Wednesday, September 13, 2023

2023 Mt Goddard Day 2: Post Corral Creek To Disappointment Lake

Rising early on Day Two (between the sun rising early and the general noise of people moving, one almost always rises early), we found these friends wandering in our campsite:

They were completely fearless.  Likely looking for salt.

At breakfast we got our first surprise of the day:  one of our members, the outlier, had decided not to go on.  His alternate plan was to stay at the camp for the remaining 4 days and wait until our return.  The guides chatted with him but he felt he could not go on.  We left one bear canister of food with him and started on our way.

I would tell you that it was a rapid ascent and that there was lovely scenery- except, frankly, I do not recall much of it.  About two hours in I started to feel not well:  low energy, upset stomach. slowing down.  We trudged on up the hill  until we reached a meadow for lunch, approximately three hours total hiking.  I sloughed off my pack and collapsed onto the ground - where I was mauled by mosquitos, even though I had applied mosquito repellent.  I found a ready made solution:  with my raincoat on including the hood and zipped up and a bandanna over my face, I was relatively impervious to them.  I lay there for almost an hour like that.  From what I heard later, the trout fishing there was amazing.  I, on the other hand, managed to eat a tortilla.

After lunch we started out again.  Within a quarter of a mile there I was getting no better, to the point that I got slower and slower - until I threw up.

Welcome, my friends, to the wonderful world of Acute Mountain Sickness, also known as Altitude Sickness.

The amazing thing - after I recovered a bit and took a drink - was the reaction of the group, most of whom I had literally met 24 hours prior.  I soon found myself stripped of my sleeping bag, tent, clothing bag, and bear canister (and eventually, my backpack). There was no question or issues; everyone just pitched in and put something in their bag.

Leaving me and one other person, either a guide or an experienced hiker, to make my way up the remaining two miles.

Could, The Commissioner asked, I do thirty steps?

I started out and counted thirty as I moved.  To be clear, these were not big regular steps (or at least as big as I could make them for me); these were almost literally shuffles.  But I got to thirty.

Could I do forty?  After that, could I do fifty?  We almost got up to seventy before I ratcheted back down to fifty, which seemed to be the sweet spot.

And so, fifty steps at a time, I advanced into the Sierras.

The fact that this was happening was a shock to me - in all my life I had never had my body fail me the way it was.  Sure, I have tried to lift things that were too heavy or to distances longer than I should have - but even then the spirit was there but I simply did not have the strength or stamina - but I still fell I had the energy.  Now I was deprived even of that energy.  

Forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty.  Stop, breathe, gather strength.

One, two three..

You may note my picture selection seems a bit thin for this post.  Literally, these are all the pictures I managed to take for the day - and most of them were before lunch.  The beauty of the Sierras was lost to me; not surprisingly, if all you are doing is looking at the ground and putting one foot in front of the other.

Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two.

The second person with me switched out from time to time.  Every one of them was encouraging and sympathetic - not in a syrupy sort of way, just acknowledging that there was an issue - and appreciating the fact that I still continued to move forward.

After the fact - when I was back where I could read up on such things - I learned that ascending too fast (more than about 1,000 feet a day) can bring it on - certainly with my two other experiences (that I recognize now) that was the case:  the first was hiking in 2022 when we crossed a pass at 11,000 feet, the second was Mt. Whitney when I reached the top.  And it is not stamina that determines it, but rather the rate of the ascent (thus why no issues except ascending Mt. Whitney itself, where our ascent was more gradual and we spent more time at altitude).  Turns out some people are more prone to it, and it it appears that I am one.

By the time we reached our goal - the aptly though ironically named Disappointment Lake - I was thoroughly spent. The Commissioner very kindly had erected my tent for me.  I crawled in and almost immediately went to sleep. My late afternoon and evening were spent drifting between sleeping and wakefulness, forcing myself to eat a bowl of soup and drink water, and just generally being miserable.

At least the sunset was spectacular.


  1. Nylon126:27 AM

    Whew! That was a kick in Never considered Altitude Sickness during these hiking posts you've done TB and now I know more about it. Disappointment Lake, what were the odds?

    1. Nylon12, it has never been something I was consciously considering a risk (although last year's incident following ascending Burro Pass should have given me a clue).

      Somewhat hilariously, the lake we were originally shooting for - the next one up - is called Hell For Sure. Not exactly an improvement.

  2. Anonymous6:48 AM

    These things happen. I'm sorry it happened to you. Being a 'flatlander occupant', this condition is lost on me. I know years ago, my family traveled on the Durango - Silverton narrow gauge railroad (excellent experience - that backcountry is awesome !). I was in charge of carrying my then infant son in one of those infant backpack carriers) and noticed in Silverton (elev. 9,318), I did feel a bit woozy walking about town with him on. Not severe and at the time, we thought it was due to early start in day did not allow for a breakfast. Maybe it was altitude sickness ?

    1. They do, Anon. Unfortunately at this point in my life, I am very much a flatlander and so it was not overly surprising (based on the quick altitude rise, as you describe) that this impact me.

      You could have had a brief episode - I did last year on Mt. Whitney, but it resolved itself as soon as I got to a lower elevation.

  3. That is not how things were supposed to go.
    It doesn't change your experience, but I follow the hiker Dixie (Homemade Wanderlust) and a short time ago she had to be flown out because of what seems to be some health issues that worsened due to mountain sickness.
    It's easy for me to be philosophical from my computer chair in Philly, but you and your hiking party handled it very well and you did not give up.

    1. No John, no it does not.

      This happened on a hike The Outdoorsman was on in 2021 (his first attempt at Mt. Whitney), what appeared to be a case of mountain sickness that rapidly progressed into a helicopter evacuation.

      I was fortunate in the composition of the hiking party. In terms of myself, I will say I surprised myself with the ability to push on.

  4. Anonymous11:02 AM

    I lived in Leadville at ten thousand two hundred feet, worked at the Climax mine, eleven thousand three hundred feet. Was not unusual to be in a restaurant for lunch and see someone faint at their table. Ambulance crew would put them on a oxygen tank, take them to the hospital and give them a check up. Put paid to a lot of people's weekend. Didn't seem the matter your age or condition, some people just don't have the ability to hack 10,000 plus feet.

    1. One of my cousins did the Leadville 100 bike races for a few years and commented on the altitude as well.

      I was genuinely surprised as last year we spent 6 or more days at over 10,000 feet and except for the final ascent to Whitney, which was about a 2,000 ft gain over 6-7 hours, I experienced no symptoms except at the top. My takeaways are 1) Train more; 2) Move somewhere higher; and 3) Slower ascents.

  5. I've been up to close to 12,000 feet a few times over the years but have never experiences altitude sickness. But like you said, I'm not sure that I have ever ascended quite so quickly. Every time there was a long two day drive to get there, followed by two days of hiking before getting to the peak and maybe ascending it on the fifth or sixth day, plenty of time to acclimatize myself.

    I'm a bit surprised that the guides allowed you to continue on, presumably higher. I would have thought any symptoms of altitude sickness would be an immediate turn around and joining the man with the can of food at the first camp.

    1. Ed, from what you describe that may have been enough time to acclimatize one's self.

      When I describe the situation, I do not want to make it appear that there was no-one checking in other than being with me. There are three stages of Altitude Sickness and I was being carefully monitored in the sense they were looking for symptoms that I was progressing. To be fair, I have hiked with them before and they had some idea of my general physical condition. The best thing to help one acclimatize is rest, especially at altitude while sleeping, when red blood cells are being generated.

      Also - frankly - if I had needed to be evacuated in a hurry, it would not have been possible. We pushed on to the next day (Friday's post) where, if necessary, a helicopter evacuation could have taken place. I believe that was always in the back of their minds - fortunately, it did not come to that.

  6. Well, how cool is that - waking up to deer outside your tents! So this is fascinating account of your altitude sickness, TB. I have witnessed the effects of (probably mild) altitude sickness in one of our sons the first day we arrived in Aspen many years ago, but your description helps me better imagine what goes on. It sounds absolutely brutal - and you continued on! Wow. I am really impressed that everyone so quickly pitched in to carry your things. And I am amazed that you managed to get such beautiful pictures all while trying to survive your ordeal.

    1. Becki, in one sense I had suffered from it more than once, but I do not know that I could clear document the experience as I was able to. It was definitely not how I anticipated spending the hike.

      Knowing this hiking company as I have taken multiple trips with them, it was not at all surprising that people jumped in to help.

      You may laugh, but taking pictures for the blog - even while ill - is now sort of an unspoken imperative.

  7. Glad you survived and are doing well. Thank you for the pictures of God's creation, TB.
    You all be safe and God bless.

    1. Thanks Linda. It was both an amazing and humbling experience.


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