A glorious day with an old friend (Tai Tam Reservoirs)

Today was a glorious day to meet up with an old friend and experience a place so fully that it makes your heart swell with joy and gratitude. Connie and I go back to primary school, and had not seen each other in over 16 years. Yet when I first saw her again, it felt like not a single thing had changed. She looked like her youthful, happy self, except even more accomplished and beautiful now :)

We decided to do a hike and as usual, I had my doubts about what it might be like after my accident and all. My doubts were erased as the conversation and path passed freely and easily, even after all this life. Don’t get me wrong; a lot has changed in my physical situation and circumstances. But another friend who I met up with a few days ago said: “It was great seeing you too, and despite all the difficulties you’ve faced I’m glad that you haven’t changed much at all.” I find this simultaneously hard to believe and reassuring.

Looking down on the Tai Tam Reservoirs

Looking down on the Tai Tam Reservoirs

16 years later, and it honestly seems like we have not aged, at least on the surface.

16 years on and it feels like we haven't changed

16 years on and it feels like we haven’t changed. We are both a tiny bit sweaty from the steps up to this point.

Looking down on the Tai Tam Reservoirs

Looking down on the Tai Tam Reservoirs – pano view

By one of the reservoirs

By one of the reservoirs

We actually ended the walk by taking a bus, followed by the MTR to, of all places, Le Pain Quotidien, a cafe that I first experienced in Paris this past Fall. It seems like a small thing, but to be able to go from one amazing city to amazing city, and experience the same cafe, yet with a different person in different circumstances, makes me feel the world is both small and vast, and entirely wondrous.

An excellent hair day, as usual.

An excellent hair day, as usual.

Gentle urban beauty

As I was walking this morning, I found it interesting and curious that even though I have spent and spend a lot of time in places with dramatic landscapes, I am still extremely taken by the gentle urban (*) beauty near my home in Hong Kong.

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On the trail to Mount Parker road

Hong Kong’s beauty has so many dimensions to it. I am so glad I can see it in my morning waks.

I love that I can see all sorts of beauty in my morning walks. This was from a different morning.

Same trail, different view, different morning.

I went for a stroll on the Peak with my Dad yesterday. It was an overcast day, but the clouds were doing cool things.

View from The Peak, Hong Kong

View from The Peak, Hong Kong

(*) Not two adjectives commonly used together.

An insane travel season and a cross-country skiing road trip

September to February has been, and will be, an amazing and slightly insane travel season. From September to December, I did round-trips to Paris; Salt Lake City/City of Rocks, ID; Red Rocks, NV; and Hong Kong.

December to mid-Febrary are looking like this:

– Boston <-> SKIING ROAD TRIP (see below)
– Boston <-> Martinique
– Boston <-> Chamonix

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I am using the time between when I return from Hong Kong to Francophile lands, to do something I have always wanted to do: a skiing road trip across America! Hopefully I’ll fit in a little bit of ice-climbing too. My itinerary will be dependent on weather, but tentative plan is based around the places that are a part of the Mountain Collective Pass.

I will return to Cambridge from Hong Kong, outfit my car for sleeping, storage, and the driving; dress up and go to a holiday party; ski in Vermont the next day hopefully, and then try and hit the road as soon as possible after that. I absolutely love planning for and preparing for big trips.  But there is a lot to cram in in a very short period of time.

My rough itinerary, subject to weather etc. is:
Cambridge, MA -> Lake Louise, AB -> Kicking Horse, BC -> Revelstoke, BC -> Whistler, BC -> Sun Valley, ID -> Salt Lake City -> Jackson, WY -> Aspen/Snowmass, CO -> Telluride, CO -> Taos, NM

The tentative plan. I may choose to go anti-clockwise instead.

The tentative plan. I may choose to go anti-clockwise instead.

I do not think I will be able to make it to Tahoe, given time constraints and without incurring enough speeding tickets to make me a fugitive from many states. Which sucks because I miss Squaw and Kirkwood. I’ll try and make it happen. I am going to get my ass kicked the first few days. I cannot wait to see friends in many of these places.

I am so excited about skiing and ice-climbing in/around Chamonix with my friend Yves in February! I have heard such amazing things about the place. It will be interesting to see how I handle the gnarlier lift-served terrain. I actually learned to ski in Switzerland when I was 12 years old, so maybe this counts as a home-coming of sorts? :)

Pins I collected as an excited 12 year old in Switzerland.

