Kilimanjaro, Altitude and Alcohol

16 Jul 2010

Our bodies protest when we drink alcohol or encounter a lack of oxygen. 2-3 drinks or 2-3000 mtrs can be handled without problems by most; after that many people start to experience ill-effects. People's tolerances vary greatly to both - some show little effect, others suffer greatly. The amount of consumption/gain is important - the speed of that consumption/gain even more so. We can train ourselves to become used to both. At some point everyone will be affected - Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) resembles a bad hangover, both cause severe headaches, possible vomiting, possibly diarrhea, or all three.

The difference is with alcohol you feel awful but usually sleep if off in a warm bed; with AMS you feel 10 times worse and are usually stuck half way up a mountain slope freezing to death! For good reason is it called the "mother of all hangovers".

AMS if not treated can lead into Pulmonary or Cerebral Oedema (water on the lungs or brain), the symptoms of the latter making a person appear totally drunk, unable to stand or talk sensibly. I seem to know quite a few friends, in particular former Dubai Exiles RFC mates, who seem to suffer cerebral oedema most weekends, but the fact remains Dubai is just 10 mtrs above sea level......

Kilimanjaro may be climbed by over 10,000 people every year, but it's still a big mountain which is often underestimated. And it's the speed of that ascent - 5 or 6 days only on the Marangu route, dictated by the elevation of huts and climbing permits - which often catches people out. Most guidelines recommend 500 mtrs max elevation per day; on Kili you are twice that. All 19 of my group found it much tougher than they had ever imagined; I got the worst AMS I've ever suffered on a mountain.

My body protests at both alcohol and altitude more than many people. I'd like to think it's either because I'm such a finely tuned athlete or have such a densely packed brain, but that's wishful thinking. I get it at around 3200 mtrs and there's loads of videos of me puking up on some mountain top to sadly prove it. Given enough time above that, however, and I acclimatise fine even seeming to work pretty good at very high altitudes. Kili was a painful reminder that you cant rush the process; I needed another couple of days but lesson learned - resuming my golfing career next week..... 

Congratulations to our 2nd group of Gulf 4 Good Challengers, led by Gary Melhuish. 16 out of 17 reached Gilman's: 15 of those going onto Uhuru, well done to them all. Look forward to a reunion in a few weeks. 

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