High altitude ‘makes you high’. What is this all about?

I just climbed Volcan de Tajamulco, in Guatemala. That is the highest point in Central America, at 4,280m (14,041 feet). I stood alone at dawn at the summit, and spent one of the most blissful and inspiring mornings of my life.

Why is it that high altitude brings forth such powerful emotions. In the book Zorba the Greek, the author Nikolas Kazantzakis wrote of the sensation of climbing Mount Nikos “anyone would think that the soul too was an animal, with lungs and nostrils, and also craved oxygen”

Scientists know that high altitudes mean lower partial pressures of oxygen. This can actually cause the dreaded ‘attitude sickness’, because of a lack of oxygen supply to parts of the body, particularly the brain. This is dangerous, and can actually cause death in some cases.

Scientists and mountaineers alike have long been amazed at the hardiness, health and energy of people who live at high altitudes, such as the peoples of the Himalayas in Nepal. Samples of their blood have been found to contain extremely high levels of haemoglobin, the vital protein that transports oxygen around the body. Despite the dangers, could it be that there are other hidden undiscovered health benefits to moderate exposure to high altitudes?

I am extremely curious to know more. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy the view!