India is a country blessed with a mountain range called the Himalayas which extends from the far eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh till Kashmir. These hills have been the mecca for thousands of motorcyclists who traverse it’s rugged terrain and experience real adventure in life. These mountains are a home to numerous high passes like Khardung La, Chang La, Shipki La, Nathu La, Bomdi La etc. As you start ascending towards such high altitude regions, the level of oxygen starts reducing simultaneously and the lack of oxygen causes a health issue called Acute Mountain Sickness. That’s what this blog is all about.
Tips for Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
Recently, two souls passed away due to AMS at Pangong lake located at 4250 meters (13944 feet) above sea level. One of them had been to Ladakh, 9 times already. It’s really saddening to hear such news. Such incidents are a cruel reminder to all of us that you can never ever overpower nature and respecting it is the only way you can survive. Based on my experience from my recent solo Ladakh trip on my bike, I will give you certain pointers which will help you to prepare yourself for such long and adventurous journeys on your beloved motorcycles.
- AMS can happen to anyone, anywhere irrespective of fitness level, it can hit an athlete or even people with bellies coming out. So you hitting the gym and building up some muscles will not really help you in preventing this.
- The most important activity for you to prevent AMS is acclimatization. So plan your journey is such a way that you rest at your first place of arrival for at least 2 full days excluding the day of arrival. Even the army personnel, who are extremely fit and are stationed in high altitude locations, acclimatize for at least a week with minimum amount of physical activity. Now you can gauge the importance of this activity and will take it seriously.
- Plan your motorcycle trip in such away that your overnight stays are at lower altitudes at the beginning of the journey. For example: If you are going to Leh from Manali, please do not stay in Pang or Sarchu (which is the usual practice of tour operators), stay in Jispa which is relatively lower in altitude, start early from Jispa and reach Leh well before twilight ends. Idea is to make your body use to the conditions and prevent it from getting a shock which can be dangerous at times.
- I have observed a lot of times that riders going in motorcycle groups hardly care for each other because they are lost in their own state of happiness but as a co-rider keep monitoring your health and even your group mates health. If you see someone is falling sick, seek medical help asap.
- While riding your bike, taking timely breaks is mandatory and with each break consume a lot of water which has a lot of oxygen in it. Drink at least 4 liters daily, just like taking doctor recommended pills. Carry hydration packs available at Decathlon outlets, which you can simply slide it on your shoulders and sip water from it on the go.
- AMS symptoms affect everyone in high altitude places. It can be mild symptoms and even alarming symptoms, so consult your doctor, before going to such places, on the precautions which you can take and get a quick health check up done. If you are not well a day before travelling, then please postpone your plans for another day.
- This is my personal observation that we motorcyclists normally cover our faces with balaclavas or handkerchiefs under our helmets to prevent smoke and dust to enter but I think for me, while riding in Ladakh, breathing properly through that was a difficult task so I uncovered my nose to let in more air into my lungs and it was really helpful.
- Do not stay on high mountain passes for more than 10 minutes. These warnings are also given by the Army officials located there. So it is better to respect the warnings and nature.
- If you are not feeling well while climbing a high mountain pass, please avoid ascending and there are small army medical camps located from where you can take immediate medical assistance. For example: If you going to Chang La in Ladakh, then you will find an Army camp in Zingral which has a medical center.
- Please do not consume alcohol because alcohol dehydrates the body faster. This is a big NO!
Your health and life is in your hands. Don’t let ego defeat you because mountains will remain here forever but you will not. I planned my stays after doing a little research of altitudes at which I would be sleeping. Please do not make fun of people who fall sick due to AMS and also do not rejoice someone who escaped unaffected. Try to understand the problem and increase your awareness. Idea is to make your journey a pleasurable experience. It is also true that at one place where I felt I could not breathe properly, to find out where, you can read my Ladakh Trip Blog on the below mentioned link:
I also went through a couple of videos on AMS before riding to Ladakh. Links are mentioned below:
Disclaimer: This blog is based on my personal experiences and research which I have done on the internet. Please do not treat this as any kind of medical advice. For medical advice, please consult a qualified doctor.