The area of Valencia where we live during half of each year is near sea level–I’ve ridden my bike from the beach to our neighborhood many times, and there’s not any noticeable uphill pedaling. When we’re in New England we’re not much higher. Our town is somewhere between 200 and 400 feet above sea level.
Recently we literally moved up in the world: our home for the next six months, in the valley at the base of Mount Timpanogos, is at nearly 4,700 feet in elevation. Timp’s highest peak is 11,753 feet. Those who know about such things refer to relative height of the mountain compared to the valley below as its prominence, in this case, more than a mile. With Timpanogos towering over us, we look like we’re very low indeed. But my lungs know better.
Yesterday we went on a morning hike up Dry Canyon,* and I was reminded that my on-board oxygen transfer system has been calibrated for thriving at sea level. Up in what feels to me like the stratosphere, I huff and I puff. The mouth of the trail is at about 5450 feet, more than a mile higher than my comfort zone. At this altitude there’s 17% less oxygen in the air than there is at sea level. No wonder I’m out of breath!†
Of course, that’s not the only thing going on. The altitude combines with the steepness and speed of our climb, but my physical condition certainly plays a role. I’ve spent the last 6 months being moderately active, at least on a bike, but some of the huffing and puffing is traceable to my fitness level. More hikes like our Dry Canyon venture, and more hikes of a less strenuous kind (yes, please) should help me out with that.
I’m not sure how long a body takes to get used to being a mile higher in the air. I probably won’t be able to lean on that excuse for long. Ideally, I’ll be getting in better shape as I get accustomed to the oxygen level, so maybe I’ll see a noticeable decrease in my puffing. Here’s hoping.
El Guapo was along for the hike. He’s in better shape than I am, so he could keep a steady hand for taking pictures. Thanks, Handsome!
*I’m assuming it was named sometime in the 1850s, before there was a marketing department charged with generating impressive names for things.
†Being out of breath isn’t fun at all, but there are much more serious side effects related to hiking at high altitudes, which I’m glad I have no direct experience with. Read more about them here.
[Images by El Guapo]