Diamox is Not a Substitute for Acclimatization

I am no expert on high altitude and high altitude sickness. It is commonly known as AMS or acute mountain sickness. But I am someone who loves going to the mountains. For me views are more important than gaining height. But as it is easy to gain height on treks these days, I have been up to Kala Pathar (Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal) which is 5,643 meters or just a little above 18,000 feet. I am someone who tries to trek at least once a year. Recently I came across a program where I felt they were treating Diamox as a substitute for acclimatization. I feel very strongly that Diamox is not a substitute for acclimatization.

High Altitude

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Everest Base Camp, Nepal

It is said that the risk of altitude sickness may start from 2,400 meters or 8,000 feet. By 10,000 feet almost everyone will end up paying attention. Anyone can reach 10,000 feet easily in India if you visit Leh or Kaza.

Less Oxygen

As there is less oxygen on the higher altitude, it affects the body adversely. The body needs time to adjust to the less oxygen. Some of the very common symptoms of AMS are headache, nausea, feeling breathless etc. There is a vast literature on the internet that documents all things related to altitude sickness.

Acclimatization

One of the most common advice (for me the soundest advice too) to deal with altitude sickness is to take it slow. One should not be in a hurry to gain height. It helps to gain height gradually, whether you are walking or moving in a vehicle. For example, when I was trekking up to the Everest Base Camp, there were two days, one at Namche and another at Dingboche, where we stayed for one extra night at the same place. They were heaven sent to me, it helped in soothing my aching limbs and giving me a better shot at acclimatizing to the height. I would not dream of chopping it off from my itinerary. The other advice is drink plenty of fluids (not alcohol though) to keep the body hydrated.

Diamox

A very common medicine mentioned to deal with the problems of high altitude is Diamox. All my guides carry it. But all of them are stellar people, they plan the trek so well, that I never had any need to take Diamox. But then that is just me. It is entirely your and your doctor’s call whether you need Diamox or not. If there is a need for Diamox, along with acclimatization, it should be done properly.

Diamox Not a Substitute for Acclimatization

everest-base-camp-high-altitude
Deepak, Me, Diana and Goki at Everest Base Camp, Nepal

However, I came across a trekking program recently which was planned such that there were no rests. And it was mandatory for everyone to take Diamox before the trek! The height gained was not more than 3600 meters! It took me completely by surprise, and then it left me seething.

The group was starting by train from a state in South India. They were proceeding to Uttarkashi the same night they arrived after their 42 hour train journey. And after reaching Uttarkashi they would start trekking the very next day. If I would have joined that group (and I would have been paid for it too) I would at least start from Delhi. And yet the road journey was done in such a haste that it made me hesitate. I went on a conference call with the stakeholders. And that is when I learned that it was compulsory to take Diamox if you wanted to join the trek!

I was so angry, I could not think straight. I mean you rush people like a piece of luggage from one part of the country to another and then insist that everyone treks after taking Diamox! Now what kind of planning is that? I dropped out of that trip without any hesitation.

And then I hit the search button on the internet. I found that the company was not alone. Some were more sophisticated in their approach but the essence was same, we have limited holidays, let us go as high we want on Diamox!

And it is not that I never used to work! In fact all my major treks were done while I was working full time. I never came across a guide who even tried to suggest Diamox as compulsion!

I will repeat once again that I am no expert on high altitude but even in my limited experience I firmly believe that Diamox is not a substitute for proper acclimatization.

My Personal Experience

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Acclimatize for High Altitude!

Last year in 2014 I went to Chandratal (4,300 meters) after staying in Manali for two nights.  Then we stayed at Batal for a night. I was perfectly fine at Chandratal. This year in 2015 I stayed one night in Manali and then headed straight for Chandratal without a stop at Batal. On the first evening I had a headache and I was not feeling happy in general. I took it easy at night and then the next day we headed down to Tabo and I did fine after that. So, it is not that if I have been to a place before I can rush to it the second time!

Maybe it is me who is out of touch with the world but for me Diamox will never be the only acclimatization plan for my trip in high mountains!

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There is everything about the Himalayas that attracts me towards them! I am lucky that I have been to Nepal, Bhutan and of course explored the Indian Himalayas as well. Trekking is my favorite way to see the grand mountain range. But I am always happy to be there! And the Himalayan sky paint a grand picture every time!

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Palampur, Himachal Pradesh, India

But even if I cannot trek, I am just happy to be there. Like the time when I went to Palampur (Himachal Pradesh, India) on a solo trip! I did a homestay and explored the nearby areas of Baijnath and Bir. And at all points I felt safe. I would get home by the evening and no one ever bothered me during the daytime.

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Beautiful Bhutan

This gorgeous picture was taken in Bhutan. When I came back from Bhutan I missed it so much, it felt like I was having a hangover! There is something about Bhutan that makes you feel that you have stepped back in time! It is a country that has no McDonalds and only one airline! The scenery is to die for! It is mandatory to spend 250 dollars per night per person if you wish to visit Bhutan but luckily this rule doesn’t apply to Indians!

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Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal

Nepal is a place where I completely feel at home! While I was trekking on the Annapurna Circuit Trek in Nepal, all I got was rains and then snow. I had to give up on the trek mid-way. This rare ray of sunshine came out while we were walking back. It is never a good feeling to leave a trek mid way but I have always been pragmatic about it!

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The Beautiful Chandratal, Himachal Pradesh, India

Whichever way you look at it, Chandratal (Himachal Pradesh, India) is beautiful. I saw it along with too many clouds! I am pining to go back. Let us see if I can do it this year itself. After all I have time now!

