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Severe Dehydration on the Trail and a Trip to the ER

Well, I did it again friends!

That’s right.  Another disastrous trip, back-to-back.  I would like to note that none of this is made up.  My life may seem like a joke, but it’s not.  It’s all definitely real.

Some friends and I were backpacking Tuck and Robin Lakes.  Now what can go wrong in a place as beautiful as this?

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This trip was one of my friend’s first backpacking trips ever, and the other friend had only done flat trails with a pack on (carrying a heavy pack up a beast of a hill is a completely different story).  If you haven’t read about my experience at Ancient Lakes, go ahead and about read that here.  Apparently I’m a pro at giving first-time backpackers an unforgettable experience.

We got a late start on our way in, and if you know anything about Tuck and Robin Lakes, the climb to Tuck Lake is quite strenuous in some sections.  However, we were ready and excited!  I went through our extensive packing list together and we had everything we needed to survive in the wilderness for 3 days and 2 nights.

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We even pumped ourselves up by rapping, naturally of course.  It’s a tradition.

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We get to the trailhead and start making our way to our first campsite at Tuck Lake, encountering some epic views along the way.

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The sun is starting to set and I can feel the anxiety creep up because I don’t want my friends, who are basically new to this, have to set up camp on their first night in the dark.  Which means eating dinner with headlamps on.

Due to time, I wind up convincing one of my friend’s to let me carry her pack for her the rest of the way, which is quite a site to see I’m sure.  Massive pack on the back, massive pack on the front. This is where many of my bruises came from since I couldn’t see everything I was climbing over and thus smashing my thighs, knees, and shins into every rock and log along the way as I tried racing up that mountain.  But it’s part of the experience, right!?  Despite my best efforts, we wound up setting up camp right as the sun was dropping behind the mountain range, meaning we sure did eat in the dark.  My hand also got caught in a huge flame as I was trying to help my friend get her stove going.  I have a burn mark, but once again, it’s part of the experience, right!?  (If you say that kind of thing enough, you will start to believe it.  See where I’m going with this?)

Later, my bear spray fell, denting the can, wisping that devil solution into the air and immediately burning my nostrils, making my eyes water, and causing me to run to a bush to dry heave and cough and try to puke as my lungs filled with what felt like fire.

But all of these things led us to sit around in the dark together, laughing.  And once again, I was in my tent, staring up at the stars in silence, listening to the outside world around me.  I am the intruder here, but I have been welcomed.  It’s always an honor.

The next morning we all eat together and become excited for the day ahead, trekking up to Robin Lake.  If I have learned anything from the mountains, it’s that you NEED to learn to adapt.  That’s the only way to 1) Have a great time, and 2) Not die.

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The trail to Robin Lake is not marked for the first bit, so we become lost again and again.  We wade through a huge pool of water to get off the wrong trail (vice going all the way around which looked like a monstrous effort), whack through overgrown bushes which give me some nasty cuts and scrapes as I bleed all over my pack, and push down the frustration that was so clearly becoming present in all of us.  In a selfish way, I felt better the minute two separate groups neared us, meaning they were lost as well.  I pull out my GPS and compass, and another guy and I determine where we thought the correct path is.  On our way we go!  (By the way, the fact I got to use my compass made me feel like Bear Grylls.)

I am going to skip all of the dramatics here and just say that some emotions arose, and as a group we decided that we needed to head back to the truck.  We came in as a team and weren’t going to leave anybody behind, so out we went together.  As we were leaving, we see this beautiful spot on top of some rocks where we decide to stop, take pictures, and drink some Chardonnay as a memento to our trip.  No, it wasn’t going to end the way we imagined, but we still had some great memories to take with us.  Cheers!

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(This is what happens to your hair when you climb through unmarked trails…)

I, for one, have drank many times during hiking.  (We love you Bandit Wines).  So do many people.  If you’re backpacking, you have a glass of wine with your dinner.  You reach an epic mountain peak, you sit there in awe, passing around a Bandit Wine and/or beer, relishing in that moment.  Sometimes I never bring anything, but sometimes I do.  I have never had a problem.

But I am writing this to raise awareness, even if you are reading this thinking, “How could you be so dumb!?”  Well, we are human and all we can do is hope you don’t make the same mistake.

My friend and I drink roughly the same amount.  As we head down the mountain a couple of hours of later, she becomes very nauseated.  Then, she pukes.  It looks as if she puked out all of what she consumed that day.  Luckily, she feels better!  We even feel good enough to skinny dip in Hyas Lake to celebrate our eventful backpacking trip.

Little did we know, that was the start to something horrible.

From that moment on, and for the rest of our hike down, she puked and puked, until she started dry-heaving.  We get back to the truck and she is exhausted.  I feel great, so I start to become worried that this isn’t from the alcohol.  Is it altitude sickness?  Did she drink unfiltered water somehow?  Maybe she’s pregnant?  That’s it.  She’s definitely pregnant.

I start the truck and we head out.  We have a 2 1/2 hour drive to Seattle.  We’re hungry and keep talking about what kind of burger we all want.  Unfortunately, my friend keeps taking sips of water, then puking it back up.  Thank goodness for that Venti Starbucks cup we had lying around…

My friend doesn’t want me to stop driving, so I continue on as she continues to dry-heave.  I am officially worried.  We’re all starving, including Barfing Betty to my right, so the only real option in this tiny town is a McDonald’s.  Ironically, they forget Hurling Harriet’s food but she realizes she can’t eat anyway.  I speed back onto the highway, eating my breakfast sandwich, listening to my friend hack it up.  There’s nothing I can do and I feel helpless, so I ask for my hash brown from my friend in the back and run through all the possibilities of why my friend won’t stop puking.  (Vomit doesn’t bother me, so I’m your girl if you need me to hold your hair.)

