Off the Grid  Retirement at our remote log cabin in Colorado

Thursday, June 04, 2015

I Need an Altitude Adjustment

Posted by: Rick

The cabin is 8650 feet above sea level. There are some adjustments that are required at this altitude.

The most obvious when I come here from New Jersey is the inability to breathe. Or, at least breathe comfortably. The air is so thin that I just don't get the oxygen I need in each breath. This leads to quicker breathing accompanied by gasping sounds. My muscles ache from insufficient oxygen, I may feel light-headed. I've known of people to pass out!

It doesn't matter if you are in great physical shape, exercise regularly, get aerobic workouts, or do yoga. You'll feel it.

The good news is that you get used to the high altitude after a while. Your body adjusts. A lot of athletes train at high altitude because it makes them more efficient and gives them more endurance at lower altitudes (at least until they lose their adaptation).

The Rawah Mountains as seen from Sand Creek Pass, around 9500 feet (at the pass)

There are some effects of high altitude that don't go away over time. These are mostly related to the lower atmospheric pressure and thinner air.

I sunburn more easily. The thinner air filters less UV and without protection I will burn.

(Click through to More... for the rest of this post.)

Because thinner air can hold less moisture, the absolute humidity here is generally quite low. As a result my skin is drier and more wrinkly. My elbows feel like peach pits. My sinuses are drier and I get bloody snot for a week or so.

Cooking is a challenge. Water boils at 196°F. That means it takes longer to cook many dishes. As I write this, Lynne is cooking black beans from scratch. In New Jersey, she can cook a pot of dry beans in about 3-4 hours. Here, it has been about that long, and they are far from being done. (Tip: soak the beans in water overnight.)

The lower atmospheric pressure also means that liquids (water) evaporates more quickly. So, you'll need a lot more water to cook slow-cooked foods. It is a good idea to cook with the lid on to capture the evaporating water.

A soft-boiled egg at our altitude takes 6 minutes and 32 seconds to cook. That is assuming the large-sized egg is at about 40°F when I put it in boiling water.

Me and Alex at close to 9000 feet

Usually, when I bake bread I know it is done when the internal temperature is 210°. Here, I'd like to see it at 190° or a bit higher. But, I just can't seem to coax it above 180°, yielding a crumb that is moister than I'd like. Bread dough rises faster too and so doesn't develop as much flavor. The No Work Bread recipe I use works pretty well up here though as long as I don't use too much yeast. 

And, when baking, it is necessary to adjust flour, water, levening and fat ratios. Less fat, more flour, less yeast (or baking powder or soda), more water.

Here is a great resource: High Altitude Food Preparation 

Things cool off very quickly. Hot coffee, dinner on a plate, wash-up water, they all cool off much more quickly than at lower elevations. At least, this is my experience. The experts say "it ain't true". Maybe it is just that the food or water never starts off as hot.

Snowy Range at about 11,000 feet

Engines run less efficiently. For example, a gas-powered generator will lose 5% of its power for every 1000 feet in altitude. That means our 6000 watt generator actually produces about 57% of that or 3400 watts!

Of course, the altitude also affects the flora and fauna. This has advantages as well as disadvantages since there are some wildflowers (for example) and animals that we only see at high altitude. Go higher and it continues to change.

I'm sure there are other things that I'm not thinking of. What are they?

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