A Traumatic Grand Canyon Adventure


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When East-coasters think about hiking in the west, it's often altitude which comes to mind. While it's not much of a factor in places like the Northern Cacades, the effects of low humidy in the Southwest and Sierra Nevada, particularly on multi-day hikes, can take its toll.

The first time that I can remember suffering from dehydration (leg cramps) in a really long time was on a very hot and humid day about this time last year on an Isolation loop via the southern end of the Rocky Branch Trail and Davis Path. I guess that I have been more careful out West, as never had problems there other than altitude headaches, although those are also probably in part due to deydration. If only I were a bigger fan of canned anchovies as one hiking friend always carries for lunch.

Thanks for sharing, AlGonquin Bob, and enjoyed reading your survival story.
I've had leg cramps from dehydration many times on long Adirondack hikes, and I wish that's all that it was, but that's not what happened here. If I was dehydrated at all, that was not the big problem because all the muscles in my arms, legs, face, and I don't know what, were in constant and continuous trembling spasm for several hours straight :eek: from the depletion of electrolytes in my body. I got away with not eating enough (salty food) down in the canyon for 2 1/2 days, but the last couple hours on the ascent got me. I would do it again in a minute, but I'm taking SALT with me next time! ;)
Get comfortable folks, this is an epic TR... :eek:

I took you seriously and printed out this TR for my bedtime reading last night (all 16 pages!). What an adventure! I was struck by how wonderful the hike was...but I kept waiting for the tragedy...so strange that it happened when you were finished (good thing too). The scary thing about this is that usually our bodies tell us what we need--food, water, rest, etc. But it seems like this didn't really happen--it seemingly snuck up on you. The other thing that seems interesting is that the symptoms started within a couple of minutes of finishing the hike. Coincidence or some other factor?

(Your story reminded me of a much smaller adventure I had last summer. I was training for a marathon and went for a run of about 18 miles. It was hot but not brutal. I drank water liberally from my camelbak, and even stopped at one point to fill it again. About the last mile I didn't feel so good. I stopped to walk and I felt really fuzzy-headed. When I finally reached the end I felt like crap and sat down on the grass and proceeded to throw up a couple of liters of water. It was really bizarre. I then went and ate a greasy spoon breakfast with my running partners and soon was back to normal. I suspected dehydration due to poor absorption, but after reading your story I'm wondering if it was actually hyponatremia.)

I am so glad you are okay! I'm actually thinking about doing a short hike in the GC late this summer when I do a cross country trip with my daughter, and this has certainly given me food for thought.
Well, I'm happy that my story put you to sleep, Lyle!:D According to the article linked at the end of my TR, there can indeed be a delay that sets in after the activity ceases. I recommend that you definitely go hike in the Grand Canyon, but read the article first. Here is an exerpt from the article on the Grand Canyon River Guide website - I think I got out just in time...

exertional hyponatremia
"The fear associated with hyponatremia is so severe the patients hyperventilate and have stated that they thought they were separating from their body or floating away from their body and, therefore, they were surely dying."
... Not only will hikers or triathlon participants experience extensional hyponatremia during their hike, but the symptoms sometimes are delayed several hours, usually after the hike or event is over."
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Incredible TR ALGBob! I sat here with my G.C. map to follow your path as I read it. I won't get into details, but I had an epic GC trip many years ago that would have included your trek had we not needed a helicopter to get out from the area around Phantom Creek (nothing relating to hyponatremia or dehydration.) Interestingly, I had a problem with hyponatremia this summer in the Blue Hills of all places! It was a brutally hot and humid day, and we stubbornly wanted to get in a longish hike. I drank loads of water and by the end of the hike I felt like tossing my cookies, but I was also peeing every 20 minutes. I have since bought an electrolight supplement to add to my water. But as you point out--food is also key. Of course, I was in no way as bad a shape as you were, but it was instructive.

What an amazing place. Very glad the emergency was at the end and you are OK!!
A small publication might be interested in printing some version of this story (thanks Dick). I was informed that they wanted more than a trip report - I would need to submit an "article" of 1500 to 2000 words. Problem is, this "TR" is already over 6700 words!:eek: I gots to do some serious editing; anyone have experience with doing rewrites involving such massive changes?
Glad everything worked out for you and made it out safe!!

The Canyon is such a beautifull place, I enjoyed my hiking there and look forward to a return. The heat can really get you down there, and it's hard to know what to expect til you actually experience it. So very different than normal hiking of summits...

Thanks for sharing your story, so everyone may learn!! ;)
Well I finished reading this report (it took me long enough, eh?). What a story!! It sounds like a mix of a wonderful and stressful time. I'm very glad to hear that it all ended up okay, and that you weren't more hurt or anything. The pictures are quite lovely, and minus the hospital trip it sounds like a wonderful trip. Again, so glad to hear you're okay!
Well I finished reading this report (it took me long enough, eh?).
It's about time you got around to reading this! Thanks, it was mostly fun, and that other stuff will fade into the part of my memory that I delegate all my bad experiences to, so I can keep the good stuff front & center. :D
Great report Bob, it brought back memories of that beautiful and cruel place. I have no doubt you will remember it all with pleasure, though that's not exactly the word I want to use. A good lesson for us, though hyponatremia obviously can sneak up on even the vigilant, when you get to a point where your digestive system can't absorb the water.
This may be the best trip report ever. I'm fascinated by the idea of hiking in the Grand Canyon someday, and this report definitely serves as a cautionary tale. Thanks for sharing, and glad you came out of it ok.
Your story was a fascinating and educational read! I really found it to be an enjoyable read and it served to give me an education as well. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and helping me to learn more about a place I have dreamt of hiking in since I was 12 years old and visited there. I went back to visit in 2008 as part of a trip to compete in a National Cowboy Action shooting competition and the visit only welled up in me that long sleeping desire to hike the Grand Canyon. Great job on this report, you really held my interest. :D
Just reading "traumatic" + "Grand Canyon" I instantly thought this might be a hyponatremia tale.
...that or Heat Stroke - two conditions that can happen while fully hydrated.

I'm glad you came out of it ok and the rest of the trip worked out fine :)
Hey, at least I wasn't the one wearing flip-flops! I'll have a few more photos up soon, including one of me on a hospital gurney :eek:
Just ran across a web reference for sweat acclimatization, which can be a factor in hyponatremia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweat

The gist of it is that one's sweating mechanisms adapt: sustained exposure to hot weather causes the maximum amount of sweat to increase and reduces the concentration of salt in one's sweat. (Reverse in sustained cool weather.) Acclimatization takes about a week (Wilkerson, "Medicine for Mountaineering").

So if you travel from a cool area to hike in the desert heat, it is desirable to do shorter heat acclimatization hikes for a week or so before the big hike.