Preparing for a High Altitude Hike & Fly

Expedition expert

For over 2 decades Linda Willemse have helped people prepare for adventures at altitude. She is the managing director of Paraglide Kilimanjaro and helped pioneer hiking and flying from Africa’s highest mountain.

A high-altitude hike-and-fly adventure is much like leaving from station 93/4 . A magical, mysterious and somewhat taxing journey lies just ahead. Preparation, the key for many a great success, lies in the considerations for a multi-day venture at high altitude before you get there.

Technically, ‘high altitude’ is between 8,000 and 12,000 feet above sea level with ‘very high altitude’ between 12,000 and 18,000 feet. Once the human body reaches about 6,900 feet above sea level, the saturation of oxyhemoglobin begins to decrease rapidly and the body needs adjust to the altitude to allow it to partially compensate for the lack of oxygen.

Altitude affects people uniquely; it is impossible to predict how altitude will affect a person. Interestingly, in general young fit males seem to be the worst affected by altitude.  There is also a limit to the level of adaptation with mountaineers referring to the altitudes above 26,000 ft as the death zone, where it is generally believed that no human body can acclimatize. As such anything above 18,000 feet is considered ‘extreme altitude’. Thin air aside, one also often needs to deal with subzero degrees, snow and extreme weather conditions making hiking and flying more challenging at these altitudes. Mountain peaks such as Mont Blanc, Kilimanjaro, the Himalayas and Aconcagua to name but a few would fall in this category.

Often this type of adventure involves carrying your own pack for some distance which would consist of your climbing gear, personal gear, food, water and paragliding gear…. ahhh, the weight factor! I am a firm believer of safety first, so I would not encourage anyone for example to ditch a reserve as to have a lighter pack to carry, if anything, at extreme altitudes it is best take all the safety gear available!

Depending on the mountain you are taking on, you are most likely going to need additional warm layers of clothing such as a down jacket, thermal underwear and waterproof jacket & pants as well as a decent warm sleeping bag. If it is a technical climb, you may need to fit in crampons and an ice axe too. Most of the high peaks require climbers to book with a tour operator, which is a massive advantage to you as it not only gives you the much-needed support on the mountain, but it also helps with the weight issue as the outfitter will usually supply the camp logistics such as tents, food, Sherpa support etc. while on the mountain.

For over 2 decades I had the absolute pleasure to have helped people prepare for adventures at altitude providing them with detailed packing suggestions and specialist guidance suited to the destination. The better your preparation, the better your chances of success – pack for the best and worst weather.

To get more tips & insight shared by Linda and others, get hold of the Cross Country Magazine Gear Guide 2021.

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