Rocky Mountain Altitude Sickness

So, there we are, all sitting relaxed in our van, enjoying the striking Rockies framing a happy, lush tundra environment dotted with columbines, except for Mom, who is quietly complaining of a headache and asking for some ibuprofen. Everyone turned around except Dad, who was driving. This piqued our curiosity. None of us really ever had altitude sickness before. We grabbed the pulse oximeter (little clip thing that measures amount of oxygen in blood) and passed it back to her. It read 76% oxygen saturation, which is unpleasantly lower than the 99% average. She groaned, pulled a blanket over her head, and took a nap.
We experienced our record-low oxygen levels at Pikes Peak and Trail Ridge Road because of our 2 mile elevation (basically 40% of the way up Mt. Everest). During our Mills Lake hike, Mom became short of breath and her fingernails turned blue. Basically, Mom had the “altitude bends”, so suffice to say, we didn’t climb any higher.

This Elk has NO altitude sickness!
This Elk has NO altitude sickness!

How did this happen?
Well, as you already know, our bodies and oxygen, are like, BFFs. We can’t get enough of each other, the less oxygen’s around, the more miserably sick we feel. Our brains need a LOT of oxygen, and without it, we start to get headaches and a bit drowsy. Some people are more sensitive to lower oxygen content than others, like our mom, so then they get hypoxia (low oxygen levels in the blood).


But how come the locals are fine with it?

Dads saturation (oxygen content) Is usually in the high 99% here in The high altitude is 90%
Dads saturation (oxygen content) Is usually in the high 99% here in The high altitude is 90%

Our blood has many ingredients for it to do everything we need it to do. Oxygen is carried on specialized cells called red blood cells. When your body realizes after awhile that there isn’t enough oxygen available, it makes an overload of red blood cells to help increase how much oxygen is delivered to the body. This doesn’t happen right away. It usually takes a day or two for your body to catch up
How can someone prevent altitude sickness?
You can acclimatize by gradually ascending in altitude. If you are going to the Alpine Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park, stay in Boulder or Denver for a night or two. Try not to ascend more than 1,000 feet a night, because you’ll be a little more than uncomfortable otherwise. If you really can’t tolerate the headaches, they say to try some ibuprofen. After a day or two, you should be fine! Remember that we are not doctors, we are just trying to find out more about this condition so read more on the it and in some cases your doctor should be notified before attempting such a trip.

Our best wishes to you on all your high altitude adventures!! Have a great time!!

It’s an amazing world of science out there…let’s go exploring!


18 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you so much for the information and the tips! This is truly important for me. I will be based in US soon and I hope to visit some places with high altitude in US and South America in the futures. I have no idea if I will be sensitive to lower oxygen or not..

  2. Faraday's Candle says:

    The NPS has websites that are wonderful in the information offered also you and your physician have an idea of your tolerance. You never really know how you will tolerate it until you do it so preparation is important and totally enjoying it the biggest factor.

  3. Prajakta says:

    I love what you have done to your site. Great job! I have been on a few high-altitude camps in the Himalayas, and yes some of these tips back then would have helped 🙂

  4. Faraday's Candle says:

    Wow! The Himalayas! They make the Rockies sound like baby mountains. We have seen many documentaries on the the Himalayas and find them fascinated. How high up did you go?

  5. Anonymous says:

    It is not fun to go through altitude sickness. One experience is good for a lifetime.

  6. Faraday's Candle says:

    It was not fun!

  7. Aquileana says:

    Great tips… I have experienced feelings of dizziness last time I visited my dad in Mendoza, an argentine mountainous province where he lives…
    It was due to the reasons you have explained above as I was told… but I was not aware of it in such an accurate way as you explained… I thank you for the tips as they are very useful and the post informative and truly interesting… Sending best wishes. Aquileana 🐉☀️

  8. Faraday's Candle says:

    A lot of people are not aware of it.
    Thank you so much for stopping by!

  9. amommasview says:

    Isn’t it interesting how our bodies adapt? How locals are fine with it and visitors struggle? Our bodies are amazing… Hope you still had a great time (especially mom).

  10. Faraday's Candle says:

    The body is an amazing, adaptable machine! Thank you so much for stopping by!

  11. annascuisine says:

    Such great tips. Thanks for sharing. Have a great weekend.

  12. Faraday's Candle says:

    You too! Enjoy the weekend!

  13. Badfish says:

    Cool stuff, as usual!
    Funny…I never got altitude sickness in the Rockies. The Andes…now there’s a different story. Too bad they don’t have coca leaves in Denver, eh?
    I tried to comment without all the names and addresses. Will I need to do that every time?

  14. Faraday's Candle says:

    Some people can get sick at the Rockies! They are even helicopter out….figure that. Why the coca leaves?
    Next time the info should appear as soon as you start typing your name. Please let me know. We are trying to do away with that all together. So nice of you to stop by!!

  15. Anonymous says:

    I never thought about there being a ‘high’ altitude bends. It’s similar then to what deep sea divers must be cautious of? Great post and your new site looks wonderful. I hope you and the girls are happy with it and life is good!

  16. Faraday's Candle says:

    We have no idea but that would be worth looking into. Thank you so much for commenting!

  17. Hargun Wahi says:

    The bit about Pulse oximeter and the facts you presented are fascinating..
    Its great to learn about new things.
    Also, I hope your mum is fine now..
    Best wishes and regards 🙂

  18. Faraday's Candle says:

    The Mama is doing just fine…lol. Thank you so much for asking and stopping by!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.