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Pro Tips for Hiking with a Hangover (According to a Bartender and a Physician)

I haven’t even put my truck into park before Derek swings the door open and jumps out. He post-holes his way through knee-deep snow over to the tree line and doubles over, retching into the pines. The trailhead hurl has become something of a tradition for Derek. The rest of us barely acknowledge it. We’re dealing with our own demons.

As I see it, this problem begins at home. Specifically, the distance between home and the trailhead. We live in Chicago, and that means driving great distances to get to our destinations for any true wilderness trip. We can’t just gear up after breakfast and be on the trail by 10AM.

The nearest wilderness area is 6 hours away.

Getting to the backcountry requires driving up and finding local accommodations the night before. That means there’s time to kill that evening, and the default method for the killing of said time is… to drink.

Among our group of friends, the “Hike-In Hangover” has become as much a part of our wilderness adventures as GoreTex or freeze-dried food. Whether we killed a growler of Founders around a campfire the night before a Manistee River paddling trip, or bar-crawled our way through Marquette, Michigan the night before snowshoeing into the Ottawa National Forest, it’s inevitable that most of us will wake up that first morning with some degree of regret. Sure, we still want to get close to nature—even if this sometimes means lying down on the cool ground and staying very, very still.

The Hike-in Hangover seems to get worse with age. And since simply “making better choices” is not in the cards, I will instead take a mature, scientific approach to this problem.

I’ve tapped the expertise of two qualified experts in the field: My friend and long-time drinking buddy, Dr. Michael Sullivan MD—a family practitioner and avid outdoorsman living in Watertown, Wisconsin; and Morgan Delaney—a fellow backcountry enthusiast and professional bartender at Spotted Bear Spirits, a community-minded craft distillery in Whitefish, Montana. Their shared wisdom might just be the tonic we’re all looking for.

Bleary-eyed hiking in the North Carolina High Country.
Bleary-eyed hiking in the North Carolina High Country.

Evan Castellano

Plenty has been written about hangover remedies. But, specifically for the outdoor adventurer, is there an approach that you’d recommend?

Dr. Mike: “As a physician, I obviously must warn against excessive alcohol consumption. Men should keep intake to 2 drinks daily. Women should keep this to 1.5 servings daily. The best approach to hiking with a hangover is avoiding a hangover in the first place.”

Bartender Morgan: “Chasing every drink with a tall glass of water – it won't kill your buzz, but it will make you a happier, more hydrated skier the next day.”

Are sports drinks any better than just drinking water?

Dr. Mike: “Water is always a good choice. Sports drinks can be better when you plan to be active, since you’ve depleted not only calories, but electrolytes.”

Bartender Morgan: “Sports drinks have a lot of sugar, so I find it is best to chase them with water. And then a shot of bourbon.” 

What about coffee?

Dr. Mike: “If you regularly consume coffee, skipping it may add to your hangover symptoms, like headache and shakes. However, I’d recommend consuming only a cup or two. Since coffee is irritating to the stomach and dehydrates, try to avoid.”

Bartender Morgan: “In the backcountry, coffee can be a blessing and a curse. It helps get camp broken down quickly, and gets you on the trail… But it is a diuretic.”

Did someone in this photo just make a beer toot? It's likely. Very, very likely.
Did someone in this photo just make a beer toot? It's likely. Very, very likely.

Evan Castellano

Do bready carbs help soak up alcohol?

Dr. Mike: “Carbohydrates do not ‘soak up’ the alcohol. But carbs are a good source of fast calories, and their bland nature tends to be easy on the gut. Since we are calorie deprived and our stomach is inflamed, carbs are typically a good choice for the day after.”

Bartender Morgan: “Whip me up some biscuits and gravy, flap jacks, eggs, and a side of bacon. But don't expect me to go anywhere the rest of the day.”

That’s the perfect segue into the ‘greasy food’ approach? A good idea before hiking or paddling with a hangover?

Dr. Mike: “The scientific answer is no. Going back to the idea of alcohol causing inflammation and irritation in the stomach, greasy foods are not recommended for a hangover, especially if you’re planning a 6-hour canoe or kayak trip. Let alone the availability of reliable facilities!”

Bartender Morgan: “Again, you want to be mindful of the weight you are carrying with you, be it on your back or in your bowels.  Once you hit the trails, dehydration and a heavy belly will make for a slow hiker.”

What about pain meds?

