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Can a Type 1 Diabetic Trek Torres Del Paine?

I survived to tell the tale..

Written on
October 10, 2016
Diabetes

Trekking Torres Del Paine: a Type 1 Diabetic's Journey

YES they can. Type 1 diabetics can trek Torres Del Paine...just like everyone else! It took a lot out of me, but here's my story and how you can do it too!
Entrance at torres del paine national park
My journey begins..

As you know, any demanding physical activity with type 1 diabetes poses some sort of challenges, from regulating bolus rates, to basal rates to even maintaining energy levels- but with all things in life and diabetes, anything is possible with one key thing....preparation!

How did I prepare for the trek?

Insulin requirements

 As a type 1 diabetic with..how shall I call it...not very cooperative blood sugars..when I do something out of my usual routine or comfort zone, I’ve got to practice and plan, so that I don’t fall into a diabetic coma and die- (dramatic, yet possible).  This wasn’t the first time I have hiked a mountain- I am from the land of the Mourne Mountains in Co Down, Ireland after all- so my usual routine would be to reduce my basal rate by 50%- so this was going to be my plan! I also took spare pens with me in case my insulin pump decided to die on me in the cold.

The weather

Patagonia in general is cold, wet & windy- and if you are lucky..snowy! So, naturally insulin will stop working at a certain temperature, and even freeze. This was a definite possibility with -4 temperatures, so I used my trusted Frio bags to help regulate the temperature of my insulin- and they worked well! No insulin died. 

Food & hypos

Camping means you naturally have restricted access to sweets, sugary drinks etc for a hypo- and even though there are shops located throughout the W trail in Torres Del Paine, they are overpriced and expensive, and honestly just come prepared- but at least you know in an emergency you can find some sugar! I brought 3 bags of sweets with me, 3 juice cartons, 3 rolls of sweets & a packet of dextrose. I could have brought more, but I also didn’t want to weigh myself down the supplies which would ironically lead to more hypos...finding the balance is always a challenge. I think dextrose are fantastic hypo treatments because they are small, and you don’t need as many to get yourself out of one..but I can’t find them in South America..And I only had one pack left from the UK..so..yeah!

How did I survive?

Day 1

I won’t lie to you, it’s been over six weeks since I have been at the gym, all my hard fitness work was diminishing and when I first started this walk..I actually thought there was a possibility I would take a heart attack and die...and that was at the entrance hill. I constantly had a mental battle in my head of “You can do this, come on just keep going, it’s going to be worth it”...too...”OMG why are you doing this, you are going to die.” Bradley was finding this a source of entertainment because I was constantly swinging from one to the other within minutes. I was laughing and crying, then crying and laughing...but..If there is one thing that I like about myself...it’s my determination..I knew even when I felt at my weakest...I was still going to make it!

I set off with a blood sugar of 6.5 (super good- probably too good for this trek)...reduced my basal rate...and it took half an hour for my first hypo...YAY- I know the rule for a hypo is..wait 15-30 minutes for your body to recover...but I was on a time limit, so I kind of ignored that rule, chugged some sugar, and kept walking, which ultimately meant I took a little longer to get out of hypo...ps- being sweaty and warm from incline walking and then sweaty and warm from a hypo means a hell of a lot of sweat and warmth and just not a pretty picture.

All in all- I had 3 hypos that day...but that didn’t seem so bad to me for 5-6 hours walking.

View of torres del paine national park
Taking a break from the walk from hell....kicking air! 

Day 2

4am start...blood sugar of 16 (noooooooo- WHY?) I think that was literally one of those moments were diabetes was trying to piss me off and make things more challenging- but hey ho- I got on with it, I was not taking any insulin because I knew I was climbing the steepest hill I have ever climbed. This climb was 1 hour, and we were trying to get there before sunrise to see the beautiful three Torres with the sunrise..I knew it was going to be a magical moment, but ¾ the way up, we could see daylight forming and literally huffing and puffing, thinking my legs couldn’t take anymore...we feared we wouldn’t make it. I was pissed- I did not want to have put myself though this hell if I didn’t get to see this picture perfect moment. But we pushed through, and we MADE IT, popped in our sleeping bags and watched the sunrise, and it was absolutely worth it, and probably the most beautiful scene I have witnessed. I checked my bloods and alas- 4.6, it was definitely a great idea that I didn’t take any insulin! No hypos on the way back down...so I can say that was a hypo free climb! Woo.

Sunrise at torres del paine national park
What a view...worth the steep walk!

My top 5 tips

  1. Dextrose & sweets- keep them small and less bulky, but make sure you have enough- the weather, the heat from walking, the sun (that you can’t tell is there) & the incline will all cause hypos, even if you do everything to prevent them, they still sneak up.
  2. Frio- Keep your insulin regulated. If it freezes it’s done and you do not want all your insulin to freeze when you’re up a mountain with no way down apart from a 6 hour walk.
  3. Waist band/travel bra- I use a basic waist band I got online that I can carry my pump in & my travel bra pouch- to make sure my insulin pump (or pens) isn’t against my skin- you need it in a covered area so that its protected from the cold..but being in your actual bra or trousers, or anywhere you will sweat can actually damage them! Pouches & travel bras are a great investment and not too expensive.
  4. Infusion sets- You are technically meant to change your infusion set every 3 days- I suggest putting two infusion sets in (like the hole for them) so that when it’s time to change, you can just re-click to another area- up in the mountains with camping you want things to be as easy as possible, and this just saves time and hassle if one rips off, or even sweats off.  (it’s intense)
  5. Freestyle Libre- The sweat and cold killed mine- I had a fresh one on, and it was protected by a cover and it still didn’t work, so I say if you are using one double cover but..they are SUPER AMAZING, because scanning your blood sugar is a lot less hassle than stopping every few minutes to test, with Libre you can scan every 5 minutes if you want, and you can catch them hypos quick and see the patterns of the day so you can re adjust for your next walk. They are an essential piece of equipment when doing any sort of adventure or hike. Invest in one...but cover it up twice!
Camping at torres del paine national park
Our campsite...with an Irish overtaking of course :P

I am super proud for completing what is known as a hard challenge, and not to be limited by my type 1 diabetes. Dream Big & Travel Far.

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