Heat Exhaustion and the Gunks

    Saturday the 28th of May was a hot one, hitting a high of 92 degrees. It was Memorial Day Weekend and at that temperature, most people were at the beach or at a pool,  but I decided to go to the Gunks. The Gunks are home to hundreds of world class climbs, ranging from a few feet tallto 300 feet up beautiful rock cliffs. Once you break a hundred feet you are above tree line, so that means full exposure to the elements. 

    Madison, Alex, Halina and I arrived at the Gunks parking lotaround 830 in the morning. We were packed and ready to go - it was going to be a great day. After hiking maybe a mile in, we arrived at the trail to the wall. We decided we would start the day by climbing Beginners Delight, an easy 5.4 3-pitch trad climb. We also decided that I would take lead. I wasn't nervous because placing gear isn't new to me, but I was nervous because I was never the leader of the group. I grabbed my harness and racked up. I was ready to go, but then I noticed I left my shoes in the car. That meant running back the mile we hiked in and then running back again to the wall. So I did just that, running two miles before attempting 300 feet of climbing. I arrived back at the base of the wall proud that I did the run in less than twenty minutes. Madison handed me some water and my harness. I drank the water, put my shoes on, chalked up, and started climbing. 

    At the first anchor point, I started to realize how how hot I was. My shoes were melting from being in direct sunlight, even though the rock was still cool to the touch. By the time I was set up to belay Madison up the first pitch, at least 15 minutes had passed and I started to get tired. When I yelled “Madison, climb on!”, my stomach dropped as if all of a sudden I need to use the bathroom urgently. I paid no mind to it. Madison arrived after another ten minutes in the exposed sun. Once she arrived, we set for me to start climbing the second pitch. I remember the urge to use the bathroom became stronger. I drank the extra water that Madison brought me. I then started to feel slightly nauseas, but once again, I ignored it. 

    I started up the second pitch and got about 50 feet when I suddenly didn't know where I was. I literally blanked out.. I did not know I was 150 feet up a mountain side, let alone where on the route I was. I realized I wasn't ok. I started going over my symptoms and trying to figure out what was happening. Heat Exhaustion was the best candidate, with the nausea, dizziness,  and confusion. I was weak and truthfully starting to get scared. I placed a cam into a crack above me, but did not trust it at all. I then placed a second cam and it came flying out, making my mind run more wild. It was starting to get hotter and hotter. I wanted to scream to Alex to get me down, but I knew I couldn't do that. My mind usually works well under pressure and stress, yet at this moment it was racing between figuring out how to safely get down and wanting me to cut my rope so that I could get into the shade faster. 

    Finally, I was able to place a nut into a crack under my cam and yelled to Madison to get me down. I was so terrified that I began to down climb the route while I was being lowered. I reached the first anchor point and began to chug water faster than it could be given to me. I remember yelling that Madison had to rappel down first. Alex just agreed and set up a single rope rappel for her I was next to rappel. I set my ATC up and Halina asked if I wanted a prusik. I said yes, but then my hands started to shake and I truthfully forgot how to set it up. Alex went ahead and attached it for me. 

    Once I was safely down, I ripped my harness off, grabbed a bottle of water, and threw myself in shade. I knew I wasn't getting any better andI really needed to get to a bathroom. I got up and headed down the trail to the main path, but once I got there, the world began to spin. I called to Madison to come and get me, I knew I couldn't be alone. Madison told me later that I kept saying “Make it, Steven. Just get to the bathroom. You can do it” out loud, even though I swore I was saying it in my head. 

The walk was long, and I don't remember much. Once we arrived at the bathroom, I ran in and sat down.  I had already thrown up twice, another horrible sign of Heat Exhaustion, and now there was another sign: diarrhea. I began to shake uncontrollably. I walked out to Madison and told her I wasn't ok. 

Another climber happened to be nearby and luckily she was a nurse. She saw something was very wrong and kept asking me questions. I guess she's noticed I was starting to enter Heat Stroke, which is a really, really bad situation. All Iwanted to do was sleep but I knew I had to stay awake. The nurse found another climber who had ice water and started to pour it on me. Madison ran off to get the park rangers while I kept trying to sit and stand in uncomfortable positions to not fall asleep. After ten minutes, the rangers and Madison arrived. I knew I was getting better but still weak and tired. The rangers began to take my vitals and one gave me watermelon. It was the best watermelon I ever had. 

I slowly started to get better as the day went on, but it wasn't until three days later that I recovered completely. While this situation was bad, it’s a good reminder that everyone should take a first aid class. If it wasn't for the fact that my entire group has some sort of medical knowledge, the whole situation could have gone much, much worse. I thank Alex, Halina, Madison, and the nurse for helping me. I also apologize for ruining our day trip - at least it was an adventure?