Exhausted, head pounding and breathless, I climbed out of bed in the small Himalayan settlement of Gorac Shep and reached for my water and some headache pills. The water was frozen and my heart sank. Even inside the room it was -20C. I checked the hydration pack inside my day sack and it too was frozen solid. Fortunately I was able to get my hands on some boiled water from the Tea house Kitchen. I explained to Kumar, my guide, that I was feeling exhausted and weak after giving everything I had to reach Everest Base Camp the previous day. He gave me some Electrolyte Tablets to put in my water and said they would help. They did. Soon I was replacing the fluids, electrolytes and energy which had all been used in the previous days efforts and, as we climbed out of Gorac Shep to start our return to Lucla, the world was a better place. Such is the importance of taking on fluids in the mountains especially at altitude.
Dehydration is more likely to occur when trekking or climbing at altitude. Taking on fluids, whether laced with sugar, salt, electrolytes or just plain water is especially important for reasons including those outlined below.
- Blood becomes thicker as it oxygenates to adjust to altitude
- Humidity is lower at high altitude
- More water than usual is lost through increased respiration rate
How Much To Drink
It is recommended to take as much as 3 to 4 litres per day. It is also recommended to take on fluids frequently while you climb. For example, sipping out of a Hydration Pack every 10 to 15 minutes as you progress along the trail.
Avoid Water Freezing
In colder temperatures fluid tends to freeze unless kept warm or close to the body and this can become a problem with Hydration Packs. Hence, I always carry extra water in bottles. Higher up when the temperature tends to plummet, these can be placed inside socks to keep them warm. Also, as fluid tends to freeze from the top down, it is a good idea to keep them upside down so that the fluid is always close to where you drink from. Final point on bottled water is that I would recommend dissolving some electrolyte tablets in the water. This will help replace other losses through sweat such as salt.
Other ways To Hydrate
There are also several other ways of hydrating beyond your water supply. Throughout my trips, I have come across a huge variety of different teas such as lemon, mint and even masala tea. You can stir in a spoonful of honey into the tea to add that bit of energy as well. In Nepal, they often serve Garlic Soup. It may sound not so nice to some but personally I love it. Any soup will warm you up and can be very welcome on those cold nights. In addition, there is normally salt in most soups. It is said that Garlic has properties which naturally help fight the effects of altitude.
Avoid Single Use Plastic
Many of the National Parks which host the high mountains discourage excessive use of single use plastic bottles. Hence, it is always good to help the environment and use an alternative source to bottled water. Boiled water is often available in the campsites and Tea Houses and, once cooled, is good to drink. For those who feel they can fill up from a stream, the use of a device such as a Life Straw to filter the water or Water Purification Tablets are extremely helpful.
Avoid Alcoholic Drinks
For those of us who enjoy a beer or two or any other alcoholic drinks for that matter, the best advice is not to indulge whilst at altitude. Apart from the obvious alcohol related questions around fitness and good judgement, alcohol does have a tendency to dehydrate us. Not such a great idea to dehydrate ourselves in an environment which dehydrates us in the first place.
Having saved myself through both the Everest Base Camp and the Mera Peak Trek, I can say that the night in Lukla before boarding the flight to Kathmandu next day involved some good alcoholic celebrations. It was definitely worth the wait.