Hiker with Type 1 Diabetes Completes West Coast Trail in 32 Hours

For many outdoor enthusiasts, the West Coast Trail represents the ultimate hiking experience, a 75-kilometer trek along the southwestern edge of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Known for its challenging terrain, unpredictable weather, and remote stretches, the trail attracts those seeking adventure, endurance, and a deep connection with nature. One such adventurer, Ryan Mitchell, made headlines recently by completing the entire West Coast Trail in a remarkable 32 hours, all while managing type 1 diabetes.

The West Coast Trail: A Test of Endurance

The West Coast Trail is a segment of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, featuring dense rainforests, rocky shorelines, and numerous river crossings. Hikers typically take between five and seven days to complete the journey, allowing time to navigate the trail’s steep ladders, slippery boardwalks, and precarious cable cars. The trail’s difficulty is compounded by its unpredictable weather; rain and mist are common, turning the terrain into a slick obstacle course.

Despite these challenges, the West Coast Trail has become a rite of passage for many hikers. It was originally constructed in the early 20th century as a rescue route for shipwrecked sailors, earning the nickname “The Graveyard of the Pacific.” Today, it draws thousands of visitors each year, each seeking their own unique adventure.

Ryan Mitchell’s Ambitious Goal

Ryan Mitchell, a 29-year-old hiker from Seattle, Washington, has always been drawn to the outdoors. As someone living with type 1 diabetes, he understands the importance of careful planning and meticulous attention to his body’s needs. Yet, he has never let his condition deter him from pursuing his passion for hiking.

Mitchell first heard about the West Coast Trail through a friend who had completed the trek, describing it as one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of his life. The idea of completing the trail in one go, however, came to Mitchell after reading about a group of ultrarunners who achieved it in less than 24 hours.

“I knew it was ambitious,” said Mitchell, “but I also knew I was up for the challenge. I wanted to prove to myself that diabetes didn’t have to hold me back.”

Preparing for the Trek

Preparing for the West Coast Trail is no small feat, and for Mitchell, it required extra care due to his type 1 diabetes. He worked closely with his medical team to develop a strategy that would allow him to maintain stable blood sugar levels during the hike. This involved creating a detailed meal plan, packing an ample supply of insulin and glucose tablets, and setting up a monitoring system to keep track of his blood sugar levels throughout the journey.

“I couldn’t afford to run out of energy or have a severe hypo [hypoglycemic episode] while out in the middle of nowhere,” Mitchell explained. “I needed to be self-sufficient but also have contingency plans in case something went wrong.”

Mitchell’s preparation included rigorous physical training, long hikes, and endurance runs to build stamina. He also practiced carrying a heavy backpack filled with the supplies he would need on the trail, ensuring he could handle the weight over long distances.

The 32-Hour Trek

Mitchell set off on his trek at 6 a.m. from the Gordon River trailhead. The weather was clear but brisk, and the trail was still wet from the previous night’s rain. The early sections of the trail offered a mix of boardwalks and forested paths, which Mitchell navigated with confidence.

As he progressed, the terrain became more challenging. He had to climb steep ladders, cross rickety suspension bridges, and navigate rocky shorelines. Along the way, Mitchell maintained a steady pace, stopping periodically to check his blood sugar and adjust his insulin levels as needed. He carried a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) that allowed him to track his blood sugar in real time, reducing the risk of dangerous fluctuations.

“The trail was everything I expected and more,” Mitchell recalled. “There were moments when I felt completely isolated, surrounded by nothing but nature. It was both exhilarating and daunting.”

By midday, Mitchell reached the famous “Hole in the Wall,” a natural rock archway that serves as a popular landmark on the trail. He paused briefly to take in the view and refuel with a high-carb snack, ensuring his energy levels remained stable.

As night fell, Mitchell donned a headlamp and continued along the trail. This section proved particularly challenging, with narrow paths and steep drop-offs. He moved cautiously, aware that a misstep could result in injury or worse.

The Final Stretch

The early hours of the second day brought a new set of challenges. Fatigue was setting in, and Mitchell’s blood sugar levels began to fluctuate more than expected. He had to stop more frequently to check his levels and consume additional glucose tablets to avoid a hypo.

“It was scary,” he admitted. “I felt woozy at times, and there was a moment when I thought I might have to stop. But I kept pushing through, reminding myself of why I was doing this.”

By the time Mitchell reached the Pachena Bay trailhead, the final point of the West Coast Trail, it was just after 2 p.m. on the second day. His total time on the trail was 32 hours, a remarkable feat given the difficulty of the terrain and the additional challenges posed by his diabetes.

A Triumph of Endurance and Resilience

Mitchell’s successful completion of the West Coast Trail in 32 hours is a testament to his endurance, resilience, and meticulous planning. It also serves as an inspiration to others living with chronic conditions, proving that with the right preparation and determination, they can achieve their goals.

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