Luxurious hotel holidays, exclusive spas and small island hideaway holidays seem to have been left behind a bit by the travel savvies and those looking for the new type of luxury holiday which challenges you physically and emotionally. Indeed, extreme holidays such as climbing Kilimanjaro, walking the Inca trail, canoeing along the Mekon river to Angkor Wat or walking to the South Pole or even attempting Everest, seem to have become the holiday type of choice for those seeking something new.
In our excitement to head off into the unknown to experience these thrills, it is easy to overlook the health challenges faced by those seeking high altitude and extreme low temperature adventures.
Of course the pleasures of trekking in the world's highest mountain ranges cannot be overstated. Neither can the dangers. One of the most common health conditions experienced by climbers is altitude sickness which can occur in some people as low as 8,000 feet; however serious symptoms do not usually occur until over 12,000 feet. Even then it is not the height that is important, rather the speed in which you ascended to that altitude.
It may come as a surprise to hear that acute mountain sickness is actually more common in fit young men because they are more likely to attempt a rapid ascent by racing up the mountain like some indestructible superhero! As a general rule, it is far safer (and more enjoyable) to avoid altitude sickness by planning a sensible itinerary that allows for gradual acclimatisation to altitude as you ascend.
Signs of sickness include vomiting, headaches, difficulty sleeping and sometimes problems with co-ordination. Some people opt to take drugs to avoid the altitude sickness but research has concluded that the drugs do not protect against the harmful effects of altitude if climbers are ascending too quickly.
Acute Mountain sickness is common and is not life-threatening and as long as treatment of rest, hydration and some medication for the nausea and headaches is given; together with medical checks, the further ascent should be possible. This is just one of the health challenges extreme holidays can bring and even for the most experienced traveller, extensive international travel can present challenges beyond their knowledge and resources.
This is why it is important not to neglect getting the necessary health checks prior to your departure, to ensure you are sufficiently educated on risks and symptoms. Specialist centres can assess your risk for developing altitude sickness and can monitor you whilst passively breathing altitude air up to 5000m. Hypoxic exercise sessions will let you experience what it is like to exercise at altitude, giving you a flavor for what to expect when out on the mountain. Exercising in the hypoxic tent simulates the high altitude environment and allows your body to get used to the high altitude.
Whilst on the ground, a personalised travel medicine pack with medication and local and international contact numbers is very useful in order to feel supported throughout your remote adventure, so that you can focus on the magnificent views!