Susanna ”Susie” DeForest of Collegeville, Pennsylvania, was looking forward to a hike with her three friends in Colorado.
The 20-year-old graphic design student at Pennsylvania College had just completed her sophomore year and was on the dean’s list.
She had a whole life ahead of her and looked forward to a few days of just enjoying the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
But soon things would went terribly wrong.
20-year old Susanna DeForest was passionate about conserving land, nature and loved hiking.
”Susie” thought she and her friends were well-prepared as they headed out alongside her friends, hiking on the Conundrum Creek Trail.
The trail in Colorado is said to be rocky and muddy – but easy to follow and rated somewhere between moderate to difficult.
The trek reportedly takes almost a full day to complete, with “5-8 hours to hike in and 3-6 hours to hike out, on average,” according to All Trails.
Sadly, Susan DeForest wouldn’t make it that long.
On a fateful Thursday night, 17th of August, ”Susie” suddenly became severely ill.
She and her friends were trying to reach the Conundrum Hot Springs in Colorado, but stopped to set up camp when the ”Susie” started vomiting, The Times Herald reported.
Two of Susannas friends left to get help, while a third stayed with her on the trail, to set up a tent.
The idea was to get Susanna out of the heat and into a place where she could rest.
Unfortunately, her condition didn’t improve – it was rather the opposite.
Emergency dispatchers were contacted around 10:45 p.m., but were unable to land the rescue helicopter at her location.
The rescue team didn’t reach Susanna until the next morning and by the time first responders arrived at the scene, she had died.
First responders desperately attempted to revive her while waiting for a helicopter to transport her to the hospital.
Susanna was pronounced dead at 5 am the Friday morning.
Although she and her friends had left a bit late in the afternoon for their hike, the group brought with them all the necessary supplies, including food and water.
And nothing they could have done would have saved Susanna, who was quickly overcome with violent symptoms and succumbed to the illness.
Susanna and her friends seemed to have taken all safety measures and kept hydrated too.
They hadn’t use any alcohol, pills or drugs.
The 20-year-old wasn’t suffering a pre-existing medical condition and she appeared to be completely healthy.
So, what exactly went wrong and caused her tragic death?
Susanna’s mom, Kate DeForest, soon spoked out.
In a Facebook post, she declared that her daughter died from “acute altitude sickness”.
Altitude sickness can occur when you travel to a high altitude too quickly and when you cannot get enough oxygen from the “thinner” air found at high altitudes.
“Dear Friends, many of you already know this, but on Friday, we lost our daughter, Susie DeForest. She was hiking in Colorado and suffered acute altitude sickness,” Kate wrote.
Susanna likely began developing symptoms of high-altitude pulmonary edema, or HAPE, when she was staying in Dillon — altitude 9,111 feet.
HAPE and high-altitude cerebral edema, or HACE, both can be insidious and mimic other illnesses.
She died from “internal drowning” as fluid built up in her lungs, a condition aided by the lower oxygen content where she was hiking.
When you go too high too fast, you begin to breathe faster since your body isn’t getting the oxygen it needs.
In severe cases, a fatal build-up of fluid in the lungs and brain can occur as a result.
“The decedent most likely started developing HAPE during the 15th and 16th as it commonly develops on the second or third day at altitudes above 6,600 feet when it occurs,” according to Pitkin County Coroner Dr. Steve Ayers.
The scary thing is that Susanna may not have recognized the signs of altitude sickness.
“Signs and symptoms of altitude sickness are hard to recognize,” Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Alex Burchetta said.
”But it’s one of the things you need to realize when you’re at 11,000 feet.”
University of Colorado professor of emergency medicine Dr. Benjamin Honigman, who researches the health impacts of high altitude on humans, said death from severe altitude sickness is rare at Colorado’s elevations.
Still, experts recommend gradual increases in altitude while getting plenty of rest and fluids to avoid symptoms.
Altitude sickness can be avoided if you know what to do.
First of all, you have to allow your body plenty of time to adjust to the decreased levels of oxygen in high-altitude areas.
Not everyone knows this, but it can take several days for your body to adjust to decreased oxygen.
So if you are traveling from sea level to a destination above 8,000 feet, plan your trip to gradually reach higher altitudes over the course of a few days.
This is where Susanna DeForest and her friends likely went wrong.
“A good rule of thumb is to avoid ascending more than 1,000 feet a day,” according to Everyday Health.
Since the highest point in Pennsylvania is Mt. Davis at 3,213 ft feet, ascending the 8,000 to 11,200 feet elevation of this trail in a day, although it’s slated to be hiked in that short time, is simply too much for someone not used to living at higher altitudes.
Tragically, it’s too late for Susan DeForest – but this information could hopefully save others from the same grim fate.
If you have any adventure-loving hiker in your life, share this story on Facebook and make sure they read this story before planning their next trip.