Although there is a variety of altitude hazards to your health and many ways to prevent and cure - especially by knowledge and sense - there is one single important discovery that we would like to share with you.
It has totally altered our own performance in climbing as well as our well being in altitude. It is very simple yet crucial ' it is the drinking of water.
The lack of oxygen at altitude cause your body to need more red oxygen carrying blood cells. Each new blood cell will pick up oxygen from the air and hurry it to your tissues. Your spine will therefore soon start to produce this new blood.
The drawback is that the new blood cells will make your blood very thick. You will see it clearly if cutting your finger - the blood is dark and syrupy.
Thick blood means slow circulation and the blood unable to reach your finer blood veins - the capillaries. The oxygen transportation will be slow and inefficient with that.
When your tissues don't get warm blood to heat them - they will start to freeze. You suffer frostnip.
The cells in your body begin to collect fluid. Your lung fills up and you drown in your own body fluid (HAPE). The brain swells up (HACE).
The body will collect water from everywhere it can - your intestines for instance. As your bowels don't get enough water to make the waste soft you can't get rid of it (it is small and hard as a rabbits and really painful).
Water ends up everywhere in your body, except were it should be ' in the blood. Your muscle cells don't get oz and you climb slowly and heavily.
All these altitude symptoms happen because the fluid balance in your body is messed up.
There is a very simple way to keep the blood nice and thick with the precious oxygen-providing red blood cells intact, and still happily free flowing to all the tiniest corners of your system: WATER!
You need around 4-5 liters of water at altitude to feel great. Simple as that. Drink. Drink, Drink!
The best way to check that you are well hydrated is to check your urine. You need to drink until it's almost white.
It's not of much use pumping your blood full with oz when climbing on oxygen support, if it still can't get anywhere due to slow circulation.
A well-hydrated climber with NO oxygen support can actually perform BETTER than a dehydrated climber ON oxygen. Obviously, being well hydrated and on oxygen, will be your best bet.
We rid us of headaches, hemorrhoids, edema, fatigue - everything, just by drinking! Try to drink 1-2 liters, 1-2 hours before the climb and you will feel a dramatic difference in your climbing performance.
At camp - don't just lie to sleep, take the time to melt snow and drink another two liters. At night, drink another. You won't believe the difference. In the morning, you will be up and ready to go, instead of the usual headaches, fatigue and all the other altitude pains.
In the past two years we have stayed at C2 for prolonged periods, at C3 without os and previous acclimatization there, still climbing fast for C4 and the summit. At the summit we stayed one hour without oz, leisurely climbed back down to C4, made transmissions and complicated technical work in the meantime - and felt great the whole time! Tina didn't even wear gloves once all the way from BC to summit and back...
It was a big change to our first years, when "normal" liquid intake (2-3 liters at the most), left us struggling and suffering throughout most of the climbs. Drink and be merry. Don't drink and you'll end up fighting a battle with altitude.
If you climb in a commercial expedition, drinking might prove more easily said than done. Two burners and one of them probably failing, to be shared between three climbers. Not enough gas, and a decision to take turns cooking whilst the others might not share your view on the amount needed, could turn the task of getting enough liquid into an impossible one.
We recommend that you bring a spare burner for your own personal use (the Titanium very light weight stove for instance: "Primus Alpine Titanium" 95 g/3,35 oz/3000 W/ approx US 150) and really be on your leader's back to provide plenty of gas. You've paid some serious money for the services - they can afford one extra sherpa to supply enough of the important things to everyone!
Finally - remember that coffee, tea and chocolate are diuretic and won't do the work well. Count in only 50% liquid value with those.