Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Outfitting for the Santa Cruz Trail in Peru

One of the things I enjoy having the opportunity to do is help people get outfitted for trips. If you follow my instagram you know that I recently consulted with Molly who is headed to Alaska. A week before that I consulted with Jim who is prepping for a thru hike in New Zealand on the Te Araroa. Jim and I were talking specifically about navigation and personal locator beacons.

But back in August I had a meeting with a guy named Jason who needed some help planning for something really special. Through a work situation he found himself in Peru with a day to kill. I should point out that Jason is an ultra-runner, but what he was planning was a little extreme.

His plan was to hike a the Santa Cruz Trail (also none as the Santa Cruz Trek) witch is a 30 mile stretch of trail that cuts through Peru's Cordillera Blanca. Thirty miles isn't that far, but this is a difficult trail, that tops out at 15,000 feet. People normally do the trail in 3 or 4 days, but Jason only had one. One day, to hike and run 30 miles, at altitude in an environment that offers some pretty extreme variation. He only had one day to complete it, but that wasn't - in my opinion - the biggest problem. The biggest problem was he had no time to acclimate to the altitude. The trek started at 11,200 feet, and he would only have one day at 10,000 feet prior to the run/hike.

Here are some things to know about altitude. It is the most researched aspect of wilderness medicine, and yet we don't know a whole lot about why people get altitude related illness. We used to think that there was a hydration factor, and while you should always make sure you are hydrated, particularly at elevation where there is far less moisture in the air, it doesn't seem that alone contributes to it.

The biggest problem is that you can go to altitude a dozen times with no problem, but then your next trip you can get Acute Mountain Sickness or worse, Hape (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) or Hace (High Altitude Cerebral Edema). That is the part we can't really figure out.

So Jason and I talked about signs and symptoms of Altitude related illness, medications he could take to help him acclimate, and what to do if he felt issues coming on. Secretly I suspected that if he could in fact do the trip in one day, he could get up and down before his body had a chance to object to the altitude. Well, object more than make it difficult to breath.

We talked at some length about the gear he would be carrying, the goal was of course to keep the weight low, but still have everything he needed in case it went bad. Looking at Jasons final gear list, he ended up going lighter than I would have, but he still felt was a little too heavy.

And that right there is the difference between consulting on a trip like this, and actually doing a trip like this. I would love to do the route, but I could never run/hike it all in a day. But as a consultant for his gear, I have to give him a cushion in case things go poorly. But as the athlete, he is more willing to stick it out there, because he knows what he is capable of. I didn't doubt he could accomplish this, but my concern was uncooperative weather, mixed with an altitude problem.

This is something that I write about in the opening chapters of GO! Sometimes you have to stick it out, and really extend yourself to get things done. I did it on the Inside Passage. Andrew - who I profile in the book - did it with his Motorcycle ride across the country to Alaska. Jason was already an accomplished ultra-runner, but here is his description of the first morning.

I headed out at 4:25am with my Black Diamond spot headlamp fully blazing and set out for what would either be a total disaster or an epic, once In a lifetime event.  I remember thinking as I ran the half mile dirt road to the trailhead, how crazy it was that I was doing this solo, self supported in a foreign country with very limited Spanish and photo copies of a route map made by a British guy.  I had no choice but to follow through as I had a friend waiting for me on the other side in what I predicted would be a 12 hour traverse.  

So how did he do? He completed the route in 9 hours and 50 minutes, which I think is just incredible. I was excited to have helped out, even if just a little bit. The biggest hurdle in making big trips happen is our self doubt. Hats off to Jason, he may have had a little in the beginning, but he knew deep down he could do it. What an amazing trip!

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