevent altitude sickness as well. Which place to camp the first night to lessen the chance of someone getting sick? Does it even make a difference?
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Re: Which place to camp the first night to prevent AMS?

Postby Pulpit » Thu Jun 30, 2011 7:22 am

I like the Big Pine Creek campground, personally, but it sounds like that would be a bit out of your way. It sits at about 7700' I think. We stayed there 2 nights the last 2 trips to the Eastern Sierra and did some daypack hiking around the area on our stay that really helped with the acclimatization.

The first time I hiked in the High Sierra was out of Tuolumne Meadows. We were a little too cavalier regarding altitude. Our idea of acclimatising was to drive from San Diego, stay in Mammoth for a night to break up the drive and drink with the locals. I was right on the edge of AMS after hiking 10 miles up to 10,000 the next day, to the point where I couldn't even tie a knot to string up my hammock.
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Re: Which place to camp the first night to prevent AMS?

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Jun 30, 2011 7:41 am

Hard to say- it is an individual thing. The safer bet would be the lower campsite. I thought there was a free BLM campground on the valley floor just before you started up the switchbacks to Whitney Portal. If you go to Cottonwood, it would be best to just rest there- do not try to do any exercise and move very slowly at first. I am OK first night at high altitude if I just take it easy - never over exert and eat easy-to-digest food like soup. I also take Advil as a preventatitve measure the first day and night. And no booze! Herbal tea works well to sooth the digestive system. Are you going to start hiking the next day? I think here is where problems may start. Take it really easy at first. For me the key is never to get really out of breath the first two days - slow down the pace to the point of crawling if you have to. Another trick is to not eat any hard to digest food for a few days before your trip. Meat and fats are harder to digest than carbs. And skip the spicy stuff.
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Re: Which place to camp the first night to prevent AMS?

Postby Mike McGuire » Thu Jun 30, 2011 9:07 am

Hydration is really important to minimize AMS. The air at altitude is really dry and you lose a lot more than you think just walking around. If you wait to drink until you feel thirsty, you waited too long. Have and use a hydration system, e.g. Camel Back.

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Re: Which place to camp the first night to prevent AMS?

Postby kpeter » Thu Jun 30, 2011 11:11 am

My body agrees with Mike, though Wandering Daisy makes some excellent points I also agree with. I need to hydrate--a lot. I think most people are used to working out at lower elevations that are hotter and more humid. When they do they sweat a lot and this keeps them drinking. Hiking in the Sierras is usually cooler, breezier, and drier and more comfortable--thus many people forget to keep drinking. At one point I did.

I found I needed to drink whether thirsty or not. You can also monitor urine color to determine if you are behind in your hydration. If you fall behind, guzzle a liter.

Another tip, if you have a tendency to low blood pressure, as I do, it also helps to take in a little extra salt before your first day. Will help you retain water, keep blood pressure up, and reduce lightheadedness.
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Re: Which place to camp the first night to prevent AMS?

Postby gary c. » Thu Jun 30, 2011 11:46 am

If you can get a site a Horseshoe Meadow that is what I would try to do first. That first night before your hike the higher the better for acclimation as far as I'm concerned. It is a bit of a drive if you have to doubleback to the Portal but at least you know you will have a reserved site waiting for you, especially if you are going this weekend. The Horseshoe camp is pretty big but considering that this weekend is a holiday and also the trout opener weekend for the Golden Trout Wilderness there are going to be a lot of people up there.
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Re: Which place to camp the first night to prevent AMS?

Postby maverick » Thu Jun 30, 2011 12:07 pm

Water intake, and taking things slowly as others have mentioned is very important.
Also just as important, is knowing the symptoms of AMS, and what to do in case you
or someone else in your party starts showing the symptoms, so that you can act
immediately.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acute_Mountain_Sickness
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Re: Which place to camp the first night to prevent AMS?

