Instruments & Operations



The major cause of altitude illnesses is going too high too fast. The LBTO is situated at an altitude of 10,567 feet (3221 meters) and is considered a high altitude site. The barometric pressure at the LBTO averages about two-thirds that at sea level. There are no specific factors that correlate with susceptibility to altitude sickness. Some people get it, some don't, and some are more susceptible than others. At the altitude of the LBTO 75% of people will have at least mild symptoms. If you haven't been to high altitude before, it's important to be cautious.

Your body can adapt, or acclimatize, to the decrease in oxygen molecules at the LBTO. This process generally takes 1-3 days. A number of changes take place in the body to allow it to operate with decreased oxygen.

Prevention of altitude illnesses falls into two categories, proper acclimatization and preventive medications (ask your doctor about Diamox or Dexamethasone). Below are a few basic guidelines for proper acclimatization.

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

The symptoms of mild AMS are headache, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, nausea, disturbed sleep, and a general feeling of malaise. The only cure is either acclimatization or descent. Symptoms tend to be worse at night and when respiratory drive is decreased. Mild AMS does not interfere with normal activity and symptoms generally subside within 2-4 days as the body acclimatizes. Symptoms can be treated with pain medications for headache (e.g. ibuprofen). Breathing oxygen (available in the kitchen and control room) also reduces the effects of altitude illnesses.

The symptoms of moderate AMS include severe headache that is not relieved by medication, nausea and vomiting, increasing weakness and fatigue, shortness of breath, and decreased coordination (ataxia). The best test for moderate AMS is to have the person "walk a straight line" heel to toe. A person with ataxia will be unable to walk a straight line. This is a clear indication that immediate descent is required. Definite improvement will be seen in descents of 1,000 feet (to the base of the access road) or more. The person should remain at lower altitude until symptoms have completely subsided, and will not be allowed back up to the LBTO for at least 3 days and then only with written permission from a (medical) doctor.

The symptoms of severe AMS are an increase in the severity of the aforementioned symptoms, including shortness of breath at rest, inability to walk, decreasing mental status, and fluid buildup in the lungs. Severe AMS requires immediate descent!

There are two other severe forms of altitude illness, High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). Both of these happen less frequently at the altitude of the LBTO, especially to those who are properly acclimatized. The lack of oxygen results in leakage of fluid through the capillary walls into either the lungs or the brain. The symptoms are more extreme than with severe AMS. Immediate descent is a necessary life-saving measure. Anyone suffering from HACE or HAPE must be evacuated to a medical facility for proper follow-up treatment.

Astronomy is fun, lets keep it safe too!