Pins I collected as an excited 12 year old in Switzerland.

I will try my best to document this once in a lifetime experience.

So. Much. Stoke.

Lock-off season begins here

I packed my Metolius rock rings, having never used them before, but thinking they would be a good thing to have while I am otherwise not doing any climbing during my stay in Hong Kong. Part of my walk this morning involved scouting out places where I could hang these rock rings. It was not that easy. Eventually, I settled on Braemar Hill Playground (Braemar Hill is the hill behind our home, and where my primary school is located).

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The setup is far from ideal, but it had to do for this morning.

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The red circular things are actually not entirely stable.

It would be better if I could find something where the rings can hang more freely and without vertical bars on either side of them so that my elbows can move out.

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It never hurts to be reminded of the alphabet.

My finger and upper-body strength are atrociously weak right now. I started off with the simple 10 minute workout Metolius recommends; and even that was a bit of a struggle with the two-finger holds. I hope I won’t be totally useless for ice this season.

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I pass.

I am going to do more scouting today to find a better setup.

Long-distance flying feels like death

Well, this blog would be nothing if it were not for me reporting on the crappy times as well as the good ones. I know long distance flying takes its toll on anybody, not just people with my physical issues, and as we age. But it really does feel like I have a harder go of things, especially as I recall how relatively “easy” long-distance flying was before my accident. I was initially optimistic around the first 9 hours into the flight from Newark to Hong Kong. The compression socks I wear, even though I am neither pregnant or diabetic, were working remarkably well, I thought! The back was not especially painful, the leg was not acting up; I was seated in a bulkhead aisle seat with no crying babies or snoring neighbours to boot. Yay! And then. Time. Stood. Still. Nothing I could do for the next 8 hours could distract me from the aching, nerve pain, inability to sleep, and inability to concentrate on anything else except my inability to concentrate on anything else. The 6:58 hr mark seemed especially still. Since the seat next to me had freed up (I was in the middle three-seat section on the 777), the guy next to me had moved one seat over. But there were no arm-rests to lift. So I did something I have never done before, and that is, curl up and lie down on the floor in front of those two seats with my head on my backpack. All the while thinking, who the fuck knows what has been on this floor but I do not fucking care. It was not a successful strategy.

Arriving in Hong Kong and the breezy airport experience was a brief respite to all this. Deplaning to reaching baggage claim took 5 minutes. If only all immigration experiences could be like this. Certainly, this process is so expedited because I do have a HK Identity card which you insert into a slot, pass through a set of glass doors that then close behind you, have a thumb scanned, have a second set of glass doors open in front of you, and then you are on your way.

It seems like 36 hours is the magic number for recovery time for me. I really was pretty much a vegetable for that first day and a half, barely managing to shuffle around, declining to go out, and just lying down and sleeping an awful lot. I did walk past some old tennis courts where lots of kids were either having lessons, practicing, or competing (there were some feelings around class, expats, and elitism that were also conjured up, but that is a much longer blog post). Tennis was one of my main sports growing up, and I was very good at it, if I do say so myself. Watching these teenagers hit the ball hard and move around the court quickly did make me feel a bit sad that I could not do that any more. But I think there is also more acceptance than before. Maybe it is because I can tell myself that hitting a ball back and forth across a net and chasing it around is silly. This pretty much characterizes most of the sports I played growing up and into/through college (tennis, squash, netball, field hockey etc.) :p But deep down, I do miss it a bit.

But I am back on my feet! What do you do when you feel like shit and are trying to feel less like shit? Go for a walk around your childhood home on old and familiar footpaths at first light…

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I like the Hobbit village quality to this trail

I like the Hobbit village quality to this trail

I remember when I visited Hong Kong for the first time after my accident, in January 2014. I did not know whether I would be able to manage this walk, with all its steps, inclines, and uneven spots. It felt like a triumph to conquer this path that I walked/ran so many times before. While the steps up still are not completely trivial to me now, I am glad that the walk – a few years on – feels pretty easy.

Climbing development opportunities?

Climbing development opportunities?

