Diamox at 8,000 feet

  • A quote from theoutbound-dot-com Website blew my mind, to-wit:

    One of the most popular altitude medications, Diamox, is commonly prescribed for treks above 8,000 ft.

    I've been to 16,000', although it was a lung searing leg collapsing pain failure. Turning around and stumbling back to camp fixed it. WTF is some Website advocating a serious prescription drug for 8,000' summits? That's the same altitude commercial airliners are pressurized to during flight.

    I bring it up because a buddy of mine's daughter was going to do Machu Picchu and he buzzed me asking if she should carry and use Diamox on the approach. He was having trouble getting a prescription for her in the US but learned it's over the counter in Peru so she could buy it upon arrival. He contacted me because I'm his only friend that's a "high altitude climber"☺ .

    My take was Machu Picchu is only 8,000' so a prophylactic Diamox regimen is insane. I later learned the Cusco flyin airport is at 11,000' (you actually hike down to Machu Picchu) so that may be tough if you flew from sea level in one day if you're compromised healthwise.

    What's the scoop on prophylactic use of Diamox on moderate (14-16,000 summit) ascents? Sure, on Everest it's wise to have some very powerful drugs in your (or your guide's) pack including oxygen to cheat death, but are people actually taking Diamox for lesser ascents? Personally I've never taken drugs 'cept constipation & over the counter painkiller pills on longer climbs so have no firsthand experience.

    You or anybody you know take Diamox regularly at moderate altitudes prophylactically?

  • Crazy to think they'd be prescribing Diamox for such low altitudes. Figured it must have been a misprint or typo so I looked it up. Only site I found any concrete reference to altitude above sea level was WebMD:

    This medication can decrease headache, tiredness, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath that can occur when you climb quickly to high altitudes (generally above 10,000 feet/3,048 meters).

    Which still flies in the face of my expectations. I think of this stuff as higher altitude mountaineering not common alpine hiking altitudes. Maybe the way to go for peak baggers looking for check offs who invest zero time in acclimating? Go figure. Many doctors don't really know wtf these days so might be best to double check w/an actual pharmacist cuz I know there have been some serious life threatening issues from improperly proscribed (pun intended) Diamox.

  • I used to be fine with altitude. Did Teeweionot CTC when I was 19yrs old. now at 57 and living in Vt @ 1200ft?? altitude kicks my butt. It seems like I can acclimate for 10k but even that takes me several weeks. much over 10 and I get pretty sick. throwing up . in 2016 starting @ 1am made it to the Black band above the lower saddle and had to bail. started throwing up as soon as we made it to the lower saddle. Tried again about 2 weeks later after a trip to Colorado and only made it to the morain before I threw up. threw up t the start of Symetry spire but was able to finish the climb. I would like to have the option of medication for the Grand someday but don't know anything about it or what the risks are.

  • Altitude is a funny business. A friend of mine, who had only a year before climbed K2 without Oxygen, very nearly died at 13,000ft -- for real. If a storm hadn't broken he'd have been brought out in a bag.

    So, how is it possible that a strong young climber, a man who could deal with 28,000 ft, could almost die at less than half that altitude?

    Easy. No acclimatization. Jim and his two partners flew from Vancouver (at sea level) to the Yukon, where the weather was unusually calm and clear, so that the next day they flew in to a base camp below Mt. Logan. Now Mt. Logan's summit is just below 20,000 ft, and base camp is about 2,000, so instead of going for it the next morning they wisely decided to acclimatize on Mt. McArthur. Just over 14,000, so a good warm up.

    With the weather still good, they bombed up to the summit the next day, and then down to a col at about 13,000 where they set up camp for the night, intending to drop back down to base the next day.

    But as the night settled on to them, altitude sickness settled on to Jim. Which, in good weather, might not have been critical. But, during the night, a storm moved in and held them there for another day. At that point they realized they had only two choices: Wait out the storm and watch Jim die, or do their best to descend 11,000 feet in the storm and almost surely all die.

    They got lucky. As they were preparing to go down the next morning, the storm broke. And, 11,000 feet later, they were in base camp and Jim was back from death's door.

    Needless to say, they gave up on Logan -- if Jim was going to die at 13,000, there was little point in trying for 20,000 -- and called for a flight out. Which soon arrived, but which nearly killed Jim a second time as the plane crested a 9,000 ft pass.

    So, what's the lesson? Young, strong climber romps to 28,000 ft with no oxy, then comes within a whisker of dying at 13,000 just a year or two later. The lesson is acclimatization. Getting to the summit of K2 took forever, with gradual increases in elevation throughout, vs one day from 2,000 ft to 13,000 and then getting stuck there for an extra day.

