My name is Todd Clare, and I am president of IDEA 2000, the International Diabetic Expedition to Aconcagua, 2000. We are a group of insulin dependent, Type 1 diabetic mountain climbers who, in December of 2000, traveled to Argentina for an all-diabetic summit attempt of the highest peak in the western and southern hemispheres - Cerro Aconcagua (22,834 feet, 6959.6 meters). The expedition was undertaken to inspire others living with diabetes to live full and unlimited lives, as well as to raise money for supplying insulin and other diabetic supplies to poor regions of Latin America, where basic supplies are rare and expensive.
The climb was a fantastic success, with seven diabetics summiting slightly after noon on January 12, 2001. Making the expedition even more of a success, all climbers returned to “civilization” safely, uninjured and having made many lifelong friends on the mountain. Our 2 years of planning had paid off, with IDEA 2000 having the smoothest, fastest, and most successful expedition on the mountain in the time we were there.
One of the main issues faced by a diabetic at extreme elevations is the temperature ranges encountered, and the potential for insulin to denature if it gets too hot or too cold. In the past, we have tried combinations of creative packing, placement, and a little luck to let the insulin survive. Even more concerning, most of us use at least some (and those of us on pumps are entirely dependent upon) very short acting (Lispro) insulins such as Lilly's Humalog, which are known to handle temperature variations poorly.
One of the key elements that helped us attain our goals and the summit was the supply of Frio cooling wallets donated to us by Garnet Wolsey at Frio. He had told us that you take his wallets, soak them in water, and they will keep your insulin cool (and from freezing) for several days on end. We happily accepted all donations, but were honestly skeptical that these small wallets would do what we had been struggling to achieve for many years.
As we started out on the three day hike up to base camp, the sun and lack of winds pushed temperatures up into the 90's. We soaked our Frio wallets in a nearby stream. The gel inside the wallets swelled up just as the instructions said. Five hours later we stopped for lunch. I was really curious (and skeptical, as I said - I only put one bottle of my insulin in the wallet) so I opened the wallet to see how the insulin was doing. The air inside the wallet was cool, which was a nice change from the heat we were feeling. I also noticed that the outside of the wallet was completely dry, and the other items it had been next to were dry as well. Most importantly, the insulin was cool! We joked about rubbing the bottle on our foreheads to cool us off, but decided that may not be the best idea.
Happy with the wallets so far, we continued on. The wallets were handling the heat very well, bu I was still curious how long the cooling would last and how they would handle the cold. Three days later, the gel in the wallets had gone most of the way back to its original size, but the wallet and the insulin inside (now ALL of my insulin) was as cool as ever. A quick recharge soak with some water, and I was safe for another 3 or 4 days. Also a nice feature was that the wallets seemed to protect the insulin from freezing. Usually I put my insulin inside my sleeping bag between the outer and inner liner - a crude attempt at keeping it from freezing but not getting it too hot. With most of our gear piled inside the tent (it was snowing and there were 70 mile per hour winds) my Frio wallet forgot to find its way into my sleeping bag. In the morning I woke up, and my insulin was fine - just as cool (or warm) as it had been for the whole trip! My original skepticism evaporated (like the water from the Frio gel!).
Other climbers at Base Camp knew we were “the diabetics” and would come over to wish us well and to say hello. Several noticed our Frio wallets and asked what they were. When we told them, they were skeptical just as I had originally been. But when we showed them the insulin and they felt the inside of the active wallets, they were as impressed as we were (one climber asked if we had a spare wallet - his cheese was starting to get too hot)!
In summary, my experience with Frio Cooling products has been exceptional. The people there, especially Garnet, are dedicated to making a great product, and are always asking for user input and ways to make their wallets even better. The product itself delivers on its promises, and will become a standard piece of equipment in my gear bag. In fact, I have begun using it in less “extreme” environments (I plan to use it this summer - I live in Houston, TX USA where temperatures can rise to 110 degrees). The features that I found most appealing about the Frio wallets were:
• Ease of use - soak it in water and go. No hassle, no mess, no batteries…
• Quality - the stitching is tough, the materials are strong, and they work!
• Price and Convenience - the various wallet sizes and shapes will fit any need, and the price is more than reasonable for the safety that they provide.
I would personally recommend the Frio cooling wallets to any diabetic who needs to take their insulin with them. I would also be happy to answer any other questions that arise. Look at www.idea2000.org for more information about IDEA 2000, and the successes that we achieved, with great support from Frio!