Know Before You Go:  Altitude is Everything

Katy Shipley | | Industry NewsIndustry News

Incredible peaks, challenging terrain, extreme climates; it’s what mountain folk thrive on. High altitude landscapes have drawn in mountaineers for years, but there are still things that leave us at the mercy of Mother Nature.  In this case, it is a rare, but life-threatening occurrence called High Altitude Pulmonary Edema or HAPE.

Without proper acclimation, HAPE can happen to an otherwise healthy mountaineer.  An article published in the Indian Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine goes in depth on HAPE. In this article, around 1% of visitors to Rocky Mountain ski resorts suffered from HAPE, and less than 0.2% of the general mountaineering population were also effected. This lower percentage in experienced mountaineers supports the idea that proper acclimation is key to avoiding HAPE. According to Paralikar,

“slow ascent is the most effective method of prevention, and one that is effective even in susceptible individuals.”

Read IJOEM’s full journal article to familiarize yourself with the features, prevention, and treatment of HAPE

Proper base camp acclimation is the key to success in high altitude adventures. Credit: Katie and Ben/

While prevention is the best medicine, its important to be able to recognize HAPE when it hits. The Lake Louise Consensus defines HAPE by the following symptoms and signs.

In the setting of a recent gain in altitude, the presence of the following:


At least two of:

    – dyspnea at rest

– cough

– weakness or decreased exercise performance

– chest tightness or congestion


At least two of:

    – crackles or wheezing in at least one lung field

– central cyanosis

– tachypnea

– tachycardia

As trends such as peak-bagging and 14er’s gain interest, we need to look out for ourselves and each other in higher elevations.  While altitude sickness is a common and uncomfortable nuisance, HAPE is a force to be reckoned with. When planning your next high elevation adventure, plan the proper acclimation and always be willing to descend and try again.


The effect of HAPE on lungs. Photo Credit: Circulation – AHA Journals


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