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!
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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?
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.
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?
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
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
This 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.
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
My top 5 tips
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.
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.
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.
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)
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!
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 &
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As the type 1 diabetic half of Dream Big, Travel Far, I'm passionate about encouraging fellow type 1's to travel the world and not let their diabetes hold them back. I'm proud to now be a full-time digital nomad. Meaning I live my life working and travelling all over the world and am here to help you achieve your dreams as well in any way I can.
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