Dr. Mike: “In general, it is okay to take OTC pain relievers, but it’s important to avoid acetaminophen, as this is broken down by the liver and potentially toxic. Not a good idea considering you’ve just stressed your liver with alcohol.”

Bartender Morgan: “The best medicines to carry are Aspirin and, for those living in states where it's legal, cannabis.”

A big thing now is Pedialyte. Thoughts?

Dr. Mike: “Pedialyte is along the same lines as sports drinks. It has sugar and electrolytes which, again, you are depleted of. But I would strongly question a person who would bring Pedialyte on a backpacking or kayaking trip.”

Bartender Morgan: “Pedialyte is best utilized for the really bad hangovers. But in that case… The Baby's Alright cocktail: 1. Fill your cup with a handful of that slushy Spring alpine snow… 2. 2-3oz Pedialyte 3. 1oz vodka 4. Seltzer water or Ginger brew. If you have a water filter and/or trust your water source, that will work fine as well. Add a tab of Alka-Seltzer for carbonation.”

Does vomiting that morning help or hurt with a hangover?

Dr. Mike: “Vomiting only helps you if you feel nauseous and need to get it out. This occurs because of inflammation in the stomach, and high acid content. While it may temporarily make you feel better, it won’t speed things up. Do not induce vomiting. If nature takes its course, so be it.”

Bartender Morgan: “Vomiting the morning after is never a good sign. If you're going to hurl, do it the night before and then drink a lot of water.” 

Let’s pause here for a moment, because this brings up an interesting question. If—like us—you are a proponent of Leave No Trace ethics, then what exactly are the Leave No Trace guidelines for puking in the pines? Horking in the hills? Barfing in the bush? It’s not a situation we plan for, but it is human waste after all. So, I contacted Katie Keller, a Leave No Trace Master Educator based in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

According to Leave No Trace principles, this would be an incredibly inappropriate place to hurl.
According to Leave No Trace principles, this would be an incredibly inappropriate place to hurl.

Liz Fieser

What are the Leave No Trace guidelines for upchucking?

Katie Keller, LNT Master Educator: “The principles behind ‘Dispose of Waste Properly’ with Leave No Trace still apply. If you have enough time, dig a cat hole 6-8 inches deep, that is at least 200 feet from all water sources, trails, and campgrounds. Or, if you have access to a bag or container, you could pack it out until you can properly dispose of it. Make sure that your disposal method is compatible with where you are. It is always a good idea to read Leave No Trace information related to specific ecosystems before you go.”

Turns out Derek has been doing it wrong for years. Words to ralph by, thanks Katie. Now, back to our interviews.

What about exercise? Sweating it out?

Dr. Mike: “Most of the data actually discourages exercise due to the fact that you are dehydrated, calorie depleted, and your GI system is inflamed. If you do exercise then you should overhydrate to compensate not only for your initial fluid depletion, but to account for fluid loss due to activity. Get calories as well.”

Bartender Morgan: “Extreme dehydration from a mix of outdoor activities and a night of drinking can cause substantial mental and physical fatigue, leading to poor decision making, injury, or worse…a Trump presidency.”

When you've reached the headache stage of the Hike-in Hangover, you know you're in trouble.
When you've reached the headache stage of the Hike-in Hangover, you know you're in trouble.

Evan Castellano

Does the temperature outside affect a hangover?

Dr. Mike: “The hotter it is, the more fluid you’ll lose. But be very careful in the winter as well. Our bodies don’t always give the same signs of dehydration in winter. You may not feel as thirsty, or sweat as much, but you’re still losing fluids.”

Bartender Morgan: “I've drunk during the summer in the desert and I've drunk in the winter above the tree-line. I prefer the latter, as the cold does seem to have anti-inflammatory effects. And being out in the dry, hot sun while hungover is not my idea of a good time.”

So, there we have it. Thanks to Dr. Mike and Bartender Morgan we can now approach our next backcountry bender with some degree of knowledge and preparedness. Fluids and calories: good. Acetaminophen and bacon sandwiches: bad. The only thing left to do is to field-test what we’ve learned. Whitefish, Montana is only 25 hours from Chicago. Last call at Spotted Bear is at 8PM. I sense a plan coming together.

Written by Patrick Burke for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Evan Castellano

Backpacking the 83-Mile Uinta Highline Trail

The prominent Uinta Mountains of Utah rose from Precambrian rock about 600 million years ago. These geologic giants are the northern-most high altitude massifs formed by glaciers during the Ice Age without present-day glaciers and are the longest east-to-west oriented mountain range in the lower 48.