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An amazing end to a rock season that should not have been

As usual, I am writing about a previous trip/experience as I am preparing for the next one…

I could not have asked for a better route or partner to put a cap on a rock season that really was not supposed to happen. To go from this summer’s near-death sepsis, stays in and out of the hospital due to SCI-related issues, and on-going health stuff all throughout the Fall, to climbing Cloud Tower (5.11d/12a) last Tuesday was truly amazing. The route is described as “[o]ne of the best long free climbs of its grade in the country…If you climb at this level, you will not have lead [sic] a full life without experiencing The Cloud Tower!” (Source: Mountain Project which, like all things on the internet, is the truth). Now Eben and I can say we have led a full life :)

The two long starting 5.8 pitches of Cloud Tower are a good way to get warmed up. They were not trivial in the cold though. I know I certainly was shivering a great deal and having difficulty feeling my fingers, due to the low temperatures and north-facing aspect of the climb.

The start of Cloud Tower.

Eben getting us off to the right start on Cloud Tower.

The third pitch consists of a perfect hand-sized crack, which I really wish was much much longer.

Eben following on pitch 3, the perfect hands pitch.

Eben following on pitch 3, the perfect hands pitch.

The crux pitch is 11d sustained tips. It was quite hard!

That manky quarter inch bolt was very reassuring...:-/

That manky quarter inch bolt was very reassuring…:-/

What makes the route great is not a single pitch, but the combination of the pitches; the route really has it all. Some nice easy pitches to wake you up, perfect hands, sustained tips, wider hands/fist/off-fist (my nemesis), a cool chimney and tunnel through into a whole other world, and then a killer final pitch. The contrast between the dark, lichen covered north facing wall to a face that looks straight out of Indian creek was very striking.

The cool tunnel through in pitch 6. People much larger than myself would have some difficulty fitting through.

The cool tunnel through in pitch 6. People much larger than myself would have some difficulty fitting through.

When you emerge from the tunnel through, you are greeted with this view and pitch. Magical.

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View from the small ledge at the bottom of the final pitch 7.

The other side of the tunnel through. Magical.

Looking up at the final pitch.

And, of course, an obligatory selfie at the top of the route. Can you tell how stoked Eben is even after our beat down? I didn’t think so. The flash on the camera must have been on because it was close to dark by then.

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We could have done without all the ropes getting stuck on the way down, and frigid north facing climbing. If someone could just rotate the canyon 90 degrees, and make sure the weather on all my climbing trips is warm, that would be greeeeaaat (Bill Lumbergh Office Space voice).

Sure, there have been the epics pre-accident, but the combination of the taxing approach on my post-accident body, the hard crux pitches, the rather crappy rope-eating descent and reverse approach, made it one of the most challenging and rewarding climbing experiences I have had. The approach is supposed to take a little over an hour…it took me 1 hr 40 min (there was a little bit of wandering around but not much), and the reverse approach was not much easier because of the loose, sandy shit I struggle on. I know for most people that is not a very long approach, but for me it was. Eben was a total chief for carrying the entire, sizable rack, leading the crux pitch, and navigating us back to the car in the dark.

I was able to make my flight out of Las Vegas that evening and not have to wear the same climbing clothing for the plane ride back to Boston. I was pretty wrecked from the long day but it was totally worth all the aches and pain, because doing Cloud Tower was a big deal to me. Knowing that I have it in me to get to the base of and do routes like this – decently long approach and pretty hard grade – makes me excited about the future possibilities I previously thought were now closed.

I am flying to Hong Kong tomorrow to spend about ten days with family. I always have a great deal of anxiety about the long flight (~20 hours). The long periods of sitting and confined space wreak havoc on my back and neuropathy in the left leg, so I am really hoping the pain can be managed all right in Hong Kong (and back here when I return).

A “true” RR day!

Hello Red Rocks, it has been a long time; nearly a decade. Wow, that makes me feel a bit old.

A normal, glorious sunset at Red Rocks

A normal, glorious sunset at Red Rocks

Saturday was spent cragging and sport-climbing. I am definitely not a sport-climber. Because of the fear of crowds, we started in a cold, sandy, slopy area which really did not get me excited about Red Rocks. We finished the day on more classic Red Rocks climbing, plated face, which got me more psyched about the rock here.

Sunday was my first “true” RR day. Even though we had to bail from near the top of our route, I had such a fun time. I had concerns that I might be very slow on the approach to Black Velvet Canyon, but we made good time, which surprised me. It made me feel very grateful to have a functioning, strong right leg, and motivates me to continue to keep it very strong.

Black Velvet Canyon as seen from the approach.

Black Velvet Canyon as seen from the approach.

The approach follows a wash into the canyon. The boulders are actually helpful because I can use my hands, versus just a slope or steps. The picture below gives you an idea of the approach into Black Velvet Canyon.

