The Effects of Altitude on the Human Body in Mountaineering


Mountaineering is a sport in which the athlete has to fight on two fronts simultaneously. The first front is to deal with the extremes of natural weather conditions. While the other front is the battle with your body chemistry which is very important. For this battle, it is essential to understand the harmful effects of altitude on the human body and the associated diseases.

The genetic makeup of the human body is such that as it goes from sea level to higher altitude, it starts to show the effects of various changes. First, let us know that all our body systems are auto. Under an integrated system, the human body is autonomous from the respiratory system to the blood circulation. When the system goes from auto to manual, it means your body is in disorder. That is, the body has fallen ill and you have to control it through some external means, i.e. medicines, etc.

After years of research, medical science has come to the conclusion that the human body is actually designed to live at an altitude of fewer than 2400 meters above sea level. Because at an altitude of more than 2400 meters, various negative effects on the autonomic system of the human body begin. This is the reason why most of the public health resorts around the world are located at an altitude of 2400 meters or less.

Because the human body remains healthy if it goes up to a maximum altitude of 2400 meters in 24 hours, it gradually starts to fall ill at higher altitudes. Above 2400 meters, the first problems are headache, nausea, and difficulty in breathing. To combat this, God has given the human brain a special ability, and that is that the brain, through its muscular information system, commands all the organs to readjust or reboot themselves according to the decrease in oxygen supply, exactly. Just like in our daily life, when our income decreases, we also reduce our consumption of necessities and try to adjust our expenses according to the budget.


Therefore, when there is a lack of oxygen at altitude, the human body automatically adjusts itself according to the oxygen supply. This ability of the human body is called acclimatization in terms of medical science, which takes about 6 hours to complete. And then every 6 hours all the systems of the human body readjust themselves. So whenever you go higher than 2400 meters, try to make your progression gradual. So that the acclimatization process continues periodically after every 6 hours.

This acclimatization process starting at 2400 meters prepares you for the next elevation of 3500 meters. Above 3500 meters new challenges begin. So whenever you travel to high altitudes, remember that you should not go above 2400 meters altitude within the first 24 hours. Reach 2400 meters and stay there for one night. In terms of Pakistan, Murree is located at 2100 meters and Naran at 2400 meters. Shogran is 3200 meters, Lake Saiful Mulok 3250 meters, Hunza 2400 meters, and Skardu 2600 meters. That is, if you go to these places, reach there and spend the night there. Those traveling from Karachi or Lahore and the plains of Punjab should not spend the first night at Naran directly at Saiful Muluk Lake. You will acclimatize properly by spending the night the next day.

If you want to stay beyond Naran, do not go beyond Luluosar lake or Jalkhad and if you want to go to Babosar top, then go and come back by evening, then your health will be fine. Along with acclimatization, what is most beneficial is quick descending to offset the effects of altitude and hypoxia. Go down at least 300 meters from wherever your physical condition is bad, then you will feel fine and if you go again after 6 hours, your body will have acclimatized.

Very High Altitude Zone

The next zone of elevation is the Very High Altitude Zone which ranges from 3500 meters above sea level to 5500 meters or according to some researchers up to 5800 meters. It is certain that 99% of climbers enter this zone because most of the alpine lakes are located at an altitude of fewer than 5000 meters. Hence trekkers who trek to the lakes often come back from altitudes below 5000 meters and thus are somewhat spared from the negative effects of altitude. So if you are a mountaineer and are on an adventure to climb any technical or non-technical mountain then you need to be very careful in this zone. According to the World Wide Standard Operating Procedure for Mountaineering, upon entering the Very High Altitude Zone, you should adopt the universal principle of “Climb High, Sleep Low”, according to which no matter how high you climb during the day, Descend 300 meters and spend the night. That is, if you started at 3500 meters during the day and reached 4100 meters, you should come to sleep at 3800 meters. If you do this, your body will be protected from altitude sickness.

In mountaineering parlance, this is called acclimatization rotation. By the way, in this zone, it is usually enough to gain 700-600 meters of altitude in one day, but if your fitness is very good, you can climb more than that, but you should always go down 300 meters to spend the night. Come so that the 6-hour rotation of acclimatization is complete and you are refreshed and fit for more climbing the next day. People living in the Himalayas, Karakoram, and Hindu Kush mountains can reach higher altitudes in a day, but mountaineers from the plains of Punjab and Pakistan should not climb more than 600 meters in a day. Do this and descend the mandatory 300 meters for the night so that the acclimatization rotation can be completed in a better way.

