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Trail Tip Tuesday – ACCLIMATIZING. Most people can acclimate with time. A very few people cannot; some have underlying medical conditions that may or may not be diagnosed, but these are not that common. Plan your trip so that, after you fly into Denver, stay in a mountain town that is about 8,000-9,000 feet high and spend a couple of days there doing some easy day hikes. Plan so that you ascend no more than about 1,000-1,500 feet per day of hiking as you get going.

  • ascend to higher elevations gradually
  • hike fewer miles than your norm the first few days
  • drink more water
  • get more sleep
  • consider a prescription drug that helps one acclimatize to higher altitudes

SOBO FROM DENVER. The need to ascend gradually, if you’re not used to the CT elevations, is one of the main reasons that starting in Durango and hiking the trail south to north is not nearly as popular. From Durango the CT ascends abruptly to over 12,000 feet in 23 miles. Starting in Denver and hiking north to south ascends much more gradually and assists one in acclimatizing.

FIRST NIGHT’S LODGING. It helps to stay a few nights at moderate altitude before beginning your multiday adventure. Many choose to arrive a few days in advance and stay in, say, Bailey, Georgetown, Breckenridge or Frisco, mountain towns not too far from Denver with elevations of around 8,000 to 9,000 feet. Take limited-climbing day trips with no more than 1500 feet of climbing and return to your lodging to sleep overnight. This helps your body get used to the higher elevations.

EASE IN. When you hit The Colorado Trail, ‘ease in’ and hike fewer miles than your norm each of the first few days.

HYDRATE. Staying hydrated is very helpful; just drink more water than you normally do and add some electrolytes too. Recognize that the Colorado humidity is typically low and that you’ll exhale more-than-normal moisture with every breath. Drinking more water really helps.

SLEEP. Sleeping more also helps the body acclimatize. You’ll probably be tired; plan to slide into your sleeping bag earlier than normal.

MEDICATION. There is a prescription drug that reportedly helps the body acclimatize. Ask your doctor about getting some and taking it for a few days before and when you start.

SYMPTOMS. It is normal to have a faster pulse rate, and common to have difficulty sleeping for a few days while you acclimatize. If you develop congestion in your lungs, confusion in your head, or loss of coordination, you should go down to a lower elevation immediately – those are symptoms of the possible fatal forms of altitude sickness. (HAPE and HACE)