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Beautiful Nepal

I often think of Everest Base Camp trek in Nepal with a lot of nostalgia. I would always feel unsure about completing it but I did it in the end! And the mountain gods let me do it, after all you need their cooperation in completing any trek!

PS. This post is part of Skywatch Friday. Do check it out.

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I am a big mountain fan and I am blessed that I live in India, the home to the Himalayas. And if I want more there is always Nepal and Bhutan next door. However our ‘main’ hill stations like Shimla, Manali, Nainital etc are extremely crowded, particularly over holidays and weekends. They are over constructed too. However, the solution to the problem is also simple. Just move out a few kilometers from the main hill station and it is all beauty and solitude. Fagu Himachal Pradesh is just 22 kilometers away from Shimla but it is a different world out there. Admittedly there is no nightlife, and other than the HPTDC hotel, I spotted no restaurants as well. There are a few kirana shops and there is nature on a grand scale.

mountains-fagu
The Rolling Hills at Fagu, Himachal Pradesh #Canon550D

Remember my letter to the mountain gods? Looks like it worked partially. I got an absolutely gorgeous day at the beginning of the trip. After that it snowed and it was business as usual but I am not complaining.

Fagu
Beautiful Fagu #Canon550D

Even though I have been to quite a few places close to Shimla like Chail, Narkanda, Naldhera and Hail Himalayas near Sadhupul, this was my first glimpse of the snow capped ranges. I so wanted to see them glow red at sunset, but then mountain gods had other ideas. Even though it was a clear day, by sunset the whole range disappeared behind a veil of clouds, but even then I am not complaining.

blue-sky
Walking Around Fagu, Himachal Pradesh #Canon550D

We were staying at the HPTDC property Apple Blossom. There was a temple behind it and a tila (hillock) beyond it. It was our favorite walking ground. I actually liked that stray white cloud because it made the scene even more pretty.

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The Lonely House, Fagu, Himachal Pradesh #Lumia1020

On the hillock was this lonely house which was locked. There were no other accommodations around it. I wonder if this is just a store house?

indian-himalayas
Fagu, Himachal Pradesh #Canon550D

And even when I got mist, it was beautiful on this trip to Fagu. This year the effort is going to be to go to the Himalayas whenever possible.

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This is the first post from the new domain, about my first love, mountains. First off two big thank yous are due, first to Max Hartshorne, editor of Gonomad, who gave me my first break. You and Gonomad will always remain special. Second one is due to my brother-in-law Amrit Hallan who managed my domain shift with such ease.

Now off with the post. For this Sky Watch Friday, I bring you my first love, the mountains from my travels near and far.

10. Blyde River Canyon, South Africa

Blyde River Canyon, South Africa
Blyde River Canyon, South Africa

Blyde River Canyon is a stop on the Panorama Route, Mpumalanga in South Africa. All the stops on the route are beautiful but Blyde River Canyon was extra special for its fantastic views of the Drakensberg Mountains.

9. Taluka, Uttarakhand, India

Taluka, Uttarakhand
Taluka, Uttarakhand

We went to sleep in a green field at Taluka and woke up to a white cover overnight. Well, that was not strictly true, as our guide came to wake us up at night so that we would not let snow accumulate on the tent roof, or it would collapse.

8. Women Going Home at Dusk, Spiti, India

Women Going Home at Dusk, Spiti
Women Going Home at Dusk, Spiti

This is a picture from the 2007 Spiti trip. The place was Komik, I was out clicking pictures at dusk. The women didn’t speak Hindi but they readily posed for me.

7. Dingboche to Lobuje Walk, Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Dingboche to Lobuje, Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
Dingboche to Lobuje, Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

I found all these cotton candies in the sky while from Dingboche to Lobuje in Nepal. Everest Base Camp has been the trek of my lifetime.

6. Langza, Spiti, India

Langza, Spiti, India
Langza, Spiti, India

This is again from the 2007 trip to Spiti. Langza then was a small village, our starting point for the trek. What you see is the whole village in the picture!

5. Gorekshep, Nepal

Gorakshep, Nepal
Gorakshep, Nepal

This is again from the Everest Base Camp Trek in Nepal. The place, Gorekshep is at 5100 meters and for me that was killing. I could neither eat nor sleep. Thankfully it was a one night halt.

4. On the Way to Manang, Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal

On the Way to Manang, Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal
On the Way to Manang, Annapurna Circuit Trek, Nepal

Annapurna Circuit Trek is an unfinished business for me. I could not finish it as the route was all snowed out. I hardly got any views as well because of the clouds. More or less since then all my mountain trips have met the same fate, too many clouds.

3. Batal, Spiti, India

Batal, Spiti, India
Batal, Spiti, India

I went to Spiti this year again, the idea was to go to the Chandratal Lake. Apart from this view which I got for a few hours at Batal, everything was covered in clouds once again!

2. Pheriche, Nepal

Pheriche, Nepal
Pheriche, Nepal

This was the majestic view when I was coming back from Gorekshep. As I sleep at 7-8 pm on treks waking up at 5.00 am is natural too. This view was the reward for getting up at 5.00 am.

1. Mount Everest as Seen from Kala Patthar, Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal

Mount Everest as seen from Kala Patthar, Nepal
Mount Everest as seen from Kala Patthar, Nepal

It is natural to put it at 1 because of the Everest. I was so tired when I reached Kala Patthar eventually. But to see Everest with my own eyes was truly special.

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