Altitude Related Problems in Spain's Sierra Nevada

Altitude Related Problems in Spain's Sierra Nevada

Guide to likely altitude related problems walkers and climbers may face in the Sierra Nevada of Spain

We have, in reality, had very few instances where mountain sickness (AMS) has resulted in having to bring a client down to a lower level. When that has been the case, the client has recovered immediately on getting to lower ground and has had no further problems.

High Alitude Effects Sierra Nevada

These mountains have much high ground over 3000m, but provided that the advice above is followed, ie go slow, then the altitude effects are lessened considerably. On countless occasions we have parked the car at 2500m (having driven up in 1hr from 650m!) and someone has gone off too quick. It is very tempting! Our guides take it very easy, a snails pace, especially for the first 30 minutes after leaving the car. We find that in that time our body adjusts better and we can then continue a little more rapidly. However, we live and train here in these mountains. Clients coming straight in from sea level will find it harder.

The suggestion for clients therefore is to follow behind your guides. Forget records and competitive instincts. Go their pace. They know the speed at which you should be going. They have the experience.

Extracts below are taken from the handbook "TRAVEL AT HIGH ALTITUDE" published free by MEDEX. This handbook is highly recommended reading for anybody going above 2500 metres. Copies of the handbook can be downloaded free of charge at www.medex.org.uk or click on the link below to display on this page.

What is High Altitude?

"Altitude starts to have an effect around 1500-2000m. The body starts to behave slightly differently as it tries to make up for the change in oxygen levels. Go up too fast above 2500m and altitude illnesses are common. If you go slowly you should stay healthy."

Acclimatisation

"When the body slowly adapts to lower oxygen levels the process in called acclimatisation. Different people acclimatise at different speeds, so no rule works for everyone, but there are good guidelines. Over 3000m go up slowly, sleeping no more than 300m higher at the end of each day. Going higher during the day is OK as long as you go down to sleep."

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

  • The common symptoms for AMS are: headache; nausea (feeling sick); vomiting (being sick); fatigue; poor appetite; dizziness; sleep disturbance." A simple scorecard is shown below. Keep check on your score.
  • Before you go: Learn about the symptoms of AMS
  • At altitude: If you have a headache ad a total of 3 or more for the others, do not go higher.
  • If you have a headache, and a total of 3 or more for the others, have got no better or worse - go down

AMS Scorecard - use to test your ability to acclimatize

Symptoms Severity Score
Headache None 0
Mild 1
Moderate 2
Severe/incapacitating 3
0
Guts/stomach Good appetite 0
Poor appetite, nausea 1
Moderate nausea or vomitting 2
Severe/incapacitating 3
0
Fatigue/weakness Not tired or weak 0
Mild fatigue/weakness 1
Moderate 2
Severe/incapacitating 3
0
Dizziness/light-headedness None 0
Mild 1
Moderate 2
Severe/incapacitating 3
0
Difficulty sleeping None 0
Mild 1
Moderate 2
Severe/incapacitating 3
0