Squaw Valley Hiking with T1D

hiking with type 1 diabetes at lake tahoe squaw valley

So what is the best way to start a hike in Squaw Valley, well with an Imagine Dragons concert at Harvey’s in South Lake Tahoe of course! I will tell you that if you were lucky enough to go to the concert in 2015, you may just be ruined for all other concerts. Those guys were on fire and took their music to an entire new level. Oh, oh, well getting back to my post on hiking with T1D …Then, you load up on what is left at Starbucks and head for Squaw Valley that night so you can wake up early and go hiking in the morning! Hmm, did I actually get any sleep, I’m not sure…

Squaw Valley is probably best known for the winter Olympics in 1960, but has some great summer hiking for all levels of fitness, and one fun and rather quick hike is taking the Shirley Lake trail all the way to the top and riding the tram back down. The scenery is unique and some of the views will be what you remember whenever someone says “Lake Tahoe.”

hiking with t1d at squaw valley lake tahoe

Right about now you might be wondering, “What does hiking the Shirley Lake Trail in Squaw Valley have to do with T1D?”  Well let’s say T1D and remote locations, like most hiking trails, are two things that don’t mix well if you’re unprepared.  A fun outing can quickly turn into a very dangerous situation in just a couple of minutes.

Your hike can be anywhere but I’m going to use Shirley Lake trail as an example because it has all the perfect conditions that a hiker with T1D can face. It is a little remote, about 4 miles, about 2,000 ft in elevation gain from an already elevated starting point, and nice hot weather. So there you have the makings of the formula that perplexes most people with T1D; exercise, elevation, heat and hydration.

Now being the over protective parent, I packed what I thought was an abundance of bumpers (carbs for bumping low sugar levels, these are some of my faves). The trail was excellent and went up a small river bed with carved out rock; scenes literally right out of Disney’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The exercise starts right away as you start high stepping and rock jumping, but there were some level spots and good resting points, too. About half of the way to the top you come to a granite face and it is a nice bit of exercise to scramble to the top, nothing dangerous, but definitely a good high altitude aerobic workout.

When DEX went off signaling a minor low glucose reading (DEX is what we call my daughter’s continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and it is short for Dexcom – I’ll write a review on DEX later), we’d bump with some carbs. Now if you don’t know about CGM’s they measure glucose from interstitial fluids, and are about 15 to 20 minutes behind a finger poke. We have my daughter’s set with a pre-warning if she has a glucose reading of 95 because she tends to drop fast from there. So with a 4 carb bump we were off continuing the climb and again DEX goes off so we bump twice as much and with a mixture of fast and slow carbs, in hopes of getting a quick dextrose bump coupled with a longer carb burn. To my surprise her numbers kept falling like a rock so she bumped a full 30 carbs and that only leveled her out at 75. Her pump was new to us, so we were slow to realize that we needed to suspend it; with all of that exercise, she didn’t need external insulin. We suspended her pump and got back on the trail.  As she continued to hike her numbers kept dipping and we kept bumping the carbs. I had no idea that I was going to be bumping about 5 energy bars worth of carbs, I became a little worried that I may run out of carbs before we got through this perfect storm of exercise. As luck would have it, we had just enough bumpers and she leveled out at 80 just as our hike was finishing.

hiking with t1d

Now the hike was awesome and taking the Squaw Valley tram ride down you will always remember where the land falls off for a thousand feet, it is quite a spectacular experience and view. This was also a learning experience that I thought I should share because it shows how delicate a situation can be with T1D and that even when you think you are over prepared, you need to add more and then DOUBLE IT! Because you do not want to be stuck in a remote situation and wishing you had “just one more.”

Here are 5 tips for hiking with someone with Type 1 Diabetes :

  1. Have a basic knowledge of T1D and your buddy’s equipment before your hike:
    • What is a normal sugar range for them.
    • How do they dose and use their equipment.
    • What to do if their sugars are too high and they get sick.
    • What to do if their sugars are too low and they pass out.
    • Know what a Glucagon kit is, what it looks like, and how and when to use it.
  2. A continuous glucose monitor is a must! I cannot stress this enough. The CGM will show you how your buddy is trending and will let you flag a low or high before it happens. If you have a Dexcom and are still within intermittent cell service, you can remotely monitor and do not even have to ask for their reading.
  3. Pack extra, then double it. For someone with T1D, things can go south in just a matter of minutes, so think about scenarios and solutions like an allergic reaction to a bee sting or a blister. In my daughter’s case her glucose reading will drop fast if there is even the beginning of some sort of infection.
  4. Think about communication, is a cell phone or good Motorola walkie talkie enough or do you need to check out some of the new remote satellite communication technology.
  5. For overnight or extended hiking, I would say the Dexcom and satellite communication are an absolute must.

Now don’t let this little story scare you off from a great adventure. In this specific case we jumped on a plane on Saturday morning to Sacramento, attended the Imagine Dragons concert at Harvey’s in Lake Tahoe in the afternoon, drove the west side of the lake in the middle of the night (this is an adventure all by itself) and hiked to the top of Shirley Lake trail in Squaw Valley all within 24hrs, and back home within 36. It was an absolute fabulous time and one you would not want to miss, just go prepared.

hiking with type 1 diabetes in lake tahoe