Leadville Altitude Sickness: Must-Read Guide & How To Avoid It

Leadville Altitude Sickness

Leadville, Colorado is an incredible mountain town that offers a perfect mix of adventure and relaxation. But at these elevations, Leadville altitude sickness is big concern for most visitors. As a local company, we'll share everything you need to know in this must-read guide about Leadville altitude and how to avoid Leadville altitude sickness.

Altitude Of Leadville Colorado

Leadville altitude sits at 10,158 feet above sea level. Known as the highest city in United States, Leadville is a big attraction in Colorado.

  • Leadville altitude - 10,158 feet (3,096 m)

Leadville, Colorado is known for its historic mining town charm and outdoor recreational opportunities nearby. Whether camping Turquoise Lake, hiking Mount Elbert, biking the Mineral Belt Trail, or skiing Ski Cooper — Leadville has so many outdoor activities to offer. Leadville CO is only a short drive from other popular towns including Copper (25 miles), Frisco (30 miles), and Breckenridge (40 miles).

The Leadville area is at that heart of many closeby 14ers, which are mountains that exceed 14,000 feet — these peaks are all located in the Sawatch Range and offer challenging hikes and breathtaking views for experienced hikers. Leadville is also the host of the Leadville 100, which is a legendary 100 mile run that started in 1983.

Here's some of the high-altitude destinations around Leadville:

  • Turquoise Lake altitude - 9869 ft (3008 m)
  • Mount Elbert altitude - 14,440 ft (4401 m)
  • Ski Cooper altitude - 10,500 ft to 11,700 ft  (3,200 m to 3,566 m)
  • Leadville Airport altitude 9,934 ft (3,026 m)
  • Mount Sherman altitude - 14,043 ft (4,280 m) 
  • Mount Massive altitude - 14,428 ft (4398 m)
  • Quandary Peak altitude - 14,265 ft (4348 m)
  • Mount Harvard - 14,421 ft (4395 m)

As the altitude of Leadville Colorado is the highest among the state, you better be well prepared for the altitude sickness that many vistors get.

Is Leadville The Highest City In The US?

Located at an altitude of 10,152 feet or 2.8 miles (4.5 km) above sea level, the city of Leadville is not only the highest in the US but the highest in all of North America.

Leadville is among some of the world's highest elevation cities including Cusco Peru at 11,152 feet and  La Paz Bolivia at 11,975 feet.

The International Society for Mountain Medicine considers high altitude as elevations between 4,900 to 11,500 feet — with Leadville being at the high end of that range.¹⁰

How Long Does It Take To Acclimate To Leadville?

The amount of time it takes to acclimate to the high elevations of Leadville CO varies from person to person, but it typically takes about 1-3 days for the body to start adjusting to the thinner air.

However, this can sometimes take longer, and to fully adjust and acclimate to Leadville's high altitudes it can take 1-3 weeks.

When planning on hiking, climbing, or even competing in the Leadville 100 — if you're not a local you should plan to stay there for a few days to week minimum to help slowly acclimate.

Will I Get Altitude Sickness In Leadville CO?

Yes, there's a very high chance you can get altitude sickness in Leadville CO.

It is estimated that 40% to 50% of people above 10,000 feet, such as Leadville, will experience altitude sickness.¹³

Leadville Altitude Sickness

The higher you go, the less oxygen there is in the air, resulting in Leadville altitude sickness .

Your body has to adjust to the change in altitude and the air pressure — which is a combination of lower oxygen levels (hypoxia), oxidative stress, and even the dry climate of Leadville.

If you don't acclimatize properly, which is even more more common for people who live at sea level, you may experience symptoms of altitude sickness or acute mountain sickness (AMS).

Symptoms of Leadville altitude sickness may include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble sleeping or insomnia
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Feeling ill or malaise

Signs of Leadville altitude sickness can typically start within 6-24 hours. Take steps to avoid Leadville altitude sickness, which we'll cover below, and closely monitor how you feel when you first arrive.

Is It Harder To Breathe In Colorado?

Yes, for some people it can be harder to breathe in Colorado, especially in the higher altitude mountain towns like Leadville.

