With access to the peak area of Mt. Kenya so easy, that is, contrasted with most other high mountains in the world, the hiker or climber is confronted with certain unique and potentially, serious problems associated with high altitude and acclimatization, or rather, the lack off.
The most common problem is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).
The incidence of appetite loss, headache, nausea and vomiting are high, and affect to a greater or lesser extent. 80% or more of the visitors to the Austrian Hut area (4,800m) and even at Mackinder’s Camp (4,100m), over half the visitors will feel somewhat “rough”
NOTE: In general, the faster you walk up the mountain, the more likely you are to feel the effects of altitude and to feel ill. In order to encourage visitors to spend longer on the walk in, particularly those on a tight budget, the Park authorities have reduced Park entry fees for all hikers on multi-day trips.
Information and recommendations contained in the section below should be regarded as a guide only. Detailed medical information can be obtained from your own personal physician and from such publications as (Medicine for Mountaineering) publishes by The Mountaineers of Seattle, USA; or, (Mountain Medicine and Physiology) published by the Alpine Club in London. If you have any doubts about your physical condition, GET A MEDICAL CHECK UP before heading up the mountain.
SPECIFIC HIGH ALTITUDE PROBLEMS: Caused through the inability of the human body to adjust to a rapid gain in altitude. Problems range from mild cases of AMS, experienced to some extent by a majority of climbers, through its various forms to the often fatal Pulmonary and Cerebral Edema’s. (HAPE & HACE). The latter being less common. Oddly enough, young fit males seem to be the most badly affected by altitude whereas females adjust very fast.
Symptoms of AMS include, (in the order usually experienced):
- Muscle weakness
- A rapid pulse even at rest (+120 /min)
- Swelling of the hands and feet
- Reduced urine output
Climbers with severe symptoms MUST stop ascending and seriously consider descending to a lower altitude. Often a drop of as a little as 500m and a stay of a couple of days at that altitude will allow better acclimatization to take place. Use of the drug Diamox can help prevent or reduce the severity of AMS. With HAPE, additional symptoms may be noticed:
- Shortness of breath even when resting
- Gurgling bubbly sounds in the chest
- Sometimes watery blood-tinged sputum.
- Cold & clammy skin
- Fingernails and lips turn blue
With HACE, severe headache, hallucination and lack of co-ordination are additional symptoms. For this, treatment must be immediate, DESCEND! Even if it means walking down at night. The speed with which these two conditions kill is often as little as 12 hours from when the symptoms first become apparent. If bottled oxygen is used, it should be used.
PRECAUTIONS that the climbers can take to help minimize the severity of mountain sickness include:
- Staying a night at 3,000m and an extra night at 4,200m.
- Maintaining a slow and steady pace whilst walking up
- Drink at least 3 liters of fluids each day
Dehydration, even mild, leads to thickening of the blood with increased possibility of pulmonary embolism or a thrombosis. Urine color should be pale and the output copious.
HYPOTHERMIA: Hypothermia/exposure is the lowering of body’s score temperature. Preventing is the best course of action. Use appropriate equipment. NEVER allow oneself on one’s clothes to become wet either from rain or perspiration. When at rest, keep out of the wind. The treatment for hypothermia is simple and needs to be carried out as quickly as possible.
If a hut or natural shelter is not close by, a tent, bivi bag or similar protection should be arranged to keep the victim dry. REMOVE all wet clothing and place the victim in a sleeping bag (or two or three). If possible, another person should be placed in the bag as well. Direct skin to skin contact is best. Once the victim is conscious, hot drinks will go a long way towards boosting morale. Frostbite, though unlikely to kill, can result in later loss, through amputation of body’s extremities such as fingers and toes. Equipment in the form of mittens and balaclava, good footwear and keeping dry is 90% of the way towards preventing the problem. Warning signs are severe pain in the affected area accompanied by sudden and complete numbness. Color of the affected area will be almost white.
SUN RELATED INJURIES: As about 40% of the earth’s protective atmosphere is below an altitude of 4,000m., far less of the harmful low frequency ultra-violet light is filtered out and the sun’s rays are much more powerful, EVEN if through cloud cover. This can result in very rapid burning of exposed skin. A preparation of 10% PABA in Zinc Oxide cream, or a factor 25+ sun cream is recommended protection. Dark glasses with side panels or better still proper snow goggles are best worn at all times above 3,000m., especially when the sun is out, and are essential when crossing snow or ice. Snow blindness is a very painful experience. The only cure is complete bandaging of the eyes for 24 hours or more.
FEET PROBLEMS: Blisters are usually a result of poor fitting, new or little used boots. As soon as a ‘hot spot’ is felt, stop, remove the boot and cover the area in a zinc oxide tape, mole skin or gel tape. If boots are even slightly too small, the toes will hit against the front of the boots and the badly bruised, particularly when descending. Toe nails should be kept as short as possible.
CUTS AND ABRAISIONS: Stop bleeding with direct pressure to the wound. If an artery has been cut, a tourniquet, incase direct pressure is ineffective, be applied above the cut. Note that the tourniquet should not be so tight as to cut off circulation completely, for the rest of the limb will start to die. Clean wounds around the surrounding area with water and soap, preferably antibacterial. Usually it is best not to cover abrasions and small cuts, but let them dry out.
TRAUMA: Usually results from a broken limb or other major injury. Medication should NOT be given unless pain is extreme, for the victim’s ability to co-operate or make decisions is reduced, furthermore there is risk that it may contribute to depressing the vital functions. In all instances, if drugs are given, record the brand name, amount and the time that it was administered (for reference by medical personnel later).
FITNESS: Any climber who suffers from a pulmonary or cardiac problem should be particularly cautious about going up on the mountain. If there is any doubt, consult a doctor. Normal preparation you should consider making for a mountain ascent should include several long walks before-hand, with, if possible, some steep uphill sections. If possible try to use the same footwear that you intend to use on the mountain and carry a light day-pack.
BASIC FIRST AID KIT FOR A TRIP OF 3-4 DAYS SHOULD INCLUDE:
- Aspirin and Paracetamol
- Throat and cough lozenges
- Sunblock plus a lip salve
- Strapping and bandages, adhesive tape, gauze rolls and pads
- Ophthalmic for snow blindness.
- Tincture of iodine, Permanganate or Potash.
- Anti-diarrhea: Imodium.
- Diamox for Mountain Sickness
- Sosogon to speed up acclimatization
- Sutures in case of broken bones
- Water purification Sterotabs.