Asthma Mom’s Rules for Hiking at High Altitude

All the photos on this post come from the gorgeous Mohawk Lake Trail in Breckenridge, Colorado. Seven miles round-trip, the trail gains 1,700 in elevation and reaches 11,800 feet at the top. Want to learn how we completed the hike with an asthma kid? Read on:

1. Pretreat & Pack the Bronchodilator
A couple of puffs on the quick-relief inhaler at the trailhead opens up my daughter’s airways from the very beginning.

2. Include a Peak Flow Meter
Even I cough at the higher elevations where the cold, dry air irritates my throat, so I can’t always tell whether my kid’s coughing comes from her lungs. The PFM helps me decide.

3. Water is Your Best Friend
Asthma + High Altitude = Double the Hydration Need

At this elevation, hikers can dehydrate sooner than they think, and that’s even sans asthma. CamelBaks are the easiest way for both my kids to have instant access to all the water they need. (Check Sierra Trading Post for the best prices.)

Continental Falls

4. Funnel Neck Fleece is Your Second-Best Friend
I hit on this trick by accident when I bought my daughter a quarter-zip fleece a size and a half too large. Because the fleece is baggy, it doesn’t form a snug fit around her neck, and she can stick her lower face into it when she needs to warm the air she breathes into her lungs.

See the snowy peaks in this photo? That’s what they looked like in July. So you can imagine the air temperature, I’m sure.

5. Allow Extra Time for the Hike
Taking an asthmatic on a trail like this will probably require more rest stops than you think. Because a breathing-challenged kid that looks like this at the beginning of the hike,

May look like this an hour or two later:

Building enough time into a hiking schedule to stop and breathe makes a huge difference, even for my 8 year-old non-asthmatic.

88 responses to “Asthma Mom’s Rules for Hiking at High Altitude”

  1. kerri says:

    Last picture: “Mommmmmm, are we THERE yet?” (Or was that just me? Even pre-asthma I was not a compliant hiker lol)

    Beautiful hiking terrain. Soo jealous.

  2. Danielle says:

    Great post! 13 days until I’m home and get to go hiking too!

  3. Sarah says:

    Funny thing: even in my worst times, I LOVED hiking, just because as long as you keep going, it doesn’t matter how slow you are. It’s more about making it than making it quickly, which I always enjoyed a lot (since my exercise-induced symptoms always gave me trouble if I pushed too hard, so I became more of an endurance type by necessity – I can walk over rough terrain for hours on end and need fewer breaks than almost anyone I know, but ask me to run, and if my lungs are acting up, I’ll be reaching for an inhaler within twenty minutes).

  4. Amy says:

    Actually, we all looked like that last photo by the end. :)

    The last part of the trail is very, very steep–like, steel cable at the mountaintop so you can climb w/hands-and-feet steep!

    Kyra loves, loves, LOVES to hike. She’s amazing.

  5. Oh wow. Great pics. Glad everyone had a good time.


  6. Natasha says:

    Such a lovely area, I had the privilege to attend a conference in Keystone for a couple years, and I wished I’d more time for hiking (and let’s face it end-October is not an ideal time of the year for it as we had snowstorms each time).

    Not really one for the steel cable parts though, they freak me out!

  7. Elisheva says:

    Great tips! I should look this back up and make sure to follow them next time I go hiking. I tend to underestimate the toll hikes take on my breathing and end up taking breaks and hitting the inhaler in the middle, wishing I’d pretreated at the beginning.

  8. Hey, I just wanted to point you toward a study that will be coming out in May re: D and asthma. It’s really interesting.

  9. Allie says:

    That is so interesting! I dehydrate so much faster than my husband when we go hiking – I never even thought that asthma could be a part of that. Wow!

  10. I am so in awe of how she and you all did it, but particularly the AG. I was gasping in Idyllwild yesterday-at 5,300ft. Gasping. Literally.

    How on earth does she do this-and you live a mile high for starters!


  11. Amy says:

    Susannah–We’d been living here 5 months and so we were way more acclimated than you when we did this hike. Believe me, none of us would have completed it otherwise! And towards the end, the whole thing devolved into, 10 steps forward–stop and breathe–10 steps forward–stop and breathe. Seriously.

  12. I used to hike when I was still single. I had no asthma then. When I stopped my strenuous activities, my asthma came about. I realized later that my immune system lowered that was why my asthma manifested. I hope I can go back to hiking.

  13. Linda says:

    You know, it never even occurred to me that having extra water on hand would be helpful for hikers with asthma. This is definitely something I will take with me when I take my nephew (who has asthma) hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. Thanks so much for posting!

  14. FUT 16 Coins says:

    I’ll be there for you .

  15. laura says:

    i’m 18 and over the summer i learned that i have asthma. i am about to head out on a 3 day hike with my gr.12 class do you guys have any recommendations?

  16. Johnny Lung says:

    Awesome post! As a Respiratory Therapist, I must say, I approve of your methods! :)

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