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Thin Air

One thing you'll notice immediately when you hike in the high country: as you go up, there is less air to breathe. In that way, it's no different from working hard or running hard. And the result makes it feel as if you are more alive.


But then come the other symptoms. Headaches are very common--in fact we almost always get mild headaches if we go up from our sea level home to 6,000 feet or more on the way to the trailhead. And we frequently notice the reduced humidity. Our skin feels dry and our eyes also tend to do the same. (Interestingly enough, this did not happen nearly so much when we were hiking in the humid cloud forests at 12-14,000 feet on the way to Machu Picchu--but then, the Amazon rainforest may have had something to do with this...)


And with more elevation, nausea and other more serious symptoms can arrive. Make no mistake: altitude sickness can make you really suffer, and at heights usually above those in the Sierra Nevada, it can kill you. But a recent article in Outside Magazine got our attention, because it mentioned something we've often noticed about getting high in the mountains. According to studies done with US soldiers in high elevation research, altitude can also affect your emotions--sometimes making you feel euphoric, among other things.


Well yes it does. We certainly have felt this. We'd always thought that this was just an effect of the stunning beauty of our surroundings up there, but it turns out that altitude adds to the pleasure off seeing those surroundings. Sometimes you just want to cry it´s so beautiful.

And while M still seems a bit disconcerted at times when she tears up at a beautiful High Sierra vista, we've come to recognize this as an effect of being way up in the clear (and thin) air of the mountains.And it's a good thing, not a bad thing.The nausea? Not so much...

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