The air is thinner in Colorado, which for some can make it harder to breathe. The high altitudes cause your respiration to increase. You're taking more breaths per minute, which makes your body work harder.

Some athletes will train at higher altitudes to improve performance and fitness due to the physiological strain of lower oxygen levels.

7 Steps To Avoid Leadville Altitude Sickness

There are many people who visit Leadville on a yearly basis because of its natural beauty and historic sites. However, these people often suffer from altitude sickness due to the very high altitude.

As a local-based Colorado company with high altitude experience, we'll share with your our top steps to avoid Leadville altitude sickness.

Here's Seven Steps To Avoid Leadville Altitude Sickness

1. Start Slow

This one is pretty simple — don’t try and run up Mt. Massive or Mt. Elbert right away! Take it easy and get used to breathing at higher elevations the first few days before taking on any strenuous hikes or activities.

2. Acclimate Gradually

The easiest way to avoid altitude sickness is to slowly acclimate yourself before going up in elevation. This means spending a few days at lower elevations before going higher up in elevation.

For example, many visitors flying in will spend a night or two in Denver at half the altitude (5,280 feet) before heading to Leadville.

3. Hydrate Properly

It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete or just an average Joe — when you spend time at high altitudes, your respiration increase and you lose fluids faster.

Wilderness Medical Society says you lose water twice as fast at high altitudes than at sea level.¹⁴ Drink plenty of water, preferably half your weight in ounces, and do this leading up to and during your Leadville trip.

TIP: To maximize hydration, add sea salt (electrolytes) to your food or water, and take Zaca hydration chewables to enhance water absorption.

4. Take Breaks

If you go too fast or try to push yourself physically too hard, this can increase your risk for altitude sickness. When hiking or climbing in higher altitudes, stop every 20 minutes to an hour and rest for 5 minutes before continuing.

If you feel any signs of altitude sickness during activities, you should take a break immediately. Too much activity without rest can put undue stress on the body and worsen altitude sickness.

5. Sleep Well

Sleep is imperative to altitude adjustment, and known to be the secret ingredient to recovery.¹⁵ It's also known to help increase blood flow and oxygen, which can help with the lower oxygen levels.¹⁵

Maintain regular sleeping hours, preferably 7-9 hours, so your body has the rest to adjust. Get plenty of sunlight during the day, which is easy in Colorado, and a dark room to sleep in at night to help your circadian rhythm sleeping cycles.

6. Limit Alcohol

It's no secret that alcohol can cause dehydration — but it also causes blood vessels to dilate, decreases sleep quality, and lowers blood oxygen saturation.¹⁶

Therefore, drinking alcohol can worsen altitude sickness symptoms such as headache and fatigue, making them more severe than they would be otherwise. It's best to limit alcohol your first few days or until you show no signs of altitude sickness.

7. Take Antioxidants

High altitudes are known to cause oxidative stress.¹⁷ Antioxidants, especially glutathione, are known for helping to fight free radical damage from oxidative stress.

A study in India showed glutathione levels declining in high altitude conditions.¹⁸ It's best to take antioxidants, such as glutathione, to boost your levels and help protect your body.

In conclusion, follow these well researched seven steps to help avoid Leadville altitude sickness — which includes starting slow, acclimating gradually, hydrating properly, taking breaks, sleeping well, limiting alcohol, and taking antioxidants.

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1. Leadville Colorado Altitude 
2. Altitude Of Leadville Colorado and Geography
3. Turquoise Lake altitude
4. Mount Elbert Elevation
5. Ski Cooper Elevation
6. Mount Sherman Elevation
7. Mount Massive Elevation
8. Quandary Peak Elevation
9. Mount Harvard Elevation
10. Effects of high altitude on humans
11. Leadville-Lake County Regional Airport (KLXV)
12. Don’t let altitude sickness ruin your trip to Colorado
13. Patient education: High-altitude illness (including mountain sickness)
14. Why Do You Need to Drink a Lot of Water at a High Altitude?
15. Sleep: The Secret Ingredient of Injury Recovery
16. Effects of Alcohol
17. High altitude and oxidative stress
18. Effect of high altitude (7,620 m) exposure on glutathione