This summer I spent 12 days hiking out at high altitude with another 10 T1D teens, a coed group. We started around King’s Canyon, and meandered around in the Sierras for the next close to 2 weeks. In the middle segment, we spent a day climbing Mt Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states!
We were hiking with a lot of gear—each one of us was carrying a 50-60 lb backpack. We had all of our personal camping gear, plus all of our diabetes gear, plus food in a bear-proof container. After a few days, we were resupplied by mule resupply outfit, so that we did not have to carry it all from day 1. It was cold at night outside (but not too cold), and just right during the day most days. We had a little rain early on, no snow at altitude, and we never had to use our microspikes because there was no ice to speak of when we summitted. I had brought some mosquito gear but this year there were hardly any. At night, it helped to share a tent with others because we kept each other nice and warm: I had no problem at all with cold, and I don’t think anyone did. I was wearing a hat and sunglasses all the time, and the first thing my dad told me when I came back was: “how come you are not tan at all?” Actually, I did get some tan, but only on my arms and legs, and I have horrible hiking socks tan marks…
The level of difficulty
I am fairly well conditioned as I do sports all year round with a couple of sports teams at school—but I had to train quite a bit to get ready: about twice a month I went hiking with my backpack and some heavy weights in it for 3.5-4.5 hours, and each week I went out for shorter hikes with my weighted pack. I was supposed to condition every day, but I was already conditioning for cross country and other sports so my training for this trip was mostly the hikes, carrying all my gear, with my hiking boots. In the end, I found the trip easier than the training, but that was not the case will all the campers: some had a bit of a hard time. Summiting day was relatively easy because we mostly emptied our backpacks before going up. I think we woke up around 2:30am or so, walked a couple of hours at night with our headlights on, and summited before 11:00. Btw, while I am into sports, several other teens on the trip were not, but they had trained well and were still able to make it through: I think anyone who is willing to train hard for about 3 months can make it.
BG management was interesting. I have done a lot of different sports, mostly in in teams: swimming, soccer, volleyball, cross-country, track, rowing, low altitude hiking etc. Every sport, I had to spend some time figuring out what the effect on me would be: none of the ones I had done corresponded well with the high altitude backpacking that I did here. I ended up having to lower my basal by 75% for the first week, and then having to bring it up to up to 125% from my original one the last few days. I was not the only one: most of us had the same curve. I was up and down a lot and my calculated A1C for the period is pretty ugly, because each day was very different: some days we hiked just a few miles, other we hiked a lot, the temperature and the altitude varied a lot too. So, with all this variability, it was not easy to adjust from day to day. I omniloop: I moved my target BG to 130-150 from 95-115 to be able to avoid deep lows at night. After the trip, it took my BG a good 2 weeks to behave normally again.
Because I loop (I was the only looper on the trip), I had taken a lot of power banks with me: 5x 20,000mAh power banks (all Anker), representing 2.5 lbs, a lot of weight. It turns out that much of it was useless. I have an iphone SE. I turned airplane mode on, bluetooth on, and battery saver mode on, with Do Not Disturb enabled, and, after 11 days and nights of camping, I had used 1/4 of one battery pack, even though I took a good amount of pics. The last night, back in base camp, I left my power bank out of my sleeping bag during the night: this mistake alone brought it down to 1/2 power: so keeping it in a sleeping bag every night is clearly necessary. FYI, I also took a few spare batteries for all my devices but I did not have to change any. I took a battery-powered Riley link (and a spare): the battery had no problem lasting all the way through.
Other D issues
Other interesting tidbits I noticed: my Dexcom sensors failed a lot. I had 5 spares with me, and started with a new one, but I came back with only two spares. On the other hand, my pods were perfect, while other campers had tons of problems with pods (some of them used one per day). I was not even using Skintac for once, so that was also a bit surprising. I had taken a spare iphone, fully set for Loop, but I did not have to use it.
In the end, my diabetes gear (12 pods, 5 dexcom sensors, 5 power banks, spare gear, meters etc.) weighed more than all my spare clothes and my toiletries. In particular, these G6 sensors take so much space, really difficult to deal with. I know from experience that taking them out of their packaging is a terrible idea though: I carried them in their plastic wrap all the way.
In the end
I had a lot of fun, and I made a lot of friends. But this was not a relaxing trip! There was a lot of exercise all the way through, and not much sleep, because there was always so much to do, to set up camp or to break it up. Still, it was a great adventure, and I really don’t regret it. Now I am interested in doing more long backpacking trips, and I know all my camping gear well, so I am ready to start again any time :-).
DYF and Altitude 14505
I did this trip with DYF in California: it is called Altitude 14505. The three adults we went with were awesome, really nice, well prepared for this trip, and very knowledgeable about T1D (even though they weren’t T1Ds) and backpacking: one of them was a physician. The preparation for the trip was excellent, and so was the documentation: in my family we tend to prep systematically for an endeavor, but the trip doc almost always had what we needed to know, and the DYF guides had all the answers to our planning and equipment questions—that’s really unusual and they are really well set up. In particular, everything about D and high altitude backpacking was very clear, and matched exactly the conditions on the trip: it’s really unusual to get so much canned, well researched information about D and an athletic activity: normally I only trust @Eric for that! But the DYF guys knew their stuff well and their preparation (and the instructions they gave us before the trip) was excellent.
I think this trip matches FUD well. There is no reason why a T1D can’t climb Mt Whitney, or do anything else really: we are unlimited. The endocrinologist who diagnosed me told me, at the time, that outside of piloting a commercial plane, a navy submarine, or being a frontline soldier, I could do anything I wanted, and I know that is true: but it’s nice to prove it to yourself as well from time to time. If you have a T1D kid let them know about this yearly trip and see if they want to try it!
outside of piloting a commercial plane
But now I could do that (piloting a commercial plane)!