Altitude sickness is also called Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), we all heard about it, but do you know how armful can it be ?
Altitude sickness occurs when you have a lack of oxygen while you are at high altitude. Air is thinner, you may have a feeling of having difficulty to breath properly.
Last few months, I have been talking about different trips I made in the mountains (Himalayas, Alps..) but I realised I should write a post to highlight the potential risk of having altitude sickness while you are hiking in the mountains.
What are the symptoms of the AMS:
It can start with mild symptoms such as headache, loss of appetite, dizziness, difficulty sleep and can become more serious and severe symptoms such as strong headache, irritative cough, lack of coordination and balance, vomiting, irrational behaviour and unconsciousness.
Keep in mind that altitude sickness(AMS) can be fatal.
At what altitude, can you get the altitude sickness?
Well, there is a debate about it, some say it can start at 3000m, some say you can already have the first symptoms at 2000m. There is no real evidence stating when you start having the symptoms of the altitude sickness.
How to prevent altitude sickness (AMS):
- Ascend slowly
- Have frequent rest days. Plan to have two or three night at each rise of 1000m.
- Always sleep at lower altitude than the highest heights you reach during the day (if you climb until 4000 during the day, it will be wise to sleep at 3500m for instance ..)
- Drink a lot, the mountain air is very dry and cold and you can be dehydrated very quickly if you are not cautious.
- Eat light, choose meals high in carbo-hydrate
- Avoid alcohol or sedative while trekking mountains
- Listen your body
My experience with altitude sickness and how I deal with it:
I suffered from AMS when I went to Ladakh.Leh being the capital city of Ladakh is at 3500m. As soon I went out of the airplane, I could feel the thin air. A few hours after my arrival, I had a constant but mild headache. I could not sleep well (I had the feeling to drown in the sea and wake up suddenly breathing heavily). I had those symptoms for 3 days. During that time, I didn’t do any hiking at all.
On the first day, I stayed in the guesthouse, just relaxing, drinking a large quantity of green tea (around 5 liters) and ate very lightly (white rice with egg and some fruits).
On the second day, I still had the signs of altitude sickness but it was slightly improving. So I decided to go for a short walk and the rest of the day, I stayed in the guesthouse drinking tea and eat lightly.
On the third day, I still had a slight headache, but I could go out for a walk around the city without any problem. Again I was drinking a lot of tea and eat lightly. On the fourth day, I was totally fine, I could start finally a long hike.
It’s important to understand that your body need time to acclimatize to the altitude. Don’t rush! The best advice I could give you if you don’t want to suffer from altitude sickness, it’s to take a few days to relax (at least 3 days if you go in the Himalayas for instance) before to start any trekking.
Diamox is a medicine used to treat AMS, however, you need to consult your doctor and be informed about possible side effect. Diamox is a strong medicine and should not be taken without advice. Keep in mind that diamox medicine need to be taken before you go to high altitude.
Keep in mind that even if this medicine exists, the best way to prevent AMS is to have a proper acclimatization.
Last advice before your departure:
- Check with the Hotel where you will be staying if they have some oxygen bottles available (just in case)
- Check if the hotel staff are educated to help customers having “altitude sickness”.
- Check also if there is any medical center in the area you will be staying which have pressure chamber and can deal with AMS issues.
Finally, and depending on your health history, it might be useful also to have a check up with your own doctor and inform him about your plan.
Note: If you would like to know more about “altitude sickness” you can have a look at this excellent article here.
I read a book the other day about 2 French people cycling around the world, and on the way to Mauritania, they decided to stop in the High Atlas in Morocco and enjoy some time hiking around (actually they just had the time to climb the Toubkal within a day before to carry on their journey). A good place to hike is in the Toubkal National park (located only at 67km from Marakech). The Toubkal is the tallest mountain of North Africa with 4167 mt and the summit can be reached by a trail (this mountain is one of the easiest among the 4000 mt to reach the summit and does not required any technical skill BUT required a good physical condition ).
