“I’ll Feel Better Tomorrow”

Current LocationBanning, CA
Miles Hiked209.6
Miles to Go2,445.6
Percent of Trail Completed7.9%

My alarm went off at 4:30 am and I felt great. My hiking group of six had decided to get up early to get as far as we could while the snow was still cold and firm. I was excited for the snowy challenge ahead.

We had all zeroed together in Idyllwild and were now on our third day back on trail. It had been a challenging few days climbing into the San Jacintos with limited water, rocky ridgelines, countless blow downs, and slippery afternoon snow.

As I packed up my tent, my friend Alisa emerged from hers looking a bit haggard.

“You ok?” I asked.

“Well I’m not sure what’s going on but I felt really nauseous all night.”

“You think it’s the altitude?”

We were camped at 8,300 feet, on the low side for altitude sickness, but having ascended 4,000 feet in the last day or so, it wasn’t out of the question.

“Yeah, could be. I’m going to have to take it slow today. You guys should go ahead.”

By the light of my headlamp, I was the first to leave camp. My microspikes gripped the icy snow nicely. The snow would get more slippery and slushy throughout the morning, but at this early hour the trail was relatively easy to manage.

After a couple hours the others had caught up to me and we stopped to take a quick break. I ate a pop tart and soaked in the view for a few minutes. Swinging my pack back on, I felt a twinge in my stomach. “Maybe I ate that pop tart too fast,” I thought.

Over the next couple miles, the little twinge squeezed into a tight knot. Arriving at Strawberry Junction campsite around 11 am, I stopped to filter water and considered what to do. I felt queasy but not that bad. It was ridiculously early to stop for the day. On the other hand, there was a particularly difficult section ahead, Fuller Ridge, which would require traversing across a ridge through deep snow. Not only would I feel better in the morning, but I could cross the pass when the snow was still firm instead of post holing in the afternoon slush. I gave myself permission to stop.

I was happy to see Alisa arrive to the campsite a few hours later. I hadn’t seen her since leaving camp early that morning. I told her that I was also feeling bad and we spent the afternoon laying on the ground commiserating.

I got progressively worse. By early evening I was unable to move. I didn’t even have the energy to set up my tent, so I just cowboy camped on the ground. We both went to bed without dinner.

“I’m glad we saved Fuller Ridge for the morning,” I mumbled to Alisa. “We’ll get used to the altitude overnight and I’m sure we’ll feel much better in the morning.”

We didn’t. I slept through my 5 am alarm after spending most of the night tossing and turning with nausea and stomach cramps. Alisa had fared even worse.

Feeling pretty lethargic in the morning, we weighed our options. We decided to press on, but slowly, and to stick together. This was a good day to use the buddy system.

I was beginning to think that maybe this wasn’t altitude sickness. It didn’t add up. We weren’t that high. I didn’t have a headache. I had done other high altitude hikes – much higher than this – without any symptoms.

It took us 8 hours to go 7 miles, partially because we were in sorry shape, and partially because it was difficult terrain. To make matters worse, it was easy to lose the trail under the snow by missing a switchback or by following misleading wayward footprints.

Trekking across Fuller Ridge

Arriving at camp I had a spot of cell service and learned that another from our group had had diarrhea all day. Ok, this definitely was not altitude sickness.

I forced down some ramen. I had eaten very little and I knew my body needed food. “The worst is over now. I’m sure l’ll feel much better in the morning.”

In the middle of the night I had an excruciating stomach cramp. For hours it felt like someone was stabbing me below my ribs. I had never had a cramp like that before and hoped it wasn’t something really serious.

By some miracle, both Alisa and I managed to hike 19 miles (downhill) the next day, pushing through our gastrointestinal issues and feverish haze. Alisa had arranged to stay with a friend who lived nearby and I was very kindly invited along.

We learned that a fourth from our group (which by now had scattered to the wind) was also suffering from vomiting and diarrhea. We checked in with the final two and learned that they, though not as bad as the rest of us, were feeling queasy too.

Deliriously arriving at the I-10 underpass

We arrived at the I-10 underpass near Cabazon and were picked up by Alisa’s friend. With a shower and some clean clothes, I was feeling much better. I even ate a slice of pizza. “I just need a good nights sleep. I’ll wake up all better and can hike out tomorrow.”

The pizza did not end well. The next day was the worst yet. I spent the entire day – and the next – on this gracious stranger’s couch, greatly abusing her toilet. In addition to the stomach woes, I felt feverish and my whole body ached.

One person from our group had gone to urgent care in Palm Springs and had gotten a diagnosis: rotavirus. Similar to norovirus, a common plague among thru-hikers, rotavirus is a highly contagious virus that causes severe diarrhea and vomiting. Symptoms can also include fever and abdominal pain.

Alisa was able to hit the trail today, but I need another day. I’m now on my third zero at the Days Inn in Banning. Though I do feel much better, I still don’t have much of an appetite. I’m really hoping to be ready to hike out tomorrow. I’m antsy, but I’m not going to allow myself to hike until I know I’m ready. At a bare minimum I need to be able to eat!

I’m reminding myself that there’s no rush. No sense in getting to the Sierra too early, after all.

Still it’s a bummer to have a delay, especially so early in my hike. I feel that I’ve lost all the momentum that I was just starting to gain.

I’ll feel better tomorrow….



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Comments 1

  • tallis george-munro : Apr 28th

    Hi Kirby,
    I just read your post about the intestinal virus which afflicted your gut. I hope that your over it. As you probably know these types of viruses are very contagious and you can get them a variety of ways. Unfortunately, humans camping out together without potable water almost guarantees getting sick. When I hiked the California PCT in 1978 I got it from from fellow hikers on the John Muir trail.
    Please take the necessary precautions around others, treat the water & snow melt, and wash your hands with soap & water!! I enjoy reading your posts. Best hiking. tee


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