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a man and woman look at each other with relief while the hold hands at the top of a mountain

Incontinence and the High Altitude Challenge: Backpacking

I enjoy backpacking and rock climbing, both rigorous forms of exercise. There are lots of opportunities for both activities in California, where I live. I had a radical laparoscopic prostatectomy in April 2018, which resulted in mild incontinence that requires me to be prepared whenever I exert myself physically.

The long road to recovery

So it was with both excitement and some trepidation that I scheduled two events for my September 2019 calendar: a short backpacking trip with my wife in the Eastern Sierra; and a rock climbing trip with my oldest son to Yosemite National Park. It would be my wife’s first backpacking experience and the most demanding rock climbing my son and I had done together.

I hadn’t backpacked since September of 2017. Six months prior to my prostate cancer surgery I had cervical spine surgery to remove a damaged disc and shave bone spurs that were pressing on my spinal column resulting in a lot of pain. The two surgeries combined had kept me out of the mountains for a long time, but I wanted to test myself and share the excitement of hiking with weight to high altitude with my newly retired wife, Melinda. We did some day hiking to prepare, but carrying packs and sleeping in a tent at 11000’ would be a much bigger challenge.

Man and women backpacking in nature

A trip to test myself

Since my prostate surgery I’d learned to wear either a maximum absorbency guard or a lightweight shield when day hiking, usually the latter. I found that the muscle that guards against leakage would fatigue after a few hours and leakage would increase. Often I would have to change protection on the second half of a hike. How would it be carrying a heavy pack for several hours?

On the morning of September 10th Melinda and I started our hike to Muir Lake out of Horseshoe Meadow in the Inyo National Forest. Our plan was to spend two nights at the lake, day hiking on the second day, hiking out on the third. Using extra caution, I packed nine lightweight shields.

Somewhat to my amazement, on the uphill 5.5 mile hike to the lake, with several breaks included, I experienced very little leakage and was able to spend several hours at our camp with no shield at all. Yes, I was a happy camper, especially since Melinda did so well on the hike. We’d climbed to 11000’ and had the whole lake to ourselves, our own alpine paradise.

Scenic lake view

Renewed confidence in my progress

Based on weather forecasts for our area of the mountains, we knew it would be cold, but didn’t realize the temperature would plunge into the 20’s. Even with good gear, we slept poorly and when dawn broke it didn’t take long for us to decide that one night in those conditions was enough. We’d accomplished our goal. Why push it?

On the hike out I made it most of the way with one shield, but the constant downhill pounding while carrying a pack finally took its toll. I had to change a couple of miles from the end of the trail. Still, I was more than happy with using only three shields in two days of high altitude hiking, and I proved to myself that I could return to one of my favorite adventures: backpacking to the granite cathedrals of the Eastern Sierra.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • TomC.
    3 months ago

    Are there levels of “incontinence”? Are there total prostatectomy patients who don’t leak at all? I had a slight drip before the surgery and about the same afterwards, a shield a day about.
    Will all the kegels in the world completely stop it?

  • Richard Faust moderator
    3 months ago

    Hi TomC. I wanted to direct you to this article from our editorial team on urinary incontinence: In addition, there is this article from the National Association for Continence on what you need to know about urinary incontinence after prostate surgery: They note that “Approximately 6-8 percent of men who have had surgery to remove their prostate will develop urinary incontinence. (Cleveland Clinic) The good news is that most men will eventually regain bladder control with time.” Lots of other good information between these two pieces. Best, Richard ( Team)

  • Will Jones moderator author
    3 months ago

    Hi Tom, I don’t have a definitive answer for you, but I’ve asked a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic health to respond. In my case, I improved substantially over time, but I’m still working on stopping leakage. My understanding is that kegeling is required to keep the muscle strong, like any other muscle in the body. Most men I know who had surgery still have some leakage even after following a regular kegeling routine.

  • Bob Tierno moderator
    3 months ago

    @Will Jones Excellent progress and description of meeting the challenges of hiking post surgery. You prepared for the hike both directions and handled issues well! Goold luck on your journey! Bob Tierno, Moderator,

  • Will Jones moderator author
    3 months ago

    Thanks, Bob!

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