Breathe, pace yourself, stay hydrated and watch the clock.

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Stefan Lofgren, chief climbing ranger at Mount Rainier National Park, offers these tips when he meets with climbers at Camp Muir, the climbers’ base camp. His tips are listed in order of how immediate an effect they have on your physiology, assuming that everyone is technically trained and experienced.



Breathe.  Learn how to “pressure breathe.” Some call it double or pursed-lip breathing. Forcefully exhale. It should make almost a whistling sound. Move all the air out of your lungs and replace it with new air. The pressure increases in your lungs momentarily and may help increase the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the alveoli. I can often “heal” a sick climber by placing them on the other end of the rope from me and ensuring that I can hear them breathe.

Pace yourself. Let your breathing control your pace. Don’t sprint and stop, sprint and stop. That is a recipe for altitude illness. If it gets flat, speed up. If it gets steep, slow down. Maintain a nice, even rate of breathing — vary your speed to ensure that happens.

Drink a lot of water. Studies have shown that hydration plays a major role in many physiological aspects of high-altitude mountaineering. Being well-hydrated keeps you warmer when you need to stay warm. It keeps you cooler when you need to be cooler. You’ll need both on your climb. Being fully hydrated decreases the risk of frostbite. Being hydrated helps you more efficiently metabolize food you eat.

Leave early.  Return early. Once the sun comes out, the clock is ticking. I encourage all parties to be back at Camp Muir by 12 noon. The sun just seems to zap everyone’s energy. You get lethargic and tired. This severely effects your ability to self-rescue, especially if it is now late afternoon and the snow bridges are at their weakest and the rocks are most readily falling!