This is our itinerary:
Day1: Around noon, transfer (by taxi) from Marrakech to Imlil (1700m).
Once we reached the village of Imlil, we met our guide, our cook and his assistant (wow this is luxury ! ! ), and had a frugal lunch (tagine). Immediately after, we went to buy some water for our hike, we loaded our bag on 2 horses. After checking and double checking if our caravan was ready, we started our trek to Taghrat bivouac (2700m) via Sidi Chamharoush (holy place well-known by local pilgrims). We walked around 5 hours.
Note: there is a direct path from Imlil to Mt.Toubkal base camp (around 6 hours walk)
Looking back at the 5 hours we walked, we knew it will be a very challenging trek, the path is very rocky, narrow and steep and yes we were drained but we had the exclusive opportunity to have our bivouac on a platform made of huge rocks with a fantastic panorama of the valley (the perfect place to sit and take a tea while looking down at the valley).
After our dinner, we went to bed in our tent (it was 7pm…). Well I have to admit, we didn’t sleep at all during the entire night. The reason: the wind. We had this wind hitting the tent and we thought we will fly away or a huge rock will roll on our tent
Day2: Wake up at 5am, after our breakfast, we trek from the Taghrat bivouac to Amsouzert.
We reached Tizi n taghrat pass at 3100m around noon, then walked down to Tisldai village and the green valley of Tifni. It took us around 8 to 9 hours to reach the valley if Tifni.
We had our lunch just after the pass, our cook was always very creative in his menu (don’t expect fine cuisine but it was very yummy) that make us always super happy and satisfied.
A quick note about our guide and his crew: they belong to the Berber people, Berber have their own language, their own culture, Berber are scattered in Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania, Libya and Algeria. My guide spoke well French but also English. They are extremely caring and very jolly, and always ready to offer a whiskey Berber (mint tea with tons of sugar). I remember hearing them singing also traditional songs while walking.
We reached Amsouzert late afternoon, we stayed in a local and spartan guesthouse (we were the only one in the guesthouse. Our cook brought us a huge couscous for our dinner (it was very good dish but we able to eat only half of it) …after the dinner, we went to our room were matress were scattered and we fall in the arms of Morpheus …
By the way, we have not seen for the last 2 days any hikers in the region.
Day 3: Amsouzert-Ifni Lake
In the morning of day 3, we left Amsouzert and hike towards west and went through several small villages. Our goal is to reach Ifni lake which is located in the massif in front of us, the lake is surrounded by rocky mountains and giant heaps of rubble.
We were expected to arrive by lunchtime and spend the afternoon relaxing at the shore but well we are slow walkers, we did a lot of stop (for taking pictures, enjoy the scenery, rest ..) so we arrive around the second half of the afternoon, we set up our tent in the shore of the lake. The surface of the lake has this incredible jade texture.
Ifni Lake is also the meeting point with other caravans of hikers, as from now on, we will follow a common path which is the base camp of Toubkal mountain that should be reached the next day.
The evening was very “international“, we were around 25/30 hikers ….I was starting to miss my quiet night of the last 2 days but overall it was enjoyable.
I know a lot of you are wondering if we can swim in the lake, well you can but apparently not to the center, as several people lost their life, it seems there is a kind of vortex at the center of the lake… Just for you to be aware.
Another factor is: the temperature. We are above 3000 meters, and the temperature can be cold and turn you off
Day 4: Ifni Lake-Tubkal Nelter Hut
As usual, wake up at 5am, I start to be used with this routine. We are getting used also with altitude as well.
Our guide informed us this is the hardest part of the trek. Well, I was thinking that the last 3 days were hard , how could it be possibly harder ?
We left the shore of the lake and carried on the valley for a while before starting to make our way along a steep path that will bring us to the pass at Tizi n’Ouanoums (3664 m) and Mt.Toubkal. We reached the pass around lunch, well actually I lost track of the time, I could feel the effect of the altitude. Crossing the pass consist of a narrow ledge between two shafts of rock.
