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Do as I say, not as I did

So, a few weeks ago a friend and I planned an overnight backpacking trip to Gahuti. He had done some day hiking trips with me and really wanted to get his feet wet with an overnight. I had some extra gear and was able to cover everything but a sleeping bag, so we were good to go. I had done Gahuti a couple of times and was familiar with the trail and the campsites, so we decided that'd be our first adventure.

Sometime around the Saturday before our trip, I developed a slight cough and just didn't feel "right". Everything was starting to bloom and pollen was starting to coat everything, so I assumed it was just something to do with some weird allergy. As the week went on, I seemed to be on a very slight and gradual downward spiral but, by Friday, I had leveled off and didn't feel bad. I loaded up on cold medicine, allergy medicine, vitiman C and anything else I could find that "looked like it would help" and seemed to have turned the tide. I was good to go and the trip was on. It's worth noting here that he's a former Marine and I'm an old Army guy, so the idea of backing out because "I didn't feel good" just didn't seem like something that I'd live down for quite a while and my pride just wasn't ready for that 🙂

Saturday morning rolled around, I was feeling "pretty ok" so we packed up and headed out. When we hit the trail, I noticed that I seemed to get winded faster than normal but we were going "backwards" from the way that I normally go, so I figured that that must be it. We were hiking west from the Cool Springs Overlook to Back Country site #2 and, from there, back to Cool Springs the next morning. Basically, five miles Saturday and three miles Sunday.

By about two miles in, I was exhausted. I had plenty of water, had a snack but just couldn't snap out of it. By mile four, I was seating profusely, exhausted and really thinking that the trip was a bad idea. We made it to camp, got setup and got the fire built and I seemed to be back on my downward spiral. By this time, I'm thinking it's a really bad cold or possibly the flu and was getting the requisite grief and ridicule from my Marine friend. We sat around the campfire for a bit and called it a night just after hiker midnight.

Sunday rolled around and I just couldn't get in gear. We had breakfast, broke camp and headed out. It's a short walk (I'd guess around 200+/- ft) from the campsite to the trail and, in that distance, I was seating profusely again and had to stop and rest twice. It was pretty clear that that was going to be a long hike out.

We ended up hiking from the campsite to the main road and then just walking up the road to the car. It didn't really change the distance but the logic was that, if I fell out, it'd be easier to get help on the road than on the trail. We made it out, but it was a wake-up call.

So, the lesson learned here is to listen to my body. I knew Friday that I should probably postpone the trip but I really wanted to go, I didn't want to let my friend (who had also been looking forward to the trip) down and pride probably played more of a role in my poor decision making than I'd like to admit. Thankfully, I survided, my friend isn't scarred for life (truth be told, he seems to be enjoying telling the story of how a Marine resued a 'poor old Army guy', so there's that) and we're already planning our next adventure. Given the choice to do it again, I'd like to think that I would have postponed the trip. Not my typical post but figured with the weather really getting nice, there may be other folks in the same boat that may take something from this. Enjoy the trail!


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5 Replies

@nathanu yikes - so glad you're on the mend! And thanks for the sage reminder of the importance of listening to your body!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

Sage advice. Older folks please listen. My version:

I flew to Reno to do a 8-day trip in the Emigrant Wilderness with my long time friend and backpacking companion Bob three summers ago. When he picked me up at the airport he said - keep away from me because I think my son gave me a cold.

We drove South to our trailhead and he seemed like he was doing okay. Lots of laughs and a couple coughs and sneezes. In the morning, I was very concerned when there was not coffee brewing at sunrise, his usual habits. He wasn't moving until the sun hit his body. Again very unusual. The sleeping bag was completely closed around his mouth. Again completely unusual as he was very fussy about getting too warm.

After walking 3 miles he looked like hell. He was usually out front. An animal. He was very far behind and not looking very good. He insisted on being a trooper as he was a little bit embarrassed that he was not out front like usual. After 5 mi I chose to set up camp as I thought there was no chance to make it 8 miles to our intended destination over an hour later he showed up to camp. He looked like death.

We weren't able to leave our campsite because he didn't feel very good. He had lost all of his energy and was confused. He kept thinking he could rally like he had always done before. On our fifth day he gathered enough energy to walk out.

We later found out that he had an aortic aneurysm. He died after 3 surgery attempts to repair it. As his wife says, he just wasn't strong enough anymore.

I am an ex Wilderness ranger. I have seen multiple emergency situations. I could not read how bad this situation was because of the strength of my friend. He was 62. I will be 62 this year.

I recall him telling me a story about how a visitor had died one day while we were working together at Heavenly Ski Area in South Lake Tahoe. On a Saturday morning easily half of the people at the ski area drove up from the Bay Area at sea level to ski that day. There are multiple emergency incidents at the top of the mountain at 10,000 ft on Saturday mornings. The elevation makes a lot of people have health issues.

This time, the father of four arrived at the ticket window during holiday periods. Right after he asked how much the tickets would cost he had a heart attack and died.

It doesn't take much sometimes.

@nathanu @Former community member 

Thank you for sharing, these are really important lessons to learn. When I took a NOLS wilderness first aid course a couple of years ago I learned the full appreciation of making the decision to turn around and get back to 'safety'. There are just so many ways a small issue can become life threatening. Like I tell my kids, 'the risk may be low but the consequence is high'.

Here's my story:

I was climbing Mt. Rainier with a group of friends and my climbing mentor. We were approaching our rest spot at about 12,000 feet after a lot of switchbacks on the Ingraham Glacier and I was feeling pretty good. In order to get to the rest spot on the rocks we had to cross about 20 yards of annoyingly deep sun-cupped snow. As I crossed those 20 yards my heart rate skyrocketed, my head pounded, and I really struggled to catch my breath. As we sat and rested I couldn't get my heart rate to slow down and it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest when I tried to breathe. It took me a good 15 minutes to calm down to the point where I felt 'normal' again.

At that point I told the team I was done. Ed Viesturs is one of my mountaineering heroes and he has always preached that the summit is optional and getting down is mandatory. I had already failed once at climbing Mt. Rainier and really wanted to summit. However, I was also sufficiently scared that I knew I would put myself, and everyone else in our party, at risk if I had another episode like that any higher on the mountain. I sat on that ledge at 12,000' and watched the sun rise as my friends finished the climb without me. As we reunited and descended, my climbing mentor told me that my decisions was one of the bravest and smartest things he'd seen in the mountains and that he knew how hard it was to admit it wasn't your day and give up the climb. He looked me in the eyes and said, 'The mountain will always be here, your job is to make sure you come back.' I've never forgotten that.

Thanks for the sharing the wisdom!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

I have climbed over 400 unique mountains with prominence. After people hear about that, I make sure they hear the stories of the times when I turned back.

folks get sick all the time, this time of year, especially where you and I are, pollen, believe it or not, can have a gigantic effect, with all the symptoms of having the flu, or something.

REI Member Since 1979