One reason Nevada is such a spectacular state is because of the environmental variety that is housed within its 110,567 square miles. Recognized as the Most Mountainous State, Nevada boasts 314 named mountain ranges and at least 100 more nameless desert cutting mounds.
With all that elevation change comes amazing flora and fauna (plant and animal) diversity and views that are legendary and vary depending on where you stand. Elevation changes also mean variations in the availability of oxygen.
Interestingly however, despite all those mountain ranges, where people live in Nevada is predominately on a plateau (level high ground) with an average elevation of between 5,000 and 6,000 feet in the eastern part of the state. Those of us who are residents do not think much of this elevation, but those who come to visit our spectacular mountain ranges may not feel the same when they reach our plateau. The oxygen difference between sea level and our local elevation may be enough to make your most jovial family member feel a bit sluggish and ill.
Oxygen is a gas that is found in the Earth’s atmosphere and is critical for humans. Why? Because oxygen is what allows each and every one of the 37 trillion cells in a human body to generate energy through a process called cellular respiration. Without the energy produced through cellular respiration, life here on earth stops. There are a lot of factors, such as age, sex, weight, physical fitness level, and activity level, that affect how much oxygen a particular body needs. When a human does not get enough oxygen, energy production is impacted and that feels like fatigue, poor concentration, confusion, and fainting.
Being aware of the difference in elevation is important, because while you are out exploring the natural world, you may encounter visitors who are experiencing physical effects of our elevation and not understand why. For example, it is not unusual while hiking in Lamoille Canyon to Island Lake to come upon a couple huffing and puffing and complaining of light headedness, only to learn that they are from Maryland (state average 350 feet elevation) and flew in yesterday.
It is also important to realize that as a local, you are not necessarily immune the effect of decreased oxygen. For example, when you are climbing a mountain at a taxing pace you may also exhibit similar symptoms.
Human bodies are highly adaptable and giving a body some time to acclimate to increasing elevation is a good idea. Acclimation usually takes about 48-72 hours, and during that time there are some things we can do to help our low-lander friends adapt.
— Encourage naps and a good night’s rest. Sleep is when our bodies do a lot of work, like making new red blood cells and removing toxins.
— Encourage visitors to drink plenty of fluids, in particular water, to help aid the molecular processes occurring for adaptation.
— Encourage healthy meals with low salt and the avoidance of alcohol. Salt and alcohol tend to dehydrate the body which will only slow down any acclimation efforts.
Finally, give them permission to be gentle on themselves. They may be marathon champions back in Maryland, but here they need to slow it down and take on physical exertion slower than usual. Rest frequently.
While Nevada Outdoor School is not a big fan of plastic water bottles, we suggest you consider keeping a few in your pack when you are out on a leisurely hike at the local hiking hot spots so you can hand one off to visitor who is simply unaware of the impact elevation has on their body.
Get outside and enjoy the amazing outdoors, but be aware, elevation matters.
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