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How to Trek with Your Period and Not Give Up?

Will I be able to climb a mountain over 5,000 meters above sea level while on my period? Is this an obstacle to trekking or camping in the mountains? Does it pose any difficulty or limitation?

Cerro Plomo

 

These are all questions I've asked myself since I started hiking in the mountains, and I believe I'm not the only one who has thought about postponing or not doing certain trips because of how uncomfortable we think it might be to be menstruating in those places. In my case, I thought about the logistics of the bathroom and how my body would function during those days, climbing a hill or camping in the mountains.

 

I will tell you here how it is possible to do it and what options we have so that it is not an "overwhelming" experience.

 

THE JOURNEY

 

"El Plomo" is a mountain with a height of 5,424 meters above sea level, and it is the highest visible point from Santiago, where I live. Every time I looked at the mountain range and saw the imposing summit, I thought, "someday I'm going to go." In November 2021, the opportunity arose. A company organized a climb, and the first thing I did was count the days: bingo! That weekend my cycle coincided with my days. At that moment I hesitated, but I couldn't let this opportunity pass, I wanted to reach that summit.

 

Cerro Plomo

 

Cerro Plomo

 

The weekend arrived, and the hike began. The first day we started the journey with a lot of energy, the first kilometers were a process of adaptation, I was walking with weight on my back (15-kilo backpack) in addition to the premenstrual symptoms, I felt hotter than usual, I was a little tired, and I was all day aware of whether I was going to start menstruating or not and at what point it could happen. I think I was so nervous that I didn't even think about how my body would react if I started menstruating during the ascent to El Plomo.

 

The second night we slept at the Federación base camp, and the next day we would start the ascent to the summit of El Plomo. The night before the ascent, there was a lot of wind, the noise and movement of the tent did not let us rest, but we had to try to sleep because the next day we woke up at 4:00 a.m. That morning I woke up very excited and a little sleepy, but it was the BIG DAY, "What could go wrong?" I thought, I knew that weekend I should start menstruating, but on the day of the ascent? Yes, that dawn it arrived, and I thought, "Will it affect my performance?"

 

Cerro Plomo

 

Although menstruation is a physiological process and not a pathology, it does not affect all of us equally. Mine comes stronger some months than others, I notice it because I feel more tired, I feel pain and discomfort, and I tend to be more swollen. It is also known that women who exercise regularly tend to have less painful periods, walking, cycling, and swimming help improve blood flow, reduce pain, and relieve pressure on the pelvic organs.

 

I will never forget that morning of November 6, 2021, I woke up very happy and at the same time uncomfortable, I had my period on the day of the ascent. I remember I mentioned it to one of the guides in private, as if it were something I should be ashamed of. It was a group where most were men, and I felt embarrassed at first. Then I told the group, in fact, I think it was better, to give it more normality. So they already knew if I had to stop more frequently to change or take any medication. The first thing should be not to feel uncomfortable talking about the topic openly as we would among friends.

 

Cerro Plomo

 

There are different alternatives for those days; using a sanitary towel, a tampon, or a menstrual cup. I remember that one of my fears while we were preparing was if I was going to stain my pants, and in the end, that didn't happen, but now I think about it, if it did stain, what does it matter? It's hard to talk about that too, all women have more than one pair of panties that we have already stained. And I think we should also normalize that.

 

At Federación, we were already at 4,100 meters above sea level, and we still had to climb 1,400 meters in altitude to the summit. There were several factors that made the ascent difficult, the cold (-15 degrees), altitude sickness (puna), and my period.

 

Cerro Plomo

 

The first meters were super tough because I was more tired than usual, I felt very cold in my hands and face, all I could think of was getting to Refugio Agostini soon to warm up. I was also feeling how my body reacted to the cold, the effort, and the demand of that moment. With the cold, blood vessels tend to compress even more, this is the reason why applying heat to the abdomen can help calm the pain, thanks to its vasodilator effect. In my case, the equipment was essential, I made sure to wear thermal base layers to keep that area warm. It is important that when planning an outdoor activity, we consider several factors to define our clothing: destination, latitude, altitudes, weather conditions, type of activity, and duration of it. It is not the same to go on a high mountain hike as it is to do a multi-activity program in Patagonia. Taking all this into account, remember that the best way to dress for the mountain is with a layering system that you put on or take off depending on the conditions you are evaluating at the moment:

 

Cerro Plomo

 

Cerro Plomo

 

The first layer allows us to evacuate sweat, I suggest a merino wool base layer for extremely low temperatures. The second layer is intended to insulate us thermally, they are garments that do not heat directly, but retain the heat generated by our body. Finally, the third layer protects us from rain, snow, wind, etc., and they are usually waterproof fabrics (Goretex) and garments with high thermal capacity. The goal of this layering system is to keep us dry, warm, and comfortable.

 

Another important thing is to remember to hydrate very well those days because during menstruation, estrogen and progesterone levels are lower than normal, and our body retains more fluids, which causes swelling. To reduce water retention, facilitate drainage, and avoid dehydration, I recommend drinking plenty of water. Also, always remember to keep a calm breathing and not overexert yourself. Altitude requires calmness.

 

Based on my experience, things you can't miss when going to the mountains: Mefenamic Acid and/or Ibuprofen to relieve pain, wipes, tampons, or menstrual cup, the latter option is the most hygienic and practical. It is also advisable to carry wet wipes, hand sanitizer, and an ecotube (Container for waste that aims to preserve the environment and reduce the impact of human activity), this is key when going to the bathroom and not leaving traces in the mountains.

 

Cerro Plomo

 

Cerro Plomo

 

I'm finishing up... I'll tell you that it was a great experience, and my performance was positive despite the circumstances. I managed to reach the summit that I looked at with so much enthusiasm from my house. When I reached the top, I cried with happiness, I suppose that was my way of expressing my joy when taking the last step with a lot of fatigue and saying "I did it, and I didn't give up" I was very grateful to my body and mind that led me to the summit, in addition to the moral support of the group, I remember that a person who was coming down told us that the summit was very windy and that you couldn't stay up there for long because of the cold, but when we arrived, there was no wind, I had the privilege of enjoying the summit with pleasant weather that allowed me to lie down on the ground, rest my legs, breathe deeply, clear my mind, and thank the journey, I think that to ascend you have to adapt to the circumstances, and everything will be fine as it was in my case.

 

Cerro Plomo

 

I think there is still prejudice about menstruation affecting us negatively or more than we think during a trekking, marathon, or camping in the mountains. And although it is true, especially in extreme situations, in my case, it was not an impediment to achieving my goal. Each one knows her body and her pains, but if you want to climb the mountain, it is important to make the decision being informed of the options that exist to be prepared. That makes the difference! That is why I write this, to share this experience, perhaps it will help someone to motivate themselves and try it and realize that it is not an impediment as we often imagine.

 

Cerro Plomo

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Francisca gracia leiva Cerro plomo Outdoor index

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