Tibet vs Altitude Mountain Sickness

Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS) is not a stranger since we’ve climbed mountains above 3000m above sea level (note: AMS usually hit when you are at 2500m or above). I am quite blessed as AMS did not hit me during my mountain trips, partly because we ascent gradually.

Known as the roof of the world, Lhasa is at 3650m above sea level and other parts of Tibet hover around 4000m (+/-).  Singapore is at sea level (well our highest hill is 163m) and Xi’an is about 400m above sea level. We will be flying into Lhasa and meaning a sudden increase in the altitude for us, so getting AMS seems inevitable.

View from the plane. It’s summer, so no snow-capped mountains.

I did my online research and borrowed Tibet travel guides from the library and a major part in the guides are always about AMS, how to prevent it and the treatment. Some advises from the various guides:

  1. Exercise to keep fit. No worries for us since we exercise so regularly.
  2. Avoid catching a cold before entering Tibet.  To counter this, we went for a flu jab 6 weeks before.
  3. Do not bath on the first night in Tibet. This to avoid catching a cold while your body is adjusting to the altitude.  So in a way I was quite glad we did not take the train as train travel is 2 days long and we may not have a shower for the 2 days while on the train.
  4. A good night sleep the night before entering Tibet. Well, after a hard day climb at Mount Hua in Xi’an we were too tired to stay up too late for the night.
  5. After getting off the plane, walk slowly and take some deep breath. Some guides suggested to bring a luggages instead of carry backpack. Some warned not to get too overly excited at the snow-capped mountains surrounding when you arrive. Well, I don’t have a decent luggage to bring, so I tried to pack as little items as possible into my backpack to make it as light as possible (final weight at about 9/10Kg).
  6. Prepare AMS pills.  Well, other than eating the chinese medicine – Hong Jing Tian (红景天) we also visited the doctor to get Diamox, to be eaten at least 24 hrs before entering high altitude, continued to eat once you are acclimatised usually around 4-5 days.  Diamox is said to help you to breathe slower and deeper allowing you to get more oxygen. However, they do have some side-effect. For me I experience some tingling sensation on my hand and face. Luckily this round was not as bad as when I was in Nepal so it’s still bearable. 
  7. Drink plenty of water. Hmm… considering the condition of the toilets there, we really did not want to drink too much water. 

It got kind of scary and made worst when the news came where 2 Singaporeans died of AMS in Tibet, although we will not be going to altitude above 6000m, but the fact that we are flying in got us real worried.  We also heard from friends who were reduced to just a floating being throughout the whole Tibet trip, having bad headache, giddiness, no appetite, etc. The whole trip just wasted.

Arriving at Lhasa Gonggar Airport ( 拉萨贡嘎机场)

The night before the flight, me & Yin decided to take Diamox, while Kenn said we are over-reacting. Better be safe. As the plane approached Lhasa, I got real uptight thou trying to calm myself down.  I was already thinking how I will be reacting once I step onto the ground. When the plane door open and I step out, nice cool air and blazing sun greeted me. I slowly walked down the staircase, hopped onto the airport shuttle bus and proceeded to collect our backpacks. Hmm… all the while I feel fine, less some dizziness I believe arose from  me being over paranoid.. hahaha.

Other than the blood clotting in my nose and the slight giddiness I had when waking up in the morning at Namtso Lake (4th day) and while walking at Ganden Monastery (12th day) , I was feeling alright throughout the trip. Kenn had a free flow nose bleed the morning we are to set off for Namtso Lake (3rd day in Tibet) so he finally started on his Diamox.

Walking up many stairs / slopes at Sheger Fort

Breathlessness was inevitable especially when climbing up stairs or slopes but after awhile of walking I would be back to normal. Really glad that we are all well during the trip and we’ve acclimatised well to the high altitude so we were really able to enjoy the beautiful scenery in Tibet and enjoyed some of nice food there.

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