My friends Craig Benson, Bob Wenger, husband Lee, and I flew to Salt Lake City for an eight-day thru-hike on the high altitude, 83-mile Uinta (pronounced you-went-a) Highline Trail (UHT).

We rented two vehicles and drove to Hayden Pass for the 175-mile car shuttle. After leaving Craig’s rental at the western terminus at Hayden Pass, Lee drove us to a basic motel in Vernal, Utah, where we enjoyed a good night’s rest before the next day’s departure at the eastern terminus of Hacking Lake (10,630-feet).

Day 1

The trailhead at Hacking Lake, the Eastern terminus of the Uinta Highline Trail. Polly Scotland
The trailhead at Hacking Lake, the Eastern terminus of the Uinta Highline Trail.
Polly Scotland

At the trailhead, I hoisted my 38-pound pack and proceeded up trail number 025.

Near Leidy Peak (12,028-feet), the boys consulted the map as I passed by and walked into a dense conifer forest.

I strolled along until I came to a hulking brown form blocking the path, where I stared at three pairs of eyes twenty feet ahead. I blinked. They blinked. My heart pounded as the unknown shape morphed into three female elk that bolted––one left, one right, one back.

Five minutes later, dozens of elk charged across the trail. The thunderous stampede darting between fir trees kicked up a veil of fine dust.

The panoramic vista at our first pass, Gabbro Pass (11,689-feet), held a commanding view of barren humpbacked mountains with ribbons of snow.

At the intersection overlooking Deadman Lake, we saw the route descended steeply to the lake before going back up. Lee said, “It might be shorter to stay high than to pick up the trail on the other side.”

Initially this shortcut made sense, but bushwhacking over uneven terrain was arduous. Eventually we picked up the trail again and trekked to Whiterocks Lake, then Chepeta Lake, where fly fisherman claimed the choice campsites. We were forced to go an extra mile north to Moccasin Lake.

Day 2

The reflective waters of Moccasin Lake. Polly Scotland
The reflective waters of Moccasin Lake.
Polly Scotland

On the morning of day two, I popped the nasty, quarter-sized blister on the bottom of my heel, then retraced my steps to Chepeta Lake and set out for the marshy area of Reader Lake. On the far side of the slough, we spotted a bull-moose leisurely raise and lower his shovels underwater as he dined on breakfast.

Toward noon, heavy cloud cover obliterated the sun during the climb up North Pole Pass (11,800-feet). Several false summits taunted us until we finally reached the top where strong winds were swirling.

Scrambling over the summit, I descended to Brook and Fox Lakes in an isolated thunderstorm. I plopped down on a soggy log near the foundation of an dilapidated log cabin in a light hail shower.

At a tributary of the Uinta River, a second hailstorm covered the ground in tiny white balls of ice. My feet throbbed, my back ached, and this second day of “boot camp” was miserable. I dropped my pack, sat on it, ate some nuts, drank water, and took Ibuprofen. I felt better and once again hit the trail.

Two moose—a mom and her baby—traversed an expansive meadow. They sauntered toward us until mom caught wind of us and dashed into the conifers.

We arrived at Kidney Lake after a difficult eleven-hour day.

After midnight, the sky cleared and the August Perseid meteor shower was on display with dazzling, light blue smoke tails of shooting stars.

Days 3 & 4

Sunset over Kidney Lake. Polly Scotland
Sunset over Kidney Lake.
Polly Scotland

On the third day, we walked to the expansive Painter Basin where another storm cut our day short.

The fourth day’s crisp, clear morning was invigorating as we hiked the steep ascent to the UHT’s overall high point at Anderson Pass (12,700-feet).

Many day-hikers merged onto the UHT from the north via the 27-mile Highpoint Trail near Mountain View, Utah, with a single goal of bagging the state’s highest point of King’s Peak (13,528-feet).

I sat below Anderson Pass and tracked my husband Lee in his blaze-orange jacket as he ascended the 1,000-foot spine above the shoulder of the pass to the summit.

Lee estimated that he would take two hours for the scramble to the summit, so Craig, Bob, and I pressed on toward the second pass of the day––Tungsten Pass.

Beside the splotchy green grass of Yellowstone Creek, I met a dozen students from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana taking a 12-day orientation trip. The mostly female freshmen, led by two chaperons, were on their first-ever wilderness experience.