In this zone, follow the same guiding principle of “Climb High, Sleep Low” up to 5500 meters. If you continue to follow this, you will avoid the harmful effects of altitude on the body, otherwise, the AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) that you will suffer at an altitude of 3500 meters will start to gain strength and you will develop dangerous diseases at higher altitudes. While you have headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and shortness of breath, the attacks will become serious. It should be remembered that according to medical science if the oxygen entering the body through breathing does not reach the brain within 3 minutes, the death of a person occurs.

Apart from the above symptoms, pneumonia and dry cough can also lead to life-threatening attacks at this altitude. And extremely deadly dangerous diseases HAPE and HACE can also attack which can lead to sudden death in the next zone i.e. Extremely High Altitude Zone.

Extremely High Altitude Zone

The next zone i.e. Extremely High Altitude Zone is usually located between the altitude of 5800 meters to 8000 meters.

As soon as you enter this zone, the negative effects of lack of oxygen start to show up very quickly. If you are coming down with altitude mountain sickness and you had ignored it, HAPE and HACE will lead you to sudden death by reaching this height. HAPE actually stands for High Altitude Pulmonary Edema while HACE also stands for High Altitude Cerebral Edema.

In layman’s terms, HACE refers to pleural effusion. That is, your lungs become saturated due to a lack of oxygen. You start coughing up blood. Various infections start in your respiratory system. Lack of oxygen affects the whole body. Immediately after HAPE, you may develop HACE, which is actually called swelling of the brain and is a life-threatening condition in which your ability to think becomes almost complete and your brain loses control over the rest of your body. sits Often hallucinations begin and climbers begin to act strangely. Some even fight with their own colleagues. At high altitudes, such skirmishes and scuffles between climbers can be deadly. According to experts, the immediate treatment for HACE and HAPE is quickly descending. Coming down from the mountain immediately can save life or else one may suffer sudden death.

Death Zone

Friends, as long as you were at an altitude of up to 8000 meters, you were in the Extremely High Altitude Zone, but as soon as you reached an altitude of more than 8000 meters, you entered the valley of death. Yes, the area above 8000 meters is called Death Zone.

Now, what is this Death Zone? Let’s try to understand this.

As you were told at the beginning of this blog about acclimatization, the automatic ability of the human body that helps it adapt and adapt itself to low oxygen and your body to survive even with a low supply of oxygen. It is called acclimatization. After years of research in medical science, researchers have come to the conclusion that the ultimate limit of acclimatization within the human body is up to 8000 meters above sea level. After this, the human body cannot achieve further acclimatization. As soon as you get higher than 8000 meters, you think you are going to the mouth of death. All your organs are dying moment by moment. All 14 major peaks of the world are over 8000 meters high. That means they are located in the death zone. Therefore, overcoming them is the ultimate limit of human ability, courage, and courage.

One cannot stay in the death zone for more than a certain amount of time, nor can others be helped. Because as soon as you enter the death zone, understand that all your body systems are switched off. You will not recharge and on the same battery, you have to reach the peak and return within the specified time. There is absolutely no room for error, every step must be meticulous. Deviating from the climbing route or stopping unnecessarily will only mean death. Another name for sleep in the death zone is death.

Mountaineers do not and cannot sleep before going to an altitude of more than 8000 meters. After resting a bit at the last campsite, one goes straight to the summit, and usually after 16 to 18 hours of continuous struggle only the one who reaches the summit and returns to an altitude of fewer than 8000 meters survives. Otherwise, in the death zones of all the world’s 14 peaks above 8000 meters, the bodies of countless climbers are still buried in the snow, which is almost impossible to bring down. Therefore, it is very important for any high-altitude mountaineer to prepare himself according to the demands of the death zone and do his physical training according to those demands so that he returns from the death zone alive and safe.

Friends, this is the most important information that I, as a student of mountaineering, have searched the internet, read twenty research articles, and after distilling the information, I have made a humble attempt to present it in simple words so that every loving tourist, trekker, hiker, and mountaineer can understand and imbibe these universal and recognized information.

The purpose of this article is not to scare you, but to create awareness for mountaineers so that they can exercise their full mental abilities through training and understanding the limits of the human body. You can conquer the highest mountains while still fighting the negative effects of altitude.

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