Eye Protection at High Altitudes

Many people coming up to higher altitudes for the first time are surprised at the amount of sunlight year ’round. Low, thin clouds, and snow on the ground can intensify the degree of light and glare.

Sunlight, in excess, gives me a headache. I don’t mean a little, “Oh gee, I have a headache!” either, I mean a screamingly painful “Don’t touch me, don’t make a noise, turn off that light!” headache!

You really need to carry sunglasses year round at higher altitudes. Low, thin cloud cover is frequent, as is daytime haze. Either one can cause a glare that can be eye-wateringly painful, even if the sun is to the side or back of you.

Snow on the ground, even if the snow cover is not heavy or even continuous, can also increase the amount of reflected light and glare. A few minutes out in it can make your eyes smart, and your head hurt.

Wearing sunglasses is especially important while driving. The intense concentration required to drive causes people to blink less often than they usually would. This means your eyes are exposed to the light more heavily, and the stress is greater. After a bit, your eyes will start to smart, and then they will start to water. When they start to water, the light reflects off of the pooling tears, and makes the problem even worse! I have had to pull over to the side of the road to rest my eyes when I was without sunglasses, because I simply could not keep them open due to the pain it caused.

Other places where you will need to wear sunglasses are on the water, and any time you are hiking across a snowfield.

Often we think of mountains as being cold and stormy in the winter, and they can be, but even on a snowy day, the light can be intense enough to require sunglasses! In many high altitude areas though, the majority of the days in winter are sunny – COLD, but bright and clear. You’ll suffer if you underestimate your need for eye protection.

The best sunglasses are either polarized, or reflective. Either one is good at cutting down the amount of glare, and minimizing the amount of painful light that reaches your eyes.