Spewing Samantha is still barfing and it’s been about 4 hours.  I have been trying to leave her alone as she is curled up into a ball in the front seat, gripping that clear Venti Starbucks cup with all of her juices in it.  (I wish someone held on to me the same way she was holding on to that damn cup.)

We stop to get her Gatorade to see if she can take small sips and replenish her electrolytes.  I think she is severely dehydrated.  After a series of questions, I realize she hadn’t been drinking that much water.  So in conjunction with drinking wine, her body crashed.

She goes into shock, frantically rocking back and forth, turning the AC on, then off, then on, then off, then on, then off.  She starts moaning in pain.  Then the panic attacks start.  Her breathing is loud and quick and all I can do is rub her back, squeeze her leg, try to take deep breaths with her, and race to the hospital.  I knew she would be ok, but she needed fluids ASAP.

We make it to the ER and my other friend and I rush her in, holding Vomit Vanessa up as she is still in the middle of a panic attack.  Retching Raquel and I get to her hospital room, I hold her hand as they insert an IV, and a nurse takes blood samples.  She pukes, falls asleep, then wakes up to puke more.  It is now 12:45am, about 7 hours since her first puke, and she is finally given some anti-nausea medicine, ending her vomit streak.  (All the while, my other friend is in the waiting room as she can’t handle the blood and needles and all that, worried about the scrape on her foot.  She wants to get a tetanus shot and asked me to go with her.  I imagine myself, more likely in a comedy, running from hospital room to hospital room checking on my friends that I took backpacking for a fun-filled weekend.  Anyone want to come out in the woods with me?  I promise you won’t be ok.)

Once Upchuck Ursula starts to feel better, we begin laughing at the whole thing.  This is why she is one of my favorite people.  She isn’t playing a victim, isn’t upset, just in absolute shock that this is how things ended up.  Now that she is ok, we find the whole situation hysterically funny.

I joked to one of the nurses that I needed an IV as well, and he said, “Ok, but I won’t be as gentle with you as I was with her.”  Puking Patricia and I immediately look at each other with wide eyes (in the way best friends typically do) and bust up laughing.  He kept hitting on me, pointing out the dirt all over my face (there was a lot), my ugly sweat pants, just everything.  He would come back to the room to take more blood samples or check her vitals and my dear, pukey friend would say, “So, you’re back to talk to Jen again, huh?”  I would shoot her the dirtiest look and just laugh.  My friend just had some of the most traumatic several hours of her life and she still has a sense of humor.  Those are my kind of people.

Her lab results come back normal, but she needs another bag of fluids, so we re-hash the whole trip, once again laughing to the point of our stomachs hurting, and actually having a blast, if you can even wrap your mind around that.  It is 3am and we are on our way out of the hospital.  Heaving Heather was going to be ok, and we are closer friends for it.  We knew we were delirious and needed sleep when we saw someone in the parking garage in a creepy white van and were POSITIVE they were there to bomb us.  We laughed and laughed and sprinted to the truck.  We needed to go home.

Although I am making light of this situation, I want to be very clear that what happened to us can happen to anyone.  My friend (also known as Barfing Betty and so on) is in great shape physically and mentally.  She’s not someone who needs to be babysat.  Looking back, I feel awful and terrible about not checking up on her more and making sure both of my friend’s needs were taken care of.

For those of you wondering, here are the symptoms of severe dehydration:
-Breathing rapidly
-Rapid heartbeat

We were past the point of home-remedies to get her healthy again, which is why I took her to the hospital.  But if you think you are mildly dehydrated, make sure to immediately drink water and/or sports drinks, find shade if you’re outside, place a cold towel on your forehead if possible, and rest.

To avoid becoming dehydrated, ensure you drink water, even if you aren’t thirsty!  Unless you are having to ration your water for whatever reason, drink as much of it as you can.  Filter water anytime you come across a stream if possible.  Climbing mountains is hard and regardless of how in shape you are, you will be sweating and losing electrolytes!  Alcohol does dehydrate the body.  If you do choose to drink alcohol, take caution, and make sure you are following that up with double the amount of water.  (1 cup of wine = 2 cups of water).

Accidents happen all the time so we must be diligent whenever we are out in nature, ESPECIALLY on top of a mountain and in an out-of-service range.  Sometimes we have fun and become care-free and can’t foresee the consequences down the road.  All I know is I am thankful for my friends for making the best of a trip that could have been disastrous, and having fun along the way.  Life gets messy, so if we get down about all of the mistakes, then we won’t be able to enjoy anything on this planet.  And I am not trying to live like that.

Once again, I am quite thankful for another hard lesson learned because I am smarter for it.  It won’t stop me from going into those mountains though because there’s no place I’d rather be.

With love and hopes of adventure,
Jennifer Mabus, The Whimsical Woman


6 thoughts on “Severe Dehydration on the Trail and a Trip to the ER”

  1. Glad you can laugh about this now (and make *me* laugh reading!). I found this from the FB Washinton Hikers group. I tried one solo hike and thought it was a disaster, but now I’m counting my lucky stars that my Boise adventure was just small potatoes!

    1. I am glad you were able to enjoy it! The outdoors have definitely taught me how to adapt, so I say you get back out there! It’s ok to be scared or mess up, but if you love hiking then don’t let that hold you back. Get some friends and go have a blast! 🙂 You’ll have to send pictures.

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