Hikes with children – 6 tips to make it work
Hiking with children is great fun and more and more families are out and about with their offspring. But what about hiking up the mountain? Many parents are unsure how high they can go with their children and what safety precautions must be taken.
Miriam and I have been to high altitudes – their highest ascent was to 5000m in Peru. But we have already mastered a march in one day, in which she nipples almost 1000 meters of altitude at 4750 m – really impressive for her age. And recently we made it to the Annapurna Basecamp at 4130m – but in six days.
Miriam has never had any problems with the altitude, but I’ve already caught it. As a 20-year-old I would have stayed in the snow almost at 6000 m altitude after trying to climb a mountain in Bolivia. Luckily, our guide and my girlfriend pulled me down more or less, but that’s how I learned first-hand how quickly you can lose all rational control and how dangerous altitude sickness can be. On all high-altitude tours – and of course especially when traveling with children – there are some things to keep in mind to stay on the safe side.
The danger: altitude sickness in children
The further you climb mountains, the lower the oxygen content in the air, which can lead to problems such as altitude sickness. Adults can have problems starting at about 2500 m, children probably earlier. If left untreated, acute altitude sickness can lead to – often fatal – high altitude edema or high altitude cerebral edema, so it is not fun to play with. The symptoms vary from person to person and are often characterized by headache, nausea, dizziness, dyspnoea and sleep disturbances. For mild symptoms often helps the rapid descent and everything settles at lower altitudes back to normal, in advanced course, drugs are needed.
There are no scientific studies showing that children are more susceptible to altitude sickness than adults. Some studies even suggest that acclimatization is easier for children. However, pre-existing conditions seem to make children and adults more susceptible to altitude sickness, especially if they are respiratory diseases. A harmless cough can quickly become something serious in children at height. So you should only go if you and all participants of the hiking group are completely healthy.
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Never go up alone
The nasty thing about altitude sickness is that it can catch anyone and you can not really prepare well at home to prevent it. Even if you’re fit like a sneaker, it can hit you and the mere fact that you did not have any problems on your last climb is far from a guarantee that it will work again. Therefore, the most important rule for trekking with children is: never go alone. Even if you feel totally fit, you can also be hit by altitude sickness as a parent and need help from other adults. If you do not know the area or only a little, then it makes perfect sense to take a mountain guide, so as not to expose yourself to unnecessary danger.
At what age in what amount?
There are no general recommendations as to what age you can take children to what height. Babies under a year should probably not rise above 1500 meters, but then lacks consensus among experts. Nor is it proven that toddlers experience problems at height more quickly, but the greater difficulty is that they are less able to identify and communicate at the age of five symptoms of altitude sickness. So it is all the more important that the parents can assess their children well and descend on the smallest unusual behavioral changes. It should also be noted that different mountains have different conditions – 3000 meters in the Alps are quite different than 3000 meters in the Andes or in the Himalayas.
A high-altitude walk with children should not be the first hike that you undertake together. Before, you should definitely do some tours on your doorstep or at lower altitudes, where you can try track lengths and running time. Good preparation does not necessarily prevent mountain sickness, but you get to know each other and your children on walks and learn to distinguish unusual from normal behavior > And of course it also helps when you are already in shape and the physical strain is not added to the strain of altitude.
Before going on a mountain hike with children, talk to them a lot so the kids know what to look out for. One should not be afraid, but already clearly explain that it is important that all complaints or unusual sensitivities must be reported. For infants or non-verbal children, it is especially important that parents observe and watch them well.
High-altitude hike with children – acclimatization
The most important measure to prevent altitude sickness in both adults and children is good acclimatization. Acclimation means slowly ascending and giving the body time to get used to the lower oxygen content. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you do not move the sleeping height more than 500 meters per day once you have exceeded the 2750 meters. In addition, you should insert a rest day every 1000 meters. Another good tip is not to sleep at the highest point of the day‘s stage, but to descend a bit again. Especially in the first 48 hours you should not exhaust yourself, so children should be encouraged to play quiet games instead of frolicking – even if they seem to be full of energy.
The equipment – putting on the bulb principle
In my opinion, the equipment for a high altitude walk with children is especially important. Children cool much faster than adults due to the unfavorable mass / surface ratio of small bodies, and especially a whistling wind at high altitude can really consume their strength. At the same time, when running in the lee, it quickly becomes very warm again, so you sweat. We therefore follow the onion system, Miriam has various layers of breathable clothing and a windproof jacket as the outermost layer, so that they can always on and take off. A good hat and gloves are also important for protecting ears and hands. And of course sensible shoes, the worst are wet socks, which then cause blisters.
What you quickly forget is the strong sun in the height. Sunscreen with a particularly strong sun protection factor, sunglasses and maybe a fat cream for red cheeks in the evening should therefore never be missing in the luggage.
Nutrition on the way
The nutrition on the way is important to get along well with the altitude. First of all you need a lot of healthy snacks in order to supply calories every now and then. The heart beats faster in height even at rest and it consumes much more energy. We mostly take cereal bars and fruit, but also chocolate and nuts. Since you often have problems with digestion at altitude, it is not recommended to eat huge meals or foods that you do not tolerate well anyway. For me, for example, these are particularly greasy dishes, which are often like a stone in my stomach. We stick to rice and noodles with vegetables and little meat, but of course that is different for everyone.
Incredibly important is the drinking! You should drink several liters per day on the way to make sure you are not dehydrated. Miriam and me enough water, if that sometime tastes too bland you can also take effervescent tablets to spice up the taste a little. Alcohol or sugary drinks should be avoided, which make it harder for the body to perform at its best. When it’s cold, it’s always helpful to bring a thermos of tea with you to warm up in between.
You know that as an adult, that one often forgets to drink, and children are often more like that. One should always remind his little fellow travelers to take another sip. Crystal Blue, the owner of Enlightened Globetrekker Adventures and Mother of River, has a special trick to make sure her little ones drink enough liquid. “I always tell kids that they have to control the color of their urine. If it’s too dark, you have to drink half a bottle of water directly! “.
Flexibility – The key to successful high-altitude trekking with children
When traveling with children at height, one should always be open to plan changes and turn around at the slightest sign of altitude sickness or any other problem. Therefore, one should not look for the beginning of very remote and exposed routes, but one on which a break is relatively easy to implement.
Raj Gyawali, tour guide and owner of Social Tours, a travel company in Nepal that also offers altitude trekking has a great tip for families: “You should always try to arrive at your destination at lunchtime. So the whole afternoon stays to watch the reaction of the children and you can still dismount when problems occur. “
High-altitude hike with children – yes or no?
After all these dry facts and the mention of so many dangers, one or the other may have been more afraid of a high altitude walk with children than motivation. This article is by no means meant. There are only certain precautions that make a hike at high altitude much safer and should be followed to enjoy the time together.
Miriam and I had some of our best moments of our trip to South America on the high altitude trekkings we did. And in Nepal we were already traveling a lot at high altitudes. Together, tackling something so difficult and getting through it made us unbelievably welded together and left us with incredibly beautiful memories. In the right preparation, it is definitely worth it!
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