Living at High Altitude

Pagosa Springs, Colorado sits at 7,126′ above sea level. High altitude living comes with it’s own set of challenges and characteristics. You will have to consider these effects when baking, cooking and gardening in addition the effects on your own health!






High Altitude Cooking

Making some small adjustments will allow your special recipes to come out just the way you expect. Here are some high altitude cooking tips and tricks:

Water boils at a lower temperature at elevation:

For each 500-foot increase in elevation, water’s boiling temperature decreases by 1 degree (due to reduced atmospheric pressure). Because of this, food will take longer to cook at elevation.

In Pagosa Springs, water boils at 198 F, instead of the usual 212 F.

Increase Cook Time, Not heat:

Increasing the temperature will not cook food any faster. Increasing the temperature makes the moisture dry up even quicker. Instead, increase cook time by about 25%. If you are concerned about having enough moisture in your recipe, cook with a tight-fitting lid on the pot.

Grilling and Roasting aren’t affect (much) by high altitude:

Since elevation doesn’t affect the way air is heated, grilling and roasting aren’t affected the same way moist-heat cooking is. It is important to note, however, that meats may be a bit drier than at sea-level because water evaporates more quickly. Let your meat sit for a bit before eating redistribute moisture throughout the meat.

High Altitude Baking

Different adjustments are needed for baking compared to cooking. Here are some high altitude baking tips and tricks:

Leavening agents for baking have MORE rising power:

Yeast, Baking Powder and Baking Soda have more rising power at a high altitude. With the thin air at high altitude, the leavening agents have less resistance to rise.

Reduce Baking Soda or Baking Powder by at least 75% above 6,500 ft

Leavening AND evaporation happen MORE quickly:

Increase oven temperature 15 to 25 F to set the structure of the baked good before it dries out

Decrease baking time by 5-8min per 30 min of baking time

Decrease sugar by 1 tbsp per cup because increased evaporation increases the concentration of sugar, which in turn will weaken the structure of the baked good

Increase liquid by 4 – 6 tbsp at 7,000 ft.

Increase flour by 3 – 4 tbsp at 7,000 ft to help strengthen the structure of baked goods

* For a more in-depth look, visit this guide to High Altitude Baking from Colorado State University

High Altitude Health

Increased elevation also increases the risk for health effects. Here are some tips to stay healthy at high altitude:

Allow yourself to acclimate to the altitude

When arriving in Pagosa Springs the process of acclimatization generally takes 1-3. If you plan to venture higher into the mountains (10,000 ft +), acclimatization can take another 1-3 days, given you have already spent enough time at 7,000 ft. Your body does the following things to adapt:

The depth of respiration increases.

Pressure in pulmonary arteries is increased, “forcing” blood into portions of the lung which are normally not used during sea level breathing.

The body produces more red blood cells to carry oxygen.

The body produces more of a particular enzyme that facilitates the release of oxygen from hemoglobin to the body tissues.

During the acclimatization period:

Stay properly hydrated. Acclimatization is often accompanied by fluid loss, so you need to drink lots of fluids to remain properly hydrated (at least 3-4 quarts per day)

Take it easy; don’t over-exert yourself when you first get up to altitude. Light activity during the day is better than sleeping because respiration decreases during sleep, exacerbating the symptoms.

Avoid tobacco and alcohol and other depressant drugs including, barbiturates, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills. These depressants further decrease the respiratory drive during sleep resulting in a worsening of the symptoms.

There are NO specific factors that determine who is most susceptible to altitude sickness

Anyone, regardless of age, sex or physical condition are vulnerable to altitude sickness

High Altitude Planting

Being in the high desert next to mountains means Pagosa Springs is a unique challenge for gardeners. Just a few issues are shorter growing seasons, searing sunlight, alkaline soils, scarce rainfall, numerous pests and growing-season frosts. Here are some tips for a thriving garden at high altitude:

Know your land:

What is your Plant Hardiness Zone? Pagosa Springs has a Plant Hardiness Zone of 5b or 5a, depending on where you live, as defined by the USDA Forest Service. This helps you determine what plants will thrive year-round.

What is the slope of your garden? Even small changes in angle can have a big difference in how much sun a garden gets and what time of day it gets sun. North facing slopes are shaded all day and are unsuitable for vegetables for instance. Here in Pagosa, the air takes longer to warm in the morning and is quicker to cool at night, so south facing slopes are the best to plant on because of the extended sun exposure.

What is nearby? Are you in a pocket that is shaded from the wind? Or maybe you have sculptures that reflect light? “Inversions” can happen where cold air sinks to the bottom of the valley, creating unusually cold temperatures for a specific area.

Choose the right plant:

It’s likely going to be fruitless endeavor to grow things that are not meant for high altitude. Start with fruits and vegetables that grow naturally like berries and mushrooms. Then test your skills with some cool season vegetables like leafy greens, root vegetables and herbs.

Test your soil:

According to Irene Shonle of CSU, many mountain soils have less than 1% organic matter, whereas 5% is ideal. To help with this, add compost and aged manure at the rate of 1 inch per 4 inches of soil depth.

For an in-depth look at all options for a successful garden in the Colorado High-Country, visit this guide from Colorado State University

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