I was on my very first backpacking trip, accompanied by my hiking rock Shawnté, Kolby from 100 hikes, and the hiking king himself, Modern Hiker. Our destination was San Gorgonio Peak. Our plan was a 6 mile trek to camp and a summit attempt the following day. If achieved, this would mark my longest hike, greatest elevation gain, and highest ending altitude. I wanted to make sure the rest of the group knew what they were getting into if I tagged along, and sent out a very explicit email documenting my hiking successes to date, and how close they were to this trip. I also documented my back-up plan in the event that I couldn’t make it. I felt that I knew what I was getting into, they knew what they were getting into by including me, and hoped that the amount of thought put into my ability to tackle this trip would guarantee it’s success. Usually worst-case scenario planning has that effect.
But I ruined it all with that “kids” statement. We were hanging out by Jenks Lake, adjusting to the altitude. I wanted to make sure I hit the restroom before 2 days of no toilets. I waited, for what must have been 10 minutes outside the stall. And all I heard was a kid singing. And singing. And singing. Really, I hate kids sometimes.
There was another restroom closer to the trailhead, so fortunately the singing child didn’t actually prevent my pre-hiking bathroom needs. After that was done, and Kolby interrogated a ranger about the legitimacy of our parking situation, we headed up the trail. Within minutes we arrived at our lunch destination. Where I met a dog, a dad, and a kid. A really cute kid. On his first hike and SO excited about it! I made it a point to talk to this kid, unconsciously hoping to make amends for my earlier statement. And truth be told I really enjoyed talking to him. Really, kids are great. When they don’t interfere with my needs.
We put our packs back on and continued on the trail. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that hiking with 30 pounds on my back didn’t feel nearly as hard as I thought it would. I like to be prepared, and don’t like dealing with unpredictable situations when they can be predictable. Weeks before, I posted a question on Modern Hiker’s forum asking about how to prepare for backpacking. I bought the recommended book, spent hours in REI buying the perfect (ok, on sale) hiking boots. I’ve been hitting the treadmill at incline 15 for as long as I can stand it and have taken conditioning hikes up the Chumash Trail and others with gallons of water stuffed in my day pack. I was physically prepared. And that preparation paid off.
The hike itself was beautiful. Modern Hiker did a wonderful recap and managed to capture the surroundings as best one can over the interwebs. We hiked about 6 miles to our camp. Set up the tent. Found the teeny tiny baby spring we were reliant on for our water. Then we prepared dinner. I was against the idea of paying $5 for prepackaged camping food, so did some internet exploring to come up with alternatives. I made pasta with spinach drenched in olive oil and cheddar cheese that unfortunately got kinda squishy during the journey. Despite the questionable state of the cheese, the result was both a beautiful and wonderful tasting dish that earned the jealous stares of others. Over dinner Modern Hiker told us about these backpacking cooking competitions where chefs will backpack in all their ingredients and make these incredible meals. I looked at my meal and exclaimed that I would win. To my credit I followed the statement up with the observation that I was getting cocky. But that, combined with the statements about kids, was too much for this mountain to bear. It was time for me to pay.
I lay down to sleep and quite suddenly didn’t feel so well. I felt dehydrated and nauseous, and my previous experience with these combined symptoms made me realize that bad things were highly probable. I told Kolby of my symptoms. He got out his wilderness medical emergency book and started reading off all the symptoms of altitude sickness. Not reassuring. Particularly not reassuring for someone prone to bypass reality and head straight to worst-case scenario images. And I’m sure that the other campers in the vicinity were less than thrilled with having altitude sickness symptoms announced to them, accompanied by the frantic pacing and moaning sounds of a clearly sick human. As the list continued, and I asked Kolby if there were any camping options lower down the trail, I heard rustling. Then the sound of a tent zipper. And then Modern Hiker emerged from his tent, with a halo of glory over his head, and the most beautiful pink pill wrapped in sparking cellophane I have ever seen in my life. I listened to his sage words about how to take this magical pill, followed his instructions, and was lying in my bed with a calm stomach an hour later.
I woke up the next morning feeling pretty great. I reasoned it would be a really stupid idea to start up the trail to the summit just in case I wasn’t really healthy yet, or it was altitude sickness that I was experiencing, and decided to stay behind at camp. All I wanted was water, which had been used up during breakfast. The others headed to the teeny tiny baby spring to refill. After about an hour they hadn’t returned, and I started getting worried. Worst-case scenario: Kolby got really bad mountain sickness and he passed out and Shawnté and Modern Hiker were frantically trying to resuscitate him! They appeared not long after this ridiculous thought popped into my head, my water bladder filled half way, with the distressing news that the water filter stopped working. Worst-case scenario realized.
After Shawnté and Modern Hiker started up the summit, I forced my friendship upon some nearby campers, and they were kind enough to let me use their filter to get me some much needed water. I rehydrated. I stuck around camp. Felt iffy, and was really ready to go back down. Via another hiker headed up the summit, I sent a message to Kolby (who was behind Shawnté and Modern Hiker at this point) that I still wasn’t feeling well. He came back down. And fast forward a few hours and Kolby and I started the journey back down the mountain.
The trip down was pretty uneventful. I didn’t stop much- I had hit that “get me off this mountain” part of my hike and was dreaming of a nap. Unfortunately for me something changed in those last few miles. And as soon as I made to the bottom I became sick. Really sick.
A few hours later Shawnté and Modern Hiker came down the mountain, overjoyed to see us. I was in turn overjoyed to see them because it meant we could finally start the trip back home. Not 5 minutes into the car ride we had to pull over for me. And this continued all the way down the mountain. I was miserable, and I can only imagine that this must have been the worst car ride ever for the rest of the crew. A few hours later I was in the hospital. Officially diagnosed with mild dehydration and a stomach bug.
So, my very first backpacking adventure has been completed! And I ended up in the hospital! With a $500 medical bill because the hospital was out of network so my insurance won’t cover it! Joy! I learned that as much as you prepare, you can’t prepare for everything. Hiking and backpacking aren’t predictable. And mistakes are made. I will remember these mistakes: I will never backpack again without my very own water purifying device that I know how to use. I will make wiser food choices. I will always carry pepto bismol in my first aid kit. I will not insult the mountain by insulting her younger guests.
And I will always travel with people as great as this group. I really don’t like being the weakest link. I really don’t like feeling out of control. I was forced to surrender those wishes on this trip, and was fortunate enough to do it with a group of people who truly took care of me, and brought me to safety. So to Shawnté, Casey, and Kolby- Thank you.
And to those parents and kids at Jenks lake, I’m sorry.
What Would Ed Do?
I think Ed would be proud of a lot of what I did. Ed would have prepared for the physical rigors of the trip, like I did. Ed would have stayed in communication with his team, like I did. I suppose Ed would have done a much better job of staying hydrated than I did. And Ed would never have insulted the mountain by criticizing children in front of their parents.