Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Diamox Darling

For my 30th birthday (which was a few years back) my family agreed to join me for a climb up Quandary Peak in Colorado. It was my first (and to this point only) summit of a fourteener in Colorado. Until the trek in Ladakh, its 14,265 foot peak also marked the highest point where I had ever stood. Other than making it to the summit that fine September day, my second priority was to get a good picture of Lindsay and I at the top. Lindsay, always the trooper, made it to the top that day. The picture? Well, here's the evidence:
When she sees this picture on the blog, there will likely be issues at home
Maybe it's just me, but one person looks a little happier to be sitting on the summit. In hindsight, she probably shouldn't have summited; she had both a headache and was nauseous, the two most basic symptoms of altitude sickness. Luckily, other than those symptoms and the accompanying crankiness, there were no other issues and we made it down with no issues.

The altitude was one of the main reasons we elected to make our first trek to Annapurna Base Camp. In Himalayan terms, the trek maxes out at a relatively low 13,500 feet so altitude wasn't an issue. Once we knew we were comfortable with the other aspects of the trek (like princess camping for multiple nights without showering), we figured we could always try higher altitude. Our Ladakh trek had that higher altitude. We started around 10,500 feet, camped just about every night at 12,000+ feet, and crossed four high passes, the highest of which was 16,500 feet.

So how do you change a smile from being the very epitome of forced at 14,265 feet to this very genuine reaction at 16,500 feet?

It's simple. Diamox.

After acclimating for two nights, first in Leh and then in camp in the village of Chilling, we started our trek. The first day of walking was short but we climbed a couple thousand feet. Strategically, we got to camp before lunch and had a lengthy rest before the next morning. The next day was our first "high" pass with an elevation of around 15,500 feet. After about the first hour or 90 minutes that morning, each step up the hill set a personal altitude record for both Lindsay and I. Right as we got to lunch (pre-pass), everyone had started to feel the altitude a little bit, as can be expected on your first day. I had a mild headache but nothing too serious. Unfortunately, Lindsay had both the headache and was a little nauseous. It was time to start the drugs. It was for the Diamox.

There are differing opinions on Diamox. Some doctors will tell you to preemptively take it before you get to altitude. Some doctors will take you that starting it too soon might mask more serious altitude sickness. She decided to listen to the doctors in the "don't take it until you think you need it" camp. The correct dosage is somewhere between 125 - 250 mg taken twice per day. She had 250 mg pills that she was forced to cut each morning. We made fun of her for looking like a drug addict as she cut the pills, but whatever chemical was in those little tablets seemed to do the trick as she had no issues for the rest of the trip. There were even smiles. Real smiles.

I'm sure there are all kinds of differing perspectives on the usage of this type of drug when at altitude. If you're from a low elevation location and planning a high altitude trip, I'd highly recommend finding a doctor that has knowledge of altitude-related sickness as it's very possible your general practitioner has little or no experience treating or prescribing this type of medication.

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