Acclimatisation myths # 1 : Been there , done that

Myths are are explanations of our world, based on experience. Today´s myths play out on the net , and woe unto the ones that question not the experience , but the explanation.

So , before trusting the experience , some quick reality checks when you hear someone cheering people merrily on to a quick jaunt up to a high camp , close to heaven :

1. Been where ?
You will be surprised at how many actually can´t describe where they´ve been – vertically. Discussing itineraries , especially the first inroads, is all about ascent rates : if the advice comes without a clear description of sleeping altitudes firstly , and max altitudes secondly it´s just not workable info.
Been where ? also includes another question : coming from .. ? – again , vertically . If that information is missing , get a good map , or go to Google Earth. Place limited trust in web searches : there is a lot just plain wrong intel out there : like the persistent myths of the worlds highest road , for instance.

2. Done it , really ?
Suggested itineraries often represent ..plans and dreams , not experience. The thing you´d want to do next time. Listen carefully , and you´ll hear that telling , far away voice talking about unfulfilled goals . Which is a form of poetry , well worth listening to. Make it another reason to go – but don´t exchange the map , with the elevation curves, for the poetry when you actually set out.

3. Done what ?
Going thru , and staying at , are two radically different things. There are vast numbers of travellers convinced that they -and you- can handle the altitude of x meters after having traversed a high pass. What can be learned from this is if you were able to handle that ascent profile : a long high plateau below a pass can , often will, hit harder than the high point of the journey.
Ever more important , sleeping poses a bigger challenge than staying awake , and upright.

4.Did it when ?
People will often react differently to rapid ascents , which feeds a perception that it´s a random process . If you look to the time before setting out , a lot of this randomness evaporates, and becomes consistent with the time spent acclimatising before setting out. The one time it started to go horribly wrong the difference between me and the unconscious fellow traveller next to me was the time spent at moderately high altitude before, a pattern that repeated itself in the rest of the group.

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11 thoughts on “Acclimatisation myths # 1 : Been there , done that

  1. Well written and good advice!! all 3
    I am 60yrs old woman,
    that woul like do the Manali-Leh or viceversa this summer.
    Although planning only one way by road ,I can’t decide if I should drive up or drive down.

    What is your advice?
    thank you.

    • If it just came down to treating your body best , then a fly in first is the best thing ( well , Srinagar-Leh is better , but Srinagar remains curfew capital of NW India ) . You can do Manali-Leh in a number of though , a good plan is minimum two nights in Lahaul around 3000 ( Sissu , Keylong , Jispa, Darcha …) and no stop in The Vomit Hilton , sorry , Sarchu . Plans don´t always work out , last year was second time I was forced in to a unplanned night stop in Pang, that´s when having a margin from acclimatized comes in . Tweaks at

      A route which takes a lot more time , and is very rewarding is going via Shimla-Kinnaur-Spiti first , then connect with the Manali-Leh route at the other side of the Rothang . some pics at . Biggest risk is that you´ll enjoy Spiti too much , and never arrive in Leh…

      As for the 60year old thing : age matters in an unexpected way : the 50+ group actually cope somewhat better than the younger ones.

  2. hi ida, if you are concerned about the altidtude – fly leh and drive back. besides there beeing a hospital – you will not need it – take it easy there and adjust to the altitude. if you go manali – leh you first stop in keylong is (almost) at leh altitude. next stop (sarchu?) 4200m! this is a very quick ascent. we do it on bikes because there is not way round be if you can avoid it do it the other way round… you will love it!
    promise! heinrich

    • This is sound advice . On the other hand , the purpose of life can´t be reduced to just avoiding sickness and there is a .. poetic aspect of doing the road in . ( Keylong is below 3100 , more than four hundred meters lower than Leh , and yes , it makes a difference on your first nights. )

  3. Hey.. I’m planning to go to Leh for just a couple of days.. April 3rd week. I’m just going because I need to SEE Leh / Ladakh. Taking a flight both ways due to time constraint. Flying Delhi to Leh and back over a weekend. Wanted to know if this will work.. DO i need to budget one day of staying inside the room to acclimatise. I’m not going on a trek (though would love to but next year).

    Also any advice on what one can do after landing there with only a couple of days in hand. Am planning to go this wekend or last weekend of APril. Pls advise on what’s better.


  4. Hi there, Me and my husband plan to go to Manali-Leh in July 2nd week. I have been reading about AMS . and recently came across a website that says \”asthmatic persons should avoid travelling Ladakh\” How true is this..? My husband suffers from asthma but he has never had asthma attack as such.. What is your advice on this? What precautions can be taken? Thanks in advance

  5. I don’t think is a good idea for an asthmatic person to go at high altitudes. I don’t know where you live, but if you have a high mountain place near by, try to go there before the journey to Ladakh. It would be unwise, if your husband feels ill in Ladakh and no quick way to descend.
    People with no asthma, have trouble acclimatizing in Ladakh.
    Better safe then sorry.
    Again test yourselves before going there.

  6. Background only , see your doc , but…

    Asthmatics not only do well generally at altitude , some do even better.Explanations for that could be cleaner air , less pollen , and less airway resistance. Asthmatics for example were for example not excluded from working on the construction of the railway to Lhasa , with workplaces up to 5000+ meters. And that worked out well .

    Possible issues could be if the asthma is triggered by cold ( no real chances of that in July ) or by dust : you are basically travelling thru a high altitude desert.

  7. Hi Vistet.. We will be starting from Pune and will stay overnight in Manali and Keylong. I think staying overnight in Manali and Keylong would also help .. Following is our itinerary:
    Day 1 : Fly Pune To New Delhi, take evening bus Delhi- Manali
    Day 2: reach manali, Overnight in Manali
    Day 3: Manali- Keylong – overnite at keylong
    Day 4: Keylong- Leh
    Day 5: Visit nearby monastries- Spituk, Alchi, Lamayuru, etc and get permits for Nubra Valley, Khardung la and Pangong
    Day 6: Khardung la and Nubra Valley, return back to LEH
    Day 7: Pangong Lake, return back to LEH
    Day 8- Leh- Sarchu
    Day 10: Manali to Delhi (overnight at Delhi)
    Day 11: Delhi to Pune

    @ Kika .. will surely consult our family doctor before going

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