  • @David-Harris Too true. I once spent the summer living at 9,800' and still huffed and puffed portaging 3.5 gallon gas tanks from the boat shack to boats tied up at the docks a short distance away. And I was quite fit before taking that gig. Like sustained 6 - 6.5 minute miles fit. Figured out I was just not cut out for mountaineering other than in my dreams and pretty much kept things under 12-12.5K.

  • @NickG said in Diamox at 8,000 feet:

    I used to be fine with altitude. Did Teeweionot CTC when I was 19yrs old. now at 57 and living in Vt @ 1200ft?? altitude kicks my butt. It seems like I can acclimate for 10k but even that takes me several weeks. much over 10 and I get pretty sick.

    Pretty much the same here. On CTC, always had a band from around 8,500' to 10,500' that I had to struggle through. Above 10.5 things would improve; don't know why.

    Now (60 yo) I seriously suck wind at anything over 8,500 if any exertion is required.

  • I agree with David that going quickly from low to high elevation can cause altitude sickness, which is of course a range of conditions, some very serious & others only serious. I've seen other people with the most common symptoms, nausea, splitting headache, & vomiting, 3 times.

    The first was a very fit mountain runner woman, who was part of a small group on a Nepal trek led by mutual friends. I came around a corner on a trail at about 13,000' & she was on her knees vomiting. Our guide friends, who had a lot of altitude experience, immediately started her on diamox & by the next day, she was good as new. At about 16,000' another fit woman in her 50's was similarly afflected & cured overnight. Both women were able to hike with us to Goykyo Ri 17,500' for an great Everest view

    I few years later, Heidi & I & two very fit friends found an outfitter who would guide us around some scenic high trails, unused by tourists, in the neighborhood of Machu Picchu, & then on to it. I got a prescription for diamox before leaving, since we knew we were going to be several days in terrain up to 15,100'. The sudden jump from sea level to Cuzco at 11,150' knocked us all off our bests, but with a lot of coco tea from the leaves of the cocaine plant, which is widely served localy, we acclimated in a few days of walking the town & touring nearby Inca ruins.

    Sacsayhuamán ruins at 12,100' with Cuzco in the background

    Lima, Cusco, Trek 081.jpg

    However, our group of 4 had been joined by a 26 year old investment banker from NYC. He was fit, but had never been above 9,000 ft. I scared him silly with altitude sickness stories & he bought some diamox. Out guide was a Peruvian indian mountain runner, who had also completed a U.S. "first-responder" "mountain-medicine" course. When we asked our guide about diamox, he agreed that it worked, but if we were going to use it, we should have started it a week before. He said it was worthless for treating altitude sickness once you showed symptoms. I kept my disagreement to myself & our friends.

    Day 6 we started our trek at about 9,000 ft. This was deluxe trekking with us carrying day packs, and all else being horse packed. Over the next 5 days we hiked about 35 miles with 3 high passes, 13,700 ft., 13,900 ft and 15,100 ft. The second day on the trail we hiked the first two passes & camped in a dirty farmyard at about 13,000'. We had gained about 2,500" of vertical from the previous nights camp & that was too much for our 26 year old. He had the altitude sickness symptoms I'm familiar with & came whinning to me, his surrogate father. I took him to our guide, told the two of them to work it out, & stepped away from the situation. Our guide treated him with coco-leaf tea & the youngster passed a miserable night. In the morning he went down to the railroad to Machu Picchu with a horse & the assistant guide & we old fogs continued on.

    Heidi & Fritz at the 15,100' pass.

    120207 004  fill flash +20.jpg

    So? Would I take diamox at 8,000'? No, since you also spend the night peeing, since a side-effect is dehydrating your body. But I have had a friend get really ill from altitude sickness in the Sierras at about 12,000'. He now won't camp above 8,000'.

  • that's what gets me in the tetons. Its something like 6k elevation gain from Lupine meadows to the lower saddle...

  • My bro in law worked at the Antamina mine in Peru about 14,000 feet

    The locals all drank Mate de Coca (you can buy the Delisse brand for about $50 (100 count) on the internet) but seemed to be chronically somewhat debilitated

    Do folks really acclimate to those heights?

    I have no idea

    "Effects of Living at Higher Altitudes ..."


    "Long-Term Exposure to High Altitude Affects Voluntary Spatial Attention at Early and Late Processing Stages"

    "The largest and most important impact of living in a high altitude is hypoxia, which is caused by a reduction of oxygen in the air and affects cognition. Sustained exposure to high altitude leads to cognitive decrement, such as impairment in attention, memory, judgment and emotion. Research has demonstrated that cognitive impairment due to altitude starts at 2,500 m above sea level because brain vulnerability to hypoxia increases beginning at 2,500 m"


  • I tried chewing yarrow flowers in the tetons but it just made my vomit taste yucky,....

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