My high school offers this amazing trip to hike the Rocky Mountains in the last week of June, and I was determined to attend because I knew it was going to be a bucket-list experience. The only problem was: how am I supposed to manage my allergies when I’m 4.5 hours up a mountain, with only my EpiPen as protection?
Luckily, there have been trailblazers before me with allergies who have successfully managed them on this trip. Before we left, the teachers in charge made sure they knew which foods I was allergic to and were trained how to use an EpiPen. One teacher recommended we get a SPOT, which is a special GPS-like device that has one purpose: if you get in serious, life-threatening trouble, press the SOS button and someone will come get you, whether it be the military, the local helicopter company, whomever! It works by using a satellite tracking device, so although you may not know where you are, your coordinates are sent to the nearest rescue office.
That eased my worry only slightly. I had no idea how well the SPOT would work if I needed it, and I had no desire to experience an anaphylactic reaction 11 km up some mountain. I knew that if I wanted to ensure my safety and enjoyment on this trip, I had to be extra careful.
Finally, we left my high school in Winnipeg and drove nearly 24 hours to Valemount, B.C. The views were already beautiful and we hadn’t even started climbing yet! We would be staying at a hostel-like residence, where our group of 24 students and 5 teachers would be preparing all of our own meals.
The teachers had been very careful in planning meals. Breakfast and dinner were always nut-free, and if there was to be a special condiment, such as peanut-butter or peanut sauce, it had to be kept in a specific area, and those eating it could only eat in a specific area as well. Because we were divided into cooking groups, I could not always see how the other students were preparing the food, but the teachers were always careful to ensure that students washed their hands before cooking or eating, and there were designated servers to ensure no cross-contamination occurred.
The hardest part of the entire trip was lunch. We would make our lunches in the morning before we hit the trail. There were nut-free granola bars and chocolate bars as snacks on the trail, but there was also peanut trail mix, and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. Instead of this, I made sure that I did not eat anything that had been near the nut products, and stuck to fruits and vegetables. I had also brought some food from home that I could bring on the trail. I felt more comfortable doing this, because things got pretty messy during lunch, what with all the peanut butter and jelly, and I didn’t want to take a risk of cross-contamination.
The hikes were absolutely beautiful! On the first day, we hiked along the Berg Lake Trail for 8 hours: 11 km up, 11 km down. It was tough, but well worth it. Later on in the week, we hiked a really difficult summit trail: 4.5 hours up (8 km), with an elevation gain of 1000m! Although everyone was enjoying eating their trail mix and PB sandwiches, I made sure to wash my hands before eating and tried to stay far enough away from anyone eating my allergens. I also had to ensure that I always had enough water, because I couldn’t share water bottles with anyone due to the risk of any traces of peanut protein remaining on the mouthpiece of their bottle.
When we did our summit hike and finally reached the top, it was a sight I will never forget. There, above the tree line, we could see the entire valley below us, and we even had a snowball fight (yes, there was snow in June)! When I completed that difficult hike, I knew that the annoyances of being cautious had been worth it, because this was definitely the trip of a lifetime!
If you are planning to go on a similar trip, make sure you have a plan laid out beforehand as to how you will manage your allergies on the trail. Make sure you bring your own snacks, have a satellite device of some kind, and at least two epinephrine auto-injectors. Ensure that the teachers or leaders are aware of your allergies, and it’s also a good idea to let your friends know of the risks as well. Bring hand soap or wipes to wash your hands before you eat, and ONLY eat guaranteed safe foods. Don’t try something on the trail that you’ve never had before, unless it is labeled nut-free (like some granola bars). Also, consult with your allergist if you have any questions or concerns.
I am so glad I went on this Rocky Mountain trip. By doing so, I feel like I’ve not only climbed many, many kilometers up many mountains, but I’ve also scaled an allergy mountain, by putting myself in a new, real-life situation, and successfully managing it. I’ve learned so much from this experience, and I can’t wait to go again next year!