October 12, 2009
Flu-Prone Elk Hunters: It May be Altitude Sickness
MISSOULA, Mont.—Flu is on everyone’s mind this autumn. So for hunters who start feeling lousy upon arrival in elk camp, the diagnosis may seem obvious. But, like skiers and mountain climbers, elk hunters at high elevations also are prone to altitude sickness with symptoms that look and feel like the flu—headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, coughing, shortness of breath and trouble sleeping.
Ways to prevent the flu are well publicized, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is offering the following tips for avoiding altitude sickness.
Altitude sickness is caused by thin air at high elevations. Your body must work harder to maintain normal oxygen levels in the blood. Breathing and pulse rates increase. Still, the lack of oxygen can knock a hunter down especially if they go too hard too soon.
“Most of us live at a much lower elevation than elk do. That alone puts many hunters at a disadvantage even before they begin their first stalk,” said Cameron Hanes, a fitness and bowhunting authority as well as TV show host and columnist for RMEF.
Hanes says most sufferers adapt to high altitude by the fourth day. The following tips can help you make better use of your first three days in elk country.
When you arrive in high country, avoid physical exertion for the first 24 hours. This can be tough when you’ve been looking forward to the hunt all year, so if you can’t or won’t take a full day to adjust, be smart. Don’t go full bore right out of the gate.
Hunt high, sleep low. At elevations above 5,000 feet, try to gain no more than 2,000 feet per day. You can hunt higher as long as you go back down 2,000 feet to sleep.
Ascend very slowly past 8,000 feet. Acclimatize yourself. Acclimatization helps cells get along on a smaller oxygen budget. By gaining altitude slowly, your body will adjust gradually with few if any symptoms of altitude sickness.
If traveling by air to a hunt above 8,000 feet, try to incorporate a layover of one to two days at an intermediate altitude.
Drink water copiously and constantly avoid alcohol for the first few days. Alcohol dehydrates you and drinking at high altitudes amplifies its affect.
Consume a high-carbohydrate diet. Lots of granola bars, trail mix, etc.
The prescription drug acetazolamide (Diamox) can be helpful as a preventive treatment but always consult with your doctor first.
Fitness at sea level doesn’t guarantee an easier time when you’re at 10,000 feet, but being in good shape makes it more likely that your lungs can cope with the challenges of the high life.
If these tips don’t work, and if your symptoms persist even at lower altitudes, you may indeed have the flu.
Hanes serves RMEF as host of “Elk Chronicles” on Outdoor Channel and as a columnist for “Bugle” magazine. His second book, “Backcountry Bowhunting, A Guide to the Wild Side,” is currently in its fifth printing and is available at http://www.cameronhanes.com/.