Nestled happily in the foothills of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe is in the Northern Rio Grande Valley on the southern end of the Rocky Mountains. The City of Santa Fe itself sits at a whopping 7,198 ft above sea level, and is the highest capital city and third highest city in America.
It doesn’t stop there either. If you head up to Ski Santa Fe you will be at the base elevation of 10,350ft, and if you want to take it further you can hop on a ski lift and head to a peak elevation of 12,075ft. If you are keeping track, that is over one full mile above sea level in town and up to over two miles above sea level at peak elevation. To put it plainly, Santa Fe is pretty high up compared to most of the cities in America. (Take that, Denver!)
Altitude and Santa Fe Climate
With our high elevation and stunning mountains, Santa Fe is classified as a cold semi-arid mountain desert, also known as a Steppe Climate. The arid climate paves the way for a beautifully painted landscape of hearty shrubs like chamisa, yucca, and cholla cactus. It also gives Santa Fe those glorious dry warm summer days (barring monsoon season), delightfully cool summer nights, and cold snowy winters. For each 1,000 feet you climb in elevation the temperature drops by four degrees fahrenheit. Temperatures in Santa Fe can fluctuate as much as 36 degrees fahrenheit or more in a single day.
What does this all mean for us humans who inhabit, and or are visiting The City Different? For starters dressing in layers helps with the fluctuating temperatures. Being 7,198-ish feet above sea level puts us closer to the sun, and that means sunscreen is always a good idea.
Another thing to consider is the air pressure. As we move away from sea level the atmospheric pressure decreases, giving all the molecules in the air more space to expand. This thins the oxygen levels in the air around us, and can sometimes make it hard to catch your breath if you aren’t acclimated. Unfortunately, all of these factors can add up, and you can quickly find yourself suffering from Altitude Sickness also known as “Mountain Sickness”.
Three levels of altitude sickness
Acute Mountain Sickness, or AMS is the mildest form of altitude sickness. AMS typically feels like your standard hangover. You can develop a headache, muscle aches, dizziness, and nausea. Symptoms usually come on within 24-48 hours, and fade within 1-2 days.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, or HAPE is the next level of altitude sickness, and is more severe than AMS. Fluid can build up in the lungs, and cause extreme shortness of breath that worsens with activity and does not abate while at rest. It can be accompanied by wheezing and coughing that produces a frothy sputum (a mixture of spit and mucus) that may be tinged with blood. Some experience heart palpitations, a feeling of anxiety and extreme fatigue. Symptoms usually come on within 12-24 hours, and typically fade after 1-2 days.
High Altitude Cerebral Edema, or HACE is the most severe form of altitude sickness and can cause a fluid build up in the brain that can be life threatening. Symptoms include a severe headache that is resistant to painkillers, extreme dizziness with loss of coordination, nausea, fatigue, loss of energy, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, fever, mental weariness, lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements that can include gait abnormality, speech changes, abnormalities in eye movements, altered mental states, and loss of consciousness. Symptoms can be acute, which means they come on very suddenly, and don’t fade with time. Medical help should be sought immediately.
The good news is that the more severe cases of Altitude Sickness are not very common, and there are pretty common sense solutions to the more milder versions.
Water, Alcohol and Altitude
Drink more water, that’s pretty simple. First thing in the morning down a whole glass, and keep a bottle with you that you can refill and drink throughout your day. If you are sipping on water you will stay hydrated and help replenish your body’s oxygen.
Take it easy when you first get into town. Don’t plan strenuous activities right off the bat. If you are feeling tired take a rest and hang out with your good friend: a bottle of water.
Limit your alcohol intake for the first 24-48 hours of your arrival. Alcohol in the blood can limit your hemoglobins’ ability to absorb oxygen and ultimately impair your vital organs abilities to function normally, brain included.
If you do drink alcohol keep in mind that every drink you have at altitude is equivalent to three drinks at sea level.
No amount of internet tips can add up to the advice from a qualified medical professional. So if you are truly not feeling yourself, then seek medical help right away. As long as you take precautions, are mindful of your own body, and know the warning signs there shouldn’t be much to worry about except what awesome thing you are going to do next while enjoying your time in beautiful Santa Fe.This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead