Mitch marks his Diaversary
Mitch’s 10th Diaversary Challenge
This year, to mark my tenth anniversary of living with Type 1 Diabetes, I undertook the Overland Track, a 65km, six day hiking trail through the Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair National Park in Tasmania. The Overland Track is a unique trail, in that there is no access to the track via road apart from the beginning and the end of the track. Having diabetes offered some distinct challenges along the way and I was lucky enough to be sponsored by AMSL Diabetes whom granted me the use of the Dexcom CGM for the duration of the trek. As part of this challenge I decided that I would aim to raise some money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. My initial target was $2000, but thanks to the generous donations from friends and family, I was able to raise almost $4000 for diabetes research. My girlfriend Ellie and friend Simon hiked the track with me.
I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 2004 in my last year of high school. I was admitted to hospital with a blood sugar level of 26mmol/L and started on insulin immediately. The first few years were a rocky road. From diagnosis I was on multiple daily insulin injections and I believe I let diabetes control my life. I started on the Animas insulin pump about six years ago and have enjoyed the flexibility ever since. My insulin pump lessened the impact of diabetes on several aspects of my life and it felt great to be done with the rigidity of four injections a day.
The greatest advantage of pumping that helped me during my trek was the ability to reduce my basal levels of insulin at a moment’s notice. The Dexcom fall rate alert function saved me on numerous occasions as I could reduce my basal and eat a small amount of carbs to stop dropping dangerously low. With only a limited amount of hypo treatment for 6 days, I was conscious that I didn’t want to have to treat too many hypos.
The day before the trek began we spent the day exploring Dove Lake and going for a quick swim to the island in the middle of the lake. We didn’t want to tire ourselves out too much!
The trek starts reasonably flat but then quickly ascends to Marion’s Lookout, with a great view of Dove Lake to the North and Cradle Mountain to the South. We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather. The trek towards Cradle Mountain from here was easy going.
The Cradle Mountain summit is on a side track approximately halfway into the first day of the track. The summit is 1545m above sea level, and when we arrived at the turn off it was a beautifully clear day. In anticipation for the climb I reduced my basal by 70%. The first part of the climb was a reasonably smooth rock path through low scrub, which then quickly turns into a scramble across large rocks and boulders. The summit was exposed and windy but gave a fantastic 360 degree view of the national park. Despite my low basal, my blood sugar had dropped to a little over 4mmol/L. The climb down was a lot easier than the climb up. To our surprise, just as we were almost done scrambling across the boulders the clouds rolled in, reducing our visibility to around 20m. The rest of the day we literally walked through clouds.
One thing I learnt on the first night of the trek was to keep my glucometer and my hypo treatment close by. The temperature dipped to below zero degrees during the night and whether it was the cold or the day’s activity, my blood sugar dropped to around 3mmol/L in the early hours of the morning. Getting out of the warmth of my sleeping bag in the black of night to retrieve some lollies was not a pleasurable experience.
Day 2 was a relatively short walking day over flat boardwalk most of the way. There was a short side trip to Lake Will where we stopped for lunch. When we arrived at the next hut we took the opportunity to go for a swim in Lake Windermere. The wildlife was particularly friendly around this area, with the hut’s resident wallaby grazing within a few metres of where we ate. A juvenile wombat also greeted us when it ventured out of its burrow near where we were swimming.
Day 3 was the longest of all the legs. There were plenty of ups and downs on this leg, but some fantastic views of the surrounding mountains. We were glad to get to the hut that night for a much needed rest. The hut was set on the edge of a wide plain at the base of Mount Oakleigh. The sunset here was amazing.
Day 4 we were up early for a quick side trip to explore an old copper mine before we set off on the next leg. We found the mine after getting lost for about 15 minutes. The mine was dug about 60 metres into the side of the riverbank and was only about 2 metres high. Today’s leg was a steep climb towards one of the highest points since the first day. At the top of the point was the turn off to Tasmania’s highest peak, Mount Ossa. We decided against climbing Mount Ossa, and continued on to Kia Ora Hut where we took a swim under a small waterfall to cool off.
Day 5 is known as ‘Waterfall Day’ and it did not disappoint. There were three spectacular waterfalls a short distance off the track which provided for some great photos. The rest of the day was spent gradually ascending through the forest towards Du Cane Gap and then slowly back down to Windy Ridge Hut. On today’s path we had our second close encounter with a snake, which was making the most of the sunshine, sunbathing in the middle of the track.
The last day of the trek! Our packs were noticeably lighter than when we started and we set off towards Narcissus, on the banks of Lake St Clair, where the ferry would meet us the next day to take us back to civilisation. With a fifth day in a row of perfect weather we slowly descended through the scrub, finally getting sight of the wire suspension bridge over Narcissus River, and a short time later to the hut.
We had reached the end of our journey. It was such an amazing experience, being cut off from the world for six days in the wilderness.
I’m glad I had the assistance of my insulin pump, especially with the added help of the CGM. It made it a lot easier to deal with unexpected situations, like sudden steep ascents and accidental lows. The Overland Track is an experience that I encourage anyone to attempt, diabetes or not, if you enjoy the outdoors. While I don’t think that this trek is a particularly difficult challenge, I believe, at least for me, there is a mental challenge to overcome – that diabetes could stop me from doing it. I like to think that diabetes can’t stop me from doing anything I set my mind to, and I like to show this by setting myself challenges. I hope that I can inspire other people with diabetes to overcome the mental barriers of Type 1 Diabetes, like I did.