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Altitude 101 - OutdoorPlaces.Com

 Altitude Basics


altitude and temperaturePerforming all forms of outdoor activity becomes an increasing challenge as altitude increases.  Contrary to popular belief, your ability to perform at higher altitude is tied less to your physical condition, and tied more to your genetic stock.  Certain medical conditions such as asthma and high blood pressure can be aggravated by altitude.  If you use a little common sense and do some preparation, you will find that you will be able to perform most outdoor activities all the way to 15,000 feet with little discomfort and medical problems. 

 Sea Level to 3,500 Feet
A vast majority of the North American population lives in this altitude range.  Most people, except for those with extreme cardiopulmonary disorders can perform almost any activity at this level.  People who live at sea level will experience almost no noticeable ill effects when moving within this altitude range where the air pressure is around 12 psi (pounds per square inch).
 3,500 Feet to 6,000 Feet
Most people of ordinary health will have little problems at this altitude.  People who reside in areas that are below 2,500 feet may start to notice some breathing difficulty as they move above the 5,000 feet mark.  People who have cardiopulmonary disorders  may have serious problems in this altitude range and should consult a physician before visiting or engaging in outdoor sporting activity.  Women who are pregnant may also experience problems at this altitude due to the increased demand for oxygen that the fetus puts on their systems.
 6,000 Feet to 10,000 Feet
In this altitude range some people may start to experience problems related to altitude.  AMS, or Acute Mountain Sickness symptoms may set in at any altitude above 6,000 feet.  At 10,000 feet, the atmosphere is only 50% of that found at sea level.  Breathing can become difficult, even for those in good physical condition.  Women who are pregnant and people with cardiopulmonary disorders should consult a physician before spending any time at these altitudes.
 10,000 Feet to 14,000 Feet
Once you get above 10,000 feet the oxygen content in the atmosphere has reached levels that can be dangerously thin.  Not only is AMS a possibility, but the risk of HAPE or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema greatly increases over 12,000 feet.  To put this in proper perspective, private pilots who fly over 10,000 feet are required to use supplemental oxygen.  Most people that do mountaineering will climb in these altitudes.  Pregnant women, children under the age of two, and people who have cardiopulmonary disorders should not go above 10,000 feet in altitude.  Serious medical complications can occur in this range.
 14,000 Feet to 18,000 Feet
Above 14,000 feet, a person enters an extreme altitude.  The atmosphere can be only 40% of that found at sea level, and air pressure can drop to below 10 psi, causing physiological stress on the body.  AMS, HAPE, and HACE or High Altitude Cerebral Edema can all be experienced in this altitude range.  Typically in North America, only extreme mountaineers will exceed these altitudes for any period of time.  This altitude range can be dangerous for any one, even those in good physical condition.
 18,000 Feet and Above
Altitude above 18,000 feet is also called, “the death zone.”  As the air pressure falls to as low as 7 psi, the body, even with supplemental oxygen literally starts to die.  The severe onset of HAPE and HACE can occur at these altitudes and AMS symptoms are almost continuously experienced.  Only highly experienced mountaineers should venture into these altitudes, and a constant vigil has to be made for HAPE and HACE symptoms, with a focus on HACE symptoms as part of the symptoms for HACE is clouded judgment.

Altitude illness...

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