Postby rlown » Thu Jun 30, 2011 1:02 pm

I do notice the reduction and color of my urine when I go. I force myself to drink a quart of water at regular stops, whether thirsty or not. I also throw electrolyte tabs into my camelback before we leave the campsite where we acclimatize. I tend towards Excedrin on the first night. Advil at the next campsite after hiking.

I've had it at 8800' on one trip. (note: pizza is not a great food for the night before). For me, it takes 2 days to really get into the zone for hiking. Some in my group have had symptoms, mostly sleep disturbance. Slow is a given, or your problems get worse.

I'd stay as high as possible the first night.

Thanks for posting the symptoms link, Mav.
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Re: Which place to camp the first night to prevent AMS?

Postby quentinc » Thu Jun 30, 2011 3:24 pm

Agree that it's completely different from person to person, so it's hard to predict. Like Russ and others, personally I'd camp as high as possible. It may not be legal given the date of your permit, but if there are no camp spots you could also hike in about 1/4 of a mile and camp the first night (and then head back to your car in the morning to pack everything up for the real trip). It's flat and pleasantly forested for the first couple of miles or so of the hike. The permit date wouldn't matter to me, but I don't want to be seen as an agent of insurrection. :)

I would think before any severe symptoms started, you'd notice tiredness and shortness of breath, which is obviously a sign to take things slow, but maybe that's not always the case? I've luckily never experienced anything more than that. The only bad thing I've experienced with camping too high the first night (when I come from sea level in the a.m.) is waking up frequently gasping for breath. I think that's because your body hasn't fully adjusted yet to the fact that there's less oxygen and it needs to breath more deeply or often. It's not a pleasant phenomenon. I've only had that camping at 12+ though.
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Re: Which place to camp the first night to prevent AMS?

Postby Mike M. » Thu Jun 30, 2011 5:10 pm

Acclimating is highly individual -- it's hard to predict how your body will react. For me the key is to take it easy the first day and drink lots of water. I believe what many people perceive to be altitude sickness is actually a general feeling of lousiness caused by dehydration. So, be sure to drink ample water. If you do feel like you are suffering from the altitude, don't push it. Stop, hydrate, take a couple of aspirins or Advils, camp for the night.

There is ample space for camping at Horseshoe Meadows. Sites aren't very attractive, but you're right at the trailhead. There's also a walk-in campground for backpackers, but we preferred the car camping sites because they allowed us to more easily sort gear, etc.

If I were you and concerned about acclimating, I would camp at Horseshoe Meadows the night before your hike, then make an easy day of it the next day, keeping in mind that you might have to plow your way through some snow. That gives you two full nights for your body to adjust to the altitude, preparing you for the more strenuous days to come.

Unless you're planning on climbing Langley, your route won't take you so high that altitude is likely to be a problem for members of your party.

Miter Basin is awesome -- enjoy.

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Re: Which place to camp the first night to prevent AMS?

Postby GunnyJC » Thu Jun 30, 2011 5:48 pm

Langley is on the to do list but not until day 4 or 5. Thanks for all the great info and it just confirms my original plan. I will be sure to follow up with a trip report when we return. I found this site to have some of the friendliest and helpful people on the internet...thanks for your helpful suggestions and making me feel welcome here.

Gunny
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Re: Which place to camp the first night to prevent AMS?

Postby Saltydog » Thu Jun 30, 2011 11:03 pm

Gunny: A strategy that works for a lot of Whitney vets is to stay at the Portal, but hike to Lone Pine Lake (10000+) and return (5+ mi) the first day. this really kick starts the acclimatization process, and gives better rest at night. to use this climb high sleep low strategy at Horseshoe, you would have to climb to 11000 or so the first day, which is really pushing into AMS territory. If you only have the one day, I would do it at the Portal with the LPL hike. This works fine for Whitney at 14500, and should be more than adequate for Cottonwood, which is only 11200 before the drop into the basin. Besides, you can't get a Portal pancake at Horseshoe.

Oh, yeah: you do not need a permit for a day hike to LPL.
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