When Lee caught up to me at Tungsten Pass, I asked, “What’s it like on the highest point of Utah?”

“The wind was so noisy I could barely hear anyone speak, but the 360-degree view went on forever––even north to Wyoming. A young blond woman took my picture, read passages from a time capsule, and showed me the signature book. It was a brief but incredible moment. I tried to place a cell phone call home, but there wasn’t a signal,” Lee recalled. “But let’s keep going before I seize up. I’ve been eating on the move and want to get to camp.”

From the top of the pass, we saw North Star Lake in Garfield Basin and Craig’s olive and gray tent hugging a windblown patch of shrub. At camp, Lee had the stumbles and bumbles because of a taxing ten-hour, two-pass, and one-summit day.

Day 5

The crew posing in Painter Basin with King's Peak looming in the distance. Polly Scotland
The crew posing in Painter Basin with King’s Peak looming in the distance.
Polly Scotland

On the fifth day, we hiked to Porcupine Pass (12,236-feet), then descended the crumbly, loose scree slopes toward Lambert Meadow. The gray-white pyramid peaks of Scout (12,855-feet) and Explorer (12,708-feet) were in sharp contrast to the adjacent red rolling caps.

When the UHT (also called the Ashley Forest Trail) in Lambert Meadow intersected the Lake Fork River Trail, we turned northwest into an Oz-like landscape. The scenery became more dramatic with warm-red peaks, chiseled mountainsides, and turquoise lakes that winked in the sunlight.

We camped beside the Lake Fork River in an area that was a tinderbox full of deadfall. After dinner we played the Bocce Ball game that Bob had lugged.

Day 6

The sixth day was another double pass day. After bushwhacking through unmarked terrain, we found the cairn marking the path up the distinctive Red Knob Pass (11,975-feet).

Next, we moved into the valley of Dead Horse Lake. At the milky-blue lake, I looked up the jagged, knife-edged mountain and asked the boys, “Where’s the Pass? There’s nothing remotely resembling a cut into the serrated mountaintop.”

Lee said, “Just trust the trail.”

A boulder scramble gave way to a very faint path. Bob called out, “I found the dead horse.” Resting on a rock was the skull of a horse with most of its teeth.

The boys moved steadily, and I lost sight of them. Leaning into the sharp slant of the incline, I planted both hiking poles into the loose scree before positioning one foot in front of the other. I continued this slow, methodical, baby-step pattern.

I came to a junction and couldn’t tell which sketchy path led to the pass and which was a ghost trail. As I weighed the options, I saw Lee coming for my pack.

At the apex, he dropped my pack, grabbed his, and headed down to get out of the freezing wind tunnel. I wanted to enjoy the vista, but I was nearly blown off as I clicked some photos before rounding the bend. I dropped down the backside of the scariest pass.

Eventually, I reached Ledge Lake (10,845-feet) and thanked Craig for choosing the east to west route. If I had climbed the daunting Dead Horse Pass with a fully loaded backpack on the second day, the trail might have been renamed Dead Woman Pass.

Day 7

The crew huddled under a tarp at Carolyn Lake. Polly Scotland
The crew huddled under a tarp at Carolyn Lake.
Polly Scotland

On the seventh day, a wave of threatening black clouds built above the well-named Rocky Sea Pass. I moved earnestly across the wobbly sea of rocks, summited, then caught up to the boys at Pigeon Milk Spring.

We were seven miles from the car, but no one was ready to re-enter civilization. Our last night was to be at Carolyn Lake, but when we arrived, the temperature plummeted 30 degrees and a series of hailstorms raged. We huddled under our trap, sipped hot broth, played trivia, and watched the heat leave the lake in wispy layers of fog. After the tenth round of mini-marshmallow-sized ice balls, we headed for Hayden Pass.

At dusk, I reached the parking lot where we rejoiced, hugged, and congratulated each other. I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment as I neared the finish line of the 83-mile, eight-pass journey that averages only 50 thru-hikers annually.

As I thought about the fact that our earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago, and the Uinta Mountains were created 600 million years ago, and the dinosaurs roamed 150 million years ago, I realized that my seven-day existence in this magnificent place doesn’t even register on the spectrum of time; however, it was a profound and humbling experience to travel atop 23 layers of geologic time––even if only for a moment.

Written by Polly Scotland for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Polly Scotland