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Crested Butte Checklist


This altitude is making me dizzy!

Earlier this week I said I would post a note with tips about the environment in Crested Butte and what special precautions attendees should take for the conditions there. So here goes.

High altitude can have lots of negative effects on folks unaccustomed to it (just ask Sandy Hill Pittman). CB is at roughly 9000 feet and if you go hiking/biking, you can easily see 10-11K feet. Hydration is the number one preventative action you can take. Alka Seltzer is another. If you feel head-achey, particularly after exertion, you might be feeling the effects of low oxygen levels at altitude. Take an Alka Seltzer. Don't ask me how it works (in fact the chemistry hasn't quite been figured out) but mountain guides swear by it. So stay hydrated and don't exert yourself too much too quickly upon arrival: give yourself 24 hours sittin' around watching the blue sky. Then stay hydrated. If you do feel poorly, take the Alka seltzer. If that doesn't work, there is a medical office right on Elk Avenue that has an oxygen chamber. That will fix you up.

Temperatures vary WIDELY in CB. Which is to say that it is normal to have a 40 degree (yes, 40 degree) swing in temperatures from high to low in a day. At night expect 35-45, during the day expect 70-80. This means that layers are the right way to go; as well, always bring a light jacket or fleece with you when you go places, even when it's hot out. Why? The summertime often brings afternoon thunderstorms where temperatures can drop by 15 degrees in 10 minutes (I have seen storms produce 2 inches of hail in 30 minutes and then an hour later it was 75 degrees again). So bring layers, with some fleece as one or more of those layers.

The sun is remarkably intense. The worst sunburn I ever got was in Crested Butte. Even worse than the one I got in Bali, and that's damn near the equator. There's just less "stuff" between you and the sun when you are at 9000 ft. So bring or buy a good SPF sun lotion and/or a hat. Sunglasses are also a must. When my wife and I first started visiting Crested Butte in the early 1990s, we were coming from the hazy skies of NYC, where even on the clearest day you didn't really "need" sunglasses. It took us 24 hours just for our eyes to get used to how incredibly bright everything is. Sunglasses are a great thing to have if you aren't used to the intensity of the sunlight. I highly recommend you bring some.

You will find that alcohol has a far more intense effect on you at altitude, mostly a function of your water levels as well as the higher physical stress of being at altitude. So when you drink, stay hydrated (i.e. drink water along with that cocktail) and/or go slow. You won't need to drive anywhere in CB because everything is within walking distance. But you'll still need to walk. Drinking like you're in some Bowery bar room (I'm talking to you Fokker) is ill-advised.

That pretty much sums up the special precautions you need to take in CB to address the challenges of the physical environment. As for the mental environment, well, you're on your own on that one.
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