Hiking the Rocky Mountains with a Nut Allergy!

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?

The author backpacking in the Rocky Mountains

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.

A beautiful lake in the Rocky Mountains

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!

A view of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta, Canada
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!

Fearless Field Trips with Allergies

Field Trip!

Field Trip!

Oh field trips… a student’s opportunity to escape the mundane everyday classroom routine if even just for an afternoon or the day.  However, for those of us with allergies these mini-escapes aren’t always as simple and involve some extra planning and coordination to make sure we stay allergy safe— after all who wants to miss out on that riveting museum exhibit!

Even though my field trip days are sadly behind me as I am now full on into post-secondary education, I still remember the extra work it took to stay safe on school trips.  My biggest concern was making sure I had safe foods to eat (who wants to go hungry…am I right!?) while also making sure that those around me, whether they be classmates, teachers or those running the trip were made aware of my allergies. I found organization and communication to be key when attending school trips. My school had a specific procedure set up that required the same protocol to be taken for every school trip I attended. This involved both my teacher as well as myself to carry a set of my medication on the trip. This worked well however, I can’t stress enough that there are a lot of students who are attending one school trip. For me, it was a must to talk to my teacher well before the actual field trip to remind them of my allergies, the protocol to be followed and also to figure out other details about the trip.

The most important thing I needed to sort out before a school trip was what the food situation of the trip would be like. I.e. How many meal opportunities would there be on this trip, and whether these meals were being provided to us or we were responsible for providing our own meals.  If meals were being provided for us, then it would be necessary to contact whoever was providing the food and make sure they were aware of my allergies and see if they would be able to safely accommodate my allergies.  Many times this would be the case but there were always times when I would play it safe and bring my own food instead. Throughout my schooling I was very fortunate and went to an accommodating school. They always requested that if lunches and snacks were to be brought on school trips that they had to be nut free. However because I and other students had multiple allergies, it was very important to stick to our own food and avoid sharing. It’s never worth the risk no matter how tempting a lunch ‘tradsies’ may seem.

When it comes to overnight trips even more planning needs to go into food preparation. I would always have lots of extra food stashed in my luggage just in case. Rice Krispie squares had always been my favourite go-to snack.  However don’t just rely on yourself, make sure you make contact with whoever will be providing meals and make sure they can accommodate allergies. I also found whenever I went on an overnight field trip where I would be away from my teacher as some points, I would designate a close friend as an ‘allergy buddy’ who carried another one of my auto injectors and who also was trained in how to use it.

Though going on field trips with allergies requires some extra planning and vigilance to make sure you stay safe, there’s no reason why you can’t get as much out of that exciting escape from classroom life as anyone else!

What have been your favourite school trips, and how did you stay allergy safe when attending them?