Climbing to the top of the world.
The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness – John Muir
July 3, I woke up to my alarm at 2.30am to get ready for a 22-mile hike to the highest elevation that I have been 14,508ft/4,422m. Our goal was to reach the highest peak in the lower 48 states of the US, Mt Whitney.
There was a group of 7 of us doing the hike together.
I have recently had some difficult runs where my motivation and energy levels were low so I was a little concerned in the back of my mind if I would be able to reach the Summit.
I had told myself the few days prior to focus on being positive the whole hike. I wouldn’t allow myself to complain or say anything negative that would make the hike even more challenging. I can easily get into a negative headspace while running and once there it is hard to get out.
The hike to Whitney was 11 miles up, 6,100 ft of elevation gain, steep, sometimes on the very edge of very high mountains and it was far outside my comfort zone.
In my hydration pack I had 2.5 liters of water, 4 Clif bars, 6 energy gels, 3 fig bars, 1 GF almond butter & jelly sandwich and a few other snacks including figs and energy balls.
I also squeezed in sunscreen, lip balm, a phone charger (for my freestyle libre CGM monitor on my phone), a wind breaker jacket, gloves and some baby wipes.
My diabetes pack was also in there – insulin pens, test strips and a backup meter.
And finally – hiking poles tied to the back of my pack.
We weighed all our packs prior to starting our hike and mine was the 2nd heaviest at 13lbs/6kg.
My BGLs overnight prior to the hike where on the higher side. We were camping in bear territory which meant all food was to be kept in the bear safe bins, so I was trying to avoid having to fumble around at 2am to get some food out of them.
Before the hike I had a warm black tea and about 1.5 units of insulin to try and bring my bgls down before we starting hiking. I could have the sandwich once my bgls started to drop.
By 4am we were on the Whitney Portal trailhead and ready to go. I felt good, fresh and excited for the unknown that lay ahead.
My BGLs didn’t want to be on my side at the start. I still struggle managing exercise-related adrenaline spikes in BGLs prior to starting exercise.
I gave a little more insulin as we started our ascent, this didn’t help much, so I ended up injecting two units into my forearm from my back up insulin pen – knowing I had plenty of snacks on me I wasn’t too worried about my bgls dropping. I wanted to eat some food so I needed some more insulin and quick. Finally, 90 minutes lately I could eat my sandwich.
The first section of our ascent was beautiful. Long winding switchbacks with some small waterfalls and crossings, a lake in the near distance as the sun started to rise with the chirping of the first birds.
We were experiencing the waking of nature. It was so serene, peaceful and calm.
Two deer even accompanied us for a few minutes on the steeper part of the first section.
After the first climb we were out of the forest and the shade disappeared. We encountered more rocks and decided to take out our hiking poles to give our legs some help as we still had a long way up to go.
I also consumed a Clif bar and a fig bar, equaling around 350 calories, both to stabilize my bgls and give me some more nutrition.
We were hiking at a steady pace which I really enjoyed, not too fast but we kept moving forward. This was great for my energy levels but a bit tricky for my BGLs.
If we took a 5-10 minute break which we did say every hour or so, the minute we stopped my bgls began to rise because of the lack of movement.
I decided to take a different approach than I usually do for my long runs. Each time I ate, I would give myself 1-1.5 units of insulin. This helped a lot.
My BGLs would still rise when I stopped, so moving consistently was a priority for me. We would stop to refill our hydration packs with water from the streams and lakes as we approached the 95 switchbacks that lead to the top of the mountain that would take us to the final section before we reached Mt Whitney.
As we climbed the switchbacks I was feeling good. I focused on my breath as the air got thinner and it was getting a little harder to breath. Focusing on deep breathing helped me pace myself and not push too hard. Stopping and starting was the hardest as the first few steps I’d take I’d be completely out of breath.
I thought the switchbacks were the hardest part – completely exposed to the sun as the day was warming up. Lots of turns, steps, a few rocks and close to the edge of a very steep drop down. A few of our group started playing a game I don’t recall the name too. It involved talking and at this stage I wasn’t in the mood for talking. I think my contribution was “let’s play a game to see who can be silent for the longest”.
I was trying to conserve my energy.
A lot of the time I was quiet.
I sang some songs in my head. I couldn’t backwards from 99. I listened to my breath and focused on deep breathing but I kept any negativity far from my mind.
I kept trying to balance my BGLs and my food intake. I struggled with the bounce back high bgls after I ate. I was giving small doses of insulin to cover my food, guessing most of the time how much I needed.
Definitely something I need to work on for future hikes.
As we climbed around the back of the mountains to reach Whitney – these last two miles were the hardest part. We were close to 14,000ft and breathing was hard. It thankfully wasn’t that steep but it was extremely rocky and at times we were walking between two sheer drops on both sides of the mountains.
This was the toughest section for me. At times I didn’t think I would make it to the top. I was fatigued and my body was finding it hard to move forward. We had mini breaks along the way to allow everyone in our group to catch us along the path.
Alex and I went ahead most of the time as I didn’t want to sit still for too long, especially as I got more tired.
We finally came around the final corner and we could see the hut at the top of Mt Whitney which was our final destination.
I regained some energy knowing we were meters away. We climbed almost to the top and waited for the rest of the group to join us so we could do the final ascent together.
We made it! We took photos, we absorbed the view, we ate some food – for me it was granola, an energy bar and some dried fruit.
15 minutes later, some rest, water and digesting the accomplishment we just made it was time to head back down.
Alex, myself and Paul headed off first wanting to get the rocky climb back across the mountains out of the way.
This again was the hardest part going back down. I struggled with high bgls after the snacks at the top of the mountain and again ended up injecting 2 units of insulin about 1-hour into our descent.
The switchbacks came and we couldn’t get down them fast enough to reach one of the water springs to refill. Almost everyone in our group was out of water by this time. The minute we saw the water spring, we dropped everything and refilled our packs and bodies as quickly as possible.
There was a storm in the sky, fast approaching around 2pm. We had been on the mountain for 10 hours. Paul, Alex and myself lead the group while the others went slower as one of our team was experiencing some pretty bad altitude sickness and had to slow his pace considerably.
We wanted to get as far down as possible if the rain was to come. Thankfully it didn’t.
Alex and I got to the outpost around 5pm. We waited for the rest of the group for about 15 minutes and as we started to go again they came around the corner.
The last 4 miles took us about 2 hours. As we neared the end of the hike everyone just wanted to get to the bottom of the mountain. We were walking in sync, like a marching band, exhausted, hungry and thirsty. Talking about what we wanted to eat at the bottom, where our bodies were aching and how a shower would be nice, but unlikely to happen.
15hours 15 mins later we reached Whitney Portal Road. The trail entrance we were at 4am that morning.
What an achievement. Something I doubted inside I would be able to complete.
My BGLs that day looked like the elevation of the mountains we had just hiked. They were far from where I wanted them to be, but each time things don’t go to plan, I learn so much that I can use in my next hike, run, walk etc.
Each time I get closer to getting better control of my bgls in situations I am uncertain of.
And now to rest my feet before our next adventure in two weeks time.