With snow already hitting some of the higher peaks and our nights getting cooler, it’s safe to say Fall is underway. I’ve soaked up as much sun as possible this month, including an excellent day in Garibaldi Park. Last Saturday, a few of us hiked up to Wedgemount Lake. Not a bad way to mark the start of the end of a hiking season.
Tall trees, rushing creek, and pristine alpine views. The hike to Wedgemount Lake is a Garibaldi classic. With the 1200m gain within the first 6km, you have to be willing to work for it. This steep trail was the perfect attitude adjustment.
The trail climbed steeply through a thick forest with minimal views, aside from a few glimpses of Wedgemount Falls through the trees. After we emerged from the forest, we scrambled (well, I scrambled. The others seemed fine hiking on 2s.) up a steep, rocky slope through sub-alpine meadows; this was the hardest part of the day. One final push over the ridge and there it was, in the middle of 360-degree sweeping views of stunning peaks and glaciers. The suffering was instantly worth it.
We took a short break a little past the BCMC hut and continued on around the lake to the toe of the glacier. We wanted to check out the glacier, but more importantly we wanted to have a bit of a recon of the Mount Weart approach for a future trip. I couldn’t take my eyes (or camera) off of the glacier; the alpine here was truly picturesque.
Note that glaciers are always dangerous. You should never go on a glacier without the proper equipment and crevasse rescue training. The glacier here is difficult to read – rockfall coming from the slopes above have fallen on the glacier making it difficult to see where the glacier ends and where the rock begins.
The Diabetes Management
I was relatively stable for most of the day between drinking nearly 3L of water and correcting a small portion of everything I ate. At our turn around point, beyond the toe of the glacier, I started feeling somewhat nauseated and light headed. I checked my blood sugars and I was disheartened to see a reading of 4.3mmol. From how I was feeling, I could tell it was dropping quickly.
Low blood sugar symptoms include lightheadedness, dizziness, and disorientation – all of which are major concerns when we’re hiking. When my blood sugars are low, Ryan makes a point of hiking behind me to watch my footing – indirectly keeping track of my low and making sure I don’t have a bad fall.
A reading of 4.3mmol was a problem. If I became nauseous to the point of throwing up, I would be unable to keep anything down in my stomach. Not being able to keep anything down would mean I would not be able to get any sugar into my system; I wouldn’t be able to prevent my blood sugars from going even lower. 4.3mmol is already a dangerous enough low, particularly on a mountain with a long hike back to civilization. If my sugars kept dropping and I wouldn’t be able to bring them up on my own, the only solution would be to go to the hospital and get hooked up to an IV. Not an option many kilometers away from the trailhead.
We rested while I loaded up on sugar. I went through 4 packs of shotbloks and checked my blood sugars 20 minutes later for a reading of 4.8mmol – which was even more alarming. My blood sugars were rising slower than usual and my symptoms were not letting up. Four packs of shotbloks should have raised my sugars up to my 20’s.
The time was 5ish. Sunset was 7:30ish. Ryan was calculating in his head that Search and Rescue would need two hours to get in before the light window closed and I would either have to walk out or make an emergency bivy at the hut for the night (if I were too low to walk out). We agreed if my sugars weren’t trending up and I wasn’t feeling better within half an hour, he would make the call. This is why I love hiking with a guy who carries a VHF rescue radio and smoke flare. We had half an hour before we had to make the call.
I slowly made my way back towards the lake with Ryan and Alex trailing close behind. My next blood sugar check was about 15 minutes later. I had reached a level of 5.9mmol. I immediately felt the symptoms rush out of my body and we picked up our pace. How much of that was psychological (from seeing my readings were improving) vs an actual physiological improvement, I can’t say. Probably a bit of both.
We had already planned to hike out in the dark by headlamp, so we took our time heading out. I made sure to check my sugars regularly and they were stable to trending higher. Even with all of the bloks I had, I only topped out at 12.3mmol. Luckily, based on past hiking experiences, we made sure to pack many extra bloks, so running out of sugar resources was not a concern.
On the way up:
Foliage on the way back:
Headlamp hike out:
Things to consider when you’re out hiking:
Based on personal experiences, I’ve gotten into the habit of over-preparing for hikes, whether it’s a moderate day trip or a full day hike. I make a point of packing at least 1 full bottle of test strips, a bottle of short and long acting insulin (though I only need short acting for my insulin pump), syringes, extra batteries, and enough shotbloks to last for days. On top of that, I pack warm layers, rain protection, and an emergency bivy. Once in a while I feel bad seeing hikers carry small daypacks and minimal gear for easy 5-6 hour hikes, while I have my 35L bag packed with enough gear to last 3 days.
Given the condition of type 1 diabetes, our order of survival in the outdoors – shelter, water, fire, and food – is different from a non-type 1. Before considering how to build a shelter or fire and where to gather water, food, and other resources, we have to manage our blood sugars. I’d argue that our order of survival is: insulin, food, water, shelter, and fire.
In any case, I’ll get back on track. I know when it comes to hiking, the value lies in the journey, not the destination. I would argue that for 2 reasons:
Thanks for reading!