Where art thou, Giardia?

wp_20150904_19_26_47_proWhen the Poop hits your pants! A.K.A. Giardia

So last year I hiked 2300miles of the CDT in the states. Before going on this trip a lot of things crossed my mind. It was my first time in bear country, and there are a lot of savage stories (and now films) that shed light on just how frail a person can be and how much damage a bear can do. I read about the daily lightning storms all along the Rockies that would strike like clockwork when your high on a 14,000 ridge line mid afternoon. I read about the river crossings, the wild cats, the moose, the hitch hiking murders, river crossings, being lost in the middle of nowhere, breaking legs (you get the picture)…. But the one thing that did not cross my mind was Giardia. To anyone that has experienced it the word alone puts the fear of god in you. I didn’t even know what it was till I hit the states.

Now, before setting off I made the first mistake- I went too light, I stripped my pack down to bare bones. Including my water filter. I brought with me a delightful in its own right; ‘Sawyer Mini’ which weighs a few grams, screws onto any bottle and gives you clean water from cow muck. ‘Brilliant!!’ I said to myself. And for the first couple of weeks hiking it was, never carrying more than a litre of water. It didn’t last, as the miles ticked on the already low flow of water slowed to barely a drip and back washing the filter barely worked. So, I went onto plan 2, the childhood lesson. In the lake district of Old England, you are taught the old idea that fell top water is pretty safe to drink if you can see the source and there are no dead animal in it, besides, all the cool hikers on trail were just walking up to dirty rivers and drinking straight out of them.

I applied my childhood drinking habit. And started bottling water from springs or high up streams. I felt EPIC!!!! Nothing could stop me from tearing along those trails, covering 30miles a day without problem. But it soon changed. The springs became less and less frequent, some of them were boxed springs revealing dead squirrels and birds, some were overrun by cattle. Sometime the only water was a dirty puddle. I regretted not buying a filter from one of the many outfitters along the way.

As I entered Colorado, I slowed, I started losing weight, and fast. I went from 13.5st down to nearly 11 in a couple of weeks. I dumbly blamed the altitude, and the fact I was going to around 14000 nearly daily. I was getting light headed during the day, and had the worst stomach cramps of my life every night.I also woke up with a rather bad breath but blamed that on the poor quality food I was eating. There was one day I told a friend I would meet him in a couple of miles ready to climb another peak. It took me most the afternoon to cover the distance. I had to sit down, I was near collapse.  By evening (we camped a mile further on) I couldn’t face my food, the smell of it repulsed me. The friends I was with were concerned and so was I.

We decided to have a Zero day off trail and hitch hiked to the town of Salida were Mumford and Sons were playing a big gig (we planned on sitting outside the gig on a hillside and having a few drinks). In the morning we were sat around our tents talking about my symptoms. The others concluded it was probably Giardia.  A trail Angel who had hiked the trail a few years previous happened to have half a course of 4 year old Metronizadole (one of the most effective antibiotics against Giardia). Being the cheap hiker I was I gladly took the out of date meds with the theory It can’t get much worse.

I gave myself till the next morning and woke up, I felt great , and started hiking again telling myself I would go slow. The next few days I felt fresh like I Hadn’t been for a month. I started hammering in the miles. I finished the 3 day; half course of old Antibiotics and thought it was over. My friends finished their trail and I kept hiking alone. I hiked into new Mexico and the feeling returned. 16miles south of a town called Cuba, I sat on the edge of a Messa, looking out. I was £2000 in debt, I had hiked further that I thought I could at a brilliant pace; and Giardia had returned. This time instead of hiking alone and getting into trouble, I cut across country to the highway, and called it quits quite content. It was time for a trip to the docs.

My experience of Giardia was very tame. For Most people it is a concern of carrying enough toilet paper and having explosive diarrhoea and vomiting with painful cramps. Hence Why it took so long for figure it out.

Giardia basics-

For hikers, you get it from contaminated water supplies both around livestock and in the wild from animals messing up the streams(especially beavers I’m told lol).

It is a water borne Parasite and once in you lives in your intestines and caused carnage.


Diarrhoea, vomiting, light headedness, loss of appetite, going to the toilet a lot, losing weight, bad breath like sulphur (im told the smell is the lining of your intestines eroding away, which can become serious if left unchecked)

lesson- Always filter your water kids, and don’t cheap out on the filter. Look after it, don’t let it freeze, If it breaks while your out in the wild, boil your water, carry a few iodine tablets for emergency use.

The end

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