Before starting any hike in the Andean highlands you need to acclimatize. Trekking or climbing without allowing your body to adapt to the lower levels of oxygen and pressure, increases the risk of getting altitude sickness. This may spoil your trip and even can be life-threatening. Being young and physically fit does not exclude you from this risk. These are the basic guidelines for acclimatization:
A good acclimatization takes time. If you arrive from sea level, first stay some days in Quito or Riobamba (2800 m / 9.186 ft). After a few day hikes, do a multiday trek from 3300 m – 4500 m / 10.826 – 14.763 ft. Ideally, the next step is climb a lower peak (Carihuairazo, Iliniza Norte) before heading to the major summits.
The recommendation not to rush, applies to the activity itself as well. Hike and climb in a slow but steady pace, breathing evenly to get used to the lower oxygen level. Overexertion is a risk factor for altitude sickness, so do not push yourself too hard.
Drive up straight to a mountain refuge and spend the night there, is not a good idea. Going up too fast, too high and stay too long may result in serious altitude sickness symptoms. Better to climb high during the day, but go down to a lower elevation for the night.
Any physical effort at high altitude is more demanding for your body compared to the same exercise at sea level. Make sure to get sufficient sleep and rest after each hike and climb. If you plan to summit several peaks, rest days in between the ascents are essential for your body to recover energy levels.
The low humidity and lower oxygen levels make that your body loses more water. To compensate this, you should drink plenty of water and herbal tea such as coca tea (it is provided on our treks and climbs). Avoid alcohol, soft drinks and caffeine.
A high carbohydrate diet (more than 70% of your calories) will provide your body the right level of energy. Eat pasta, bread and bananas for the potassium. Avoid food rich in fat, sodium and spices.
Prophylactic medicine to prevent altitude sickness should only be taken after consulting your physician. Be aware of possible side effects, and know that this medicine never can be a substitute for a proper acclimatization.
If on any moment of the hike you feel headache, nausea, dizziness, coughing or any other symptom that may be related to altitude sickness, tell our guide and accept that you will have to descend to a lower altitude as soon as possible.