Living in the Clouds

Altitude in Raleigh, NC: 348 feet

Altitude in Carrboro, NC: 463 feet

Altitude in Quito, Ecuador: roughly 9,000 feet!!!

I recently moved to Ecuador and for the first week the headaches were BRUTAL. I was experiencing what they call here “sorroche;” my body was NOT used to spending time at altitudes about 1,000ft and yet there I was at 9x that height. I felt slightly tipsy the first day without even having exerted myself in any way. I lived off of Advil and nights with 10+ hours of sleep just to feel equilibrated again.

    Lesson learned: Living in the clouds is breathtaking, both literally and figuratively

Avery, a student from the United States, at the summit of Cotopaxi (19, 347 ft)

Avery, a student from the United States, at the summit of Cotopaxi (19, 347 ft)

¡Advice for travelling at high altitudes!

  • Drink more water than you think is necessary

  • Take it easy- there’s no need to try to discover the whole city/town on the first day

  • Eat a high carb and natural sugar diet

    • Don’t down coffee to try to stay awake

    • Stay away from super fatty foods

  • Wait a few nights before going out for a few beers [the alcohol affect will be much stronger at higher altitudes]

  • Check out natural remedies for altitude sickness, like chewing Coca leaves or drinking it in tea

    • [This is also a great way to learn about indigenous traditions if you’re travelling in Perú]

  • Listen to your body

      • What do you need?

  • Be patient- your body needs a few days to adjust!

    • Your ‘mile time’ isn’t going to be quite the same

  • Be prepared to protect yourself from the wind and sun

    • Wear a hat, and sunglasses, and sunscreen, or a Buff, and bring Vaseline for potential nosebleeds

    • Moisturize your skin

Baños, Ecuador

Baños, Ecuador

Living amongst the clouds- Cajas National Park

Living amongst the clouds- Cajas National Park

¡Advice for adventuring at high altitudes!

  • Train for your trip!!

    • You’re not going to hike or climb as fast as you did at sea level

  • If it gets too difficult, take a rest! There is no need to push yourself

  • Expect the unexpected

  • Carry 2 or 3x the amount of water you would on an adventure at a lower altitude

  • Take long, deep breaths

    • Maintain a rhythm and do not panic if it seems to be more difficult to breathe

  • Take a moment before your trip to familiarize yourself with the warning signs and symptoms of more serious altitude-related diseases like Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)

Santiago at the summit of Cotopaxi

Santiago at the summit of Cotopaxi

The unfortunate basic symptoms of Altitude Sickness

  • Headaches and dizziness, loss of appetite, fatigue, insomnia, constipation or diarrhea, vomiting/nausea

More serious symptoms to be on the lookout for

  • Dry cough, fever, brain swelling

It is so incredible to be able to look up from the crowded streets of Quito and see some of the Andes most beautiful creations, but it’s daunting thinking about what it would feel like to breathe up there. To get a better idea, I checked in with two climbers: my boyfriend (Ecuadorian) and my friend (from the United States) to get some advice on how to adjust! Both of them have submitted Cotopaxi, one of the world’s tallest and most active volcanoes!

Avery at the summit of Cayambe

Avery at the summit of Cayambe

“Adjusting to the altitude in Quito is a waiting game; you have to be patient with your body and slowly get used to it as you build up your body’s adjustment. In climbing it’s the same thing but at a lot faster pace and if you don’t start climbing at a slow pace you won’t be able to make it. But it’s also really cool because you are really in touch with your body and what it needs, so something like eating a piece of chocolate or drinking some Gatorade in altitude can make a world of a difference!”

Santiago (left), a student from Ecuador, at the summit of Cotopaxi with his cousin (right)

Santiago (left), a student from Ecuador, at the summit of Cotopaxi with his cousin (right)

“Durante el ascenso la temperatura baja poco a poco, el tiempo pasa lentamente y el cansancio se hace notar pero el único motor que te impulsa a seguir o desistir es el mental”

"During the ascent the temperature drops little by little, time passes slowly and fatigue is noted but the only engine that drives you to follow or desist is the mental"

*They summited on the coldest day of the year- everything was white from snow and ice*