On a three-day backpacking trip this past weekend, my husband and I finished our fifth and sixth 14ers (a peak above 14,000 feet) since the beginning of July. Most summers before this, I was lucky if I did one or two. I have definitely caught the 14er fever. Hiking these peaks has provided me with the perfect opportunity to get outdoors and challenge myself physically while still babying my abdominal muscles. Indoors, I do a battery of physical therapy exercises that safely strengthen my core. In concert, these two activities will prepare me for the more rigorous demands of technical rock climbing in the future.
While hiking these peaks, I have been amazed at how quickly I am progressing and getting my strength back. While I walked the first one at a turtle’s pace, I am now hiking the peaks briskly and with little fatigue. All these successful peak hikes have also made me realize how well I have adapted to my ileostomy. Managing my appliance on the trail using both closed-end and drainable pouches has become second-nature. Moreover, changing my wafer outdoors, which is one of the things I was most fearful of, has proved to be very similar to doing it indoors except that I must pack out the trash (and the views while changing are more spectacular).
However, one aspect of my ileostomy that still baffles me is figuring out how much water to drink. One function of the colon is to absorb water. When it is removed, the small intestine is able to adapt and take on some of this role, but not as well. Because of this, ileostomates must drink more water to avoid dehydration. It has not been unusual for me to drink 8+ quarts of water on some of my all-day hikes. Up to this trip, I have not had any issues with dehydration. However, conditions were different on this excursion. The temperatures while making the strenuous uphill hike to camp were in the 80s which is warm for the elevation we were at. Despite drinking almost 3 quarts of water (some of which included a sport drink mix) and eating plenty of snacks along the way, I got to camp with a headache and bad nausea. Before we proceeded to empty our backpacks and set up our tent, I sat in the shade and drank some more fluids. In about an hour, I felt better. I upped my water intake over the next two days and did not run into the problem again.
When I analyze the situation, I realize I was managing my water intake too much by the numbers instead of paying close attention to my body. Three quarts of water in two hours sounded like plenty, but in reality my body needed more than that. It was sunny, hot, and dry, and I was sweating profusely on the steep uphill climb. Had I been paying better attention to my body, I would have noticed that I was getting cotton-mouth, my face was getting flushed, I had not urinated since leaving the trailhead, and I was feeling dizzy and unwell. In the future I plan to be more careful with my fluid levels so this does not happen again.
Here are some things I do to make sure I stay hydrated with balanced electrolytes during hikes:
- Doug and I each carry a 3L CamelBak full of water on all trips.
- If we know we are going to be away from a water source for a while, we pack an extra 3L water bag.
- If we know we are going to be near a water source the whole time, we skip the extra water bag and bring a water filter to refill our CamelBaks as we go.
- We carry two small bottles of Aquamira so that we always have a backup for purifying our water.
- I add Gatorade powder to my CamelBak to provide extra electrolytes.
- I eat lightly salted snacks along the way to maintain my sodium levels.