I’ve spent a lot of time in Zion National Park over the last few years and it’s no secret that the climbing here is outside my comfort zone. Maybe that’s why I keep coming back–because there are “easy” climbs like Cowboy Ridge that have mocked me from afar. It’s a 5.7 filled with route-finding, loose rock and lots of elevation gain. It’s a long day and it’s far from civilized comforts should poor planning or blood sugar fluctuations interfere. It’s not the dark side of the moon, but it’s more involved than lowering down off a single pitch climb and ‘calling it a day’. Maybe this is part of getting back into the swing of things, but I’ve been more intimidated by this “loose end” than I’d like to admit, so I decided to tie it off ASAP.

I happened to be thinking determined thoughts as I was joining my friend Chris for wings at Jacks (the BEST wings in Springdale) so I casually raised the topic of climbing Cowboy Ridge as we sat at the bar. Predictably, Chris decided to select the earliest possible date and that was that. So now, with the climb suddenly immanent, I have questions about my abilities–am I just lazy or am I scared of pushing myself further off the beaten path?

One of my biggest questions is how will this kind of full-day adventure impact my blood sugar? It’s one thing to do short routes but when you’re up on a mountain you’re more committed. I haven’t done anything more than casual climbing since 2014 and I want to see how my shiny new diet can change my approach to that.

So, we decided to go out for a relatively long day of hiking which would allow me to scope the Cowboy Ridge approach and descent–and prove to myself that the keto diet won’t crash and burn on a long day of sustained effort. I’d rather test that hypothesis on flat ground–which is how I typically have ramped up to vertical challenges: incrementally.

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We hiked from Coal Pits Wash outside of Rockville to the Chinle Trail exit in Springdale which we calculated to be around 10 miles. It was our first “official” family hike, because usually I will only hike in order to get to climbing–and Stefanie takes Lilo on “non-technical” adventures. This time, however, I was along for the duration and it was actually nice being out with the ladies and not having any cruxes to negotiate.

Here’s how it played out in terms of my diabetes and diet:

  • Breakfast: a couple handfuls of nuts, some almond butter, 2 eggs and bacon.
  • 60-90 minutes on the trail: BG ran steadily around 130-140 mg/dl.
  • 2 hour mark: A few water breaks  and sugar checks showed me to be around 120 mg/dl
  • For lunch: I ate a few more handfuls of nuts, a few pieces of jerky and one bite of a Builders protein bar.
  • From hour 3 to hour 6 on the trail: I slowly dropped from 115-88mg/dl. I dropped a little further on the way back to the car.
  • The aftermath: no noticeable dramatic increase in insulin sensitivity. Typically after this type of effort I’d be dropping my basal and splitting bolus doses in half for at least 12-24 hours. That did not happen this time. Also recovery was dramatically improved–I didn’t experience soreness that I expected considering that this hike basically occurred “off the couch” for me.

I can’t say that this is an iron clad guarantee of the keto diets viability for climbing pursuits, but it certainly gave me enough confidence to take the next step–and get on Cowboy Ridge with a little more focus. Not on my blood sugar but on the distance that will stand between me and the summit. You can expect a video in the next week detailing that second part of the adventure–and remember to subscribe on YouTube if you haven’t already!

Ok. So here’s where I’d like to hear from you; what are you interested in seeing or hearing about? I am always open to ideas, questions and comments to guide my efforts! Speak up!

Our first meetup will be March 4-6 in Joshua Tree National Park CA. No cost, no frills. Just action…maybe just a few tasteful hashtags though. RSVP via email: steve@livingvertical.org