From here it is a long zigzag descent to Nelter Hut, a mountain refuge (base camp of the Toubkal) where we spend the night (actually we decided to camp outside, because it was a bit crowded).
We spent the evening on the terrace of the refuge, drinking whiskey Berber, playing chess and enjoy the view of the Mt.Toubkal.
Day 5: Mt. Toubkal – Imlil
Final day, time to go back to Imlil village through villages if Sidi Chamharouch and Aremd, and then following the Mizane River and. We left around 9 Am and we walked for 5 hours until our destination.
The descent was very enjoyable, easy, but most importantly, while walking we had a feeling of accomplishment and also of well-being. We spent the night in a guesthouse and had fantastic time, and also it was the perfect opportunity to recover from our walk in the Atlas and the Toubkal National Partk and unfortunately it was also time to say goodbye ….
Overall, this hike has been a great experience, aside of enjoying the scenery, you learn a lot about yourself, you cut yourself with the daily routine and come back to the basic !
I would recommend hiking in the High Atlas, it can be physically demanding, but well worth it.
Last but not least, I want to recommend you this trek agency: atlastrekshop (based in Imlil village and recommended by lot of people but also Lonely Planet)
Ready for a tour in one of the dryest place on Earth ? Yes, then follow me
A while ago, I went to Morocco for a trek in the Atlas Mountain and I had a few days free before returning to my lovely Amsterdam, so I wanted to experience a night or two in the desert.
I booked a trip to Merzhouga and Erg Chebbi with my trekking agency, the driver brought me from the Atlas Mountains to the door of the desert. It’s a long and dusty road, so we did a couple of stop over the Valley of roses, the Dades gorges (near the Ait Bourgomez near the Dades Valley where we spent a good night rest.
The next day,in the late afternoon after a couple of hours on the road, we finally reached the remote village of Merzhouga, I had the feeling to be at the end of the world, a couple of Kasbah scattered here and there, and a dirt track leaving the village towards the sand dunes.
Reaching the desert in Merzhouga and feel the solitude of the place
I met my guide and our lovely camels (I never realize these animals were very tall and could not see myself on it, but I managed anyway …) , and shortly after our caravan was ready to start our journey through the dunes in the heat (don’t forget to carry with you a scarf to protect your head, and bring enough water with you).
Travelling by camels is unique experience, it’s a question of balance to be comfortable when the animal is swaying gently back and forth throughout the dunes.
At the end, I found the camel as a very majestic animal and a fantastic transport in the desert.
Reaching our camp an hour later, our guide organized the dinner, and we decided to put the matress outside and look at the stars blossoming in the milky way. Due to the heat, we slept under the star.
What surprised me is: the silence of the desert, not a single noise could be heard aside of the slight wind and the camels snoring but also the light (lot of texture what ever the time of the day)
Absolutely a magical and mesmerizing experience !
I really consider the possibility to go back to the desert but for a longer time (a week or so) to really explore the beauty of such places.
Last year, my girlfriend and myself decided to go for a trek in the Atlas Mountains, in Morocco for a period of 7 days.
Knowing for a fact that trekking in the Atlas Mountain is a serious business, we went through a trekking agency who was in charge of the itinerary (based on our wishes) and every logistic aspects (mule, local guide, chef cook and assistant). One of my concerns was : how were we going to cope with the food during the trek, what sort of foods, will it be enough …in short I wanted to make sure we were not going to starve
And guess what, we didn’t, and I must say, we ate the best Moroccan food during our trek (far better than our stay in Marrakesh, Casablanca …). The cook manage to create every day simple and tasty food always accompanied with the best drink in the world : whiskey berber (mint tea with a big load of sugar)!
I do highly encourage for anyone who want to travel in the Atlas Mountain to contact this agency : www.atlastrekshop.com