The wash into the canyon. You can see Las Vegas in the distance.

View from higher up on the climb. The wash into the canyon. You can see Las Vegas in the distance.

Since this was our first outing together, Eben and I decided to run up Sour Mash, which we made very short work of until p6. It had been spitting rain on and off before that, but then the real downpour started as I was about to blast off on the crux pitch of the route.

Looking up at Black Velvet Wall

Looking up at Black Velvet Wall. The blue skies did not last.

I made it about half way in the rain and hail before we decided that we needed to bail. On the one hand, climbing in rain and hail can feel pretty good in that un-fun/fun way, but the wall really became a wet sheet, and it just was really not happening.

The crux pitch was a glassy sheet. I got about halfway before the rain and hail got to be too much.

The crux pitch was a glassy sheet. I got about halfway before the rain and hail got to be too much.

You can tell how much fun we had by how much we are smiling even when we had to bail.

Selfie at the belay which I lowered down to for the bail.

Selfie at the belay which I lowered down to for the bail.

An easy route like Sour Mash reinforces what I know already, and that is often times, the most enjoyable kind of climbing for me is just being able to run up long free routes and get high up, fast, with a great, safe, competent partner. Even lazy ass, just-say-no-to-long-approaches me is willing to put the work in to get to these kinds of routes.

The plan is to get on Cloud Tower (5.11d) before I depart. The route looks like it has it all – from 11d sustained tips, perfect hands, to the wide. The hike in to Juniper Creek Canyon is significantly longer than the one into Black Velvet so I am slightly anxious about that. But to be back on hard crack is so exciting!

Gut health and off to Red Rocks

Yes, a natural combination, no?

Since coming back from the City of Rocks, I have been struggling with some pretty severe gastrointestinal issues. It can, understandably, be a bit of an embarrassing topic but it has been severely negatively impacting my life the last while. I have been displaying all the symptoms of severe Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS); extremely painful bloating and distention, messed up bowels, etc. The question is why? As most of you know, one of the biggest effects of my spinal cord injury was on my GI tract. Amongst other things, the motility of my intestines is much slower than a normal persons. My sluggish intestines can and have caused some severe problems, including my hospital stay right before I flew out to Salt Lake City.

Like, Salt Lake City, I was not sure if I would be able to follow through with a last minute invitation to climb in Red Rocks, just outside Las Vegas. I have not been to Red Rocks in close to 9 years; before my accident. Things were touch and go but I decided to take a chance and go and cross my fingers that my dysfunctional gut will not give me problems for the short four day trip. I return the day before Thanksgiving, will cook and clean a little, before heading to Northern Vermont (like, Canadian border Vermont) for Thanksgiving and perhaps the first ski day of the season! It will be dinky and there will probably be only a few runs open but what the heck.

I have an appointment with a gastroenterologist soon after that, so hopefully we can identify the issue(s) and possible solutions. In the mean time, I am embarking on a low FODMAPs diet in the hope it might offer some relief. It definitely makes meals and eating out a lot less fun, but it is temporary.

It seems like every one and their mother is in Red Rocks right now, and who can blame them. Unfortunately my stay is a short one and I need to balance my objectives with my partner’s and the group. The approaches in RR tend to be very long however, and that will limit the routes I can do. I would have loved to get on Levitation or Original Route, but with 3 hours approaches for people with two working legs, with significant elevation change, it is pretty much a no-go. As I was looking through routes, I had a hard time not feeling limited. My friend asked how I could feel that way when I was looking at 5.11+ routes. I appreciate his perspective, but still, evidence that I still find it challenging to not feel a sense of loss. I am looking forward to the sun and warmer weather though!

Final pics from City of Rocks

Well, we left the City of Rocks after climbing on Saturday, before the rain and snow arrived. I keep thinking of calling it the Shire of Rocks, or the hamlet of Rocks…but that probably does not capture people’s imaginations as much.

The forecast was for a brisk, sunny day. Instead, we got something more poetic.

The weather and sky makes the Bloody Fingers corridor formations look like guarding sentinels

The weather and sky makes the Bloody Fingers corridor formations look like guarding sentinels

It was nice to experience and see the progress I had made from my arrival to departure. My first leads of the trip were shaky and hesitant due to being out of the game for so long. By Saturday, I was feeling like my old self.

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Sweet off-width higher up on Animal Cracker

I miss this quality, dry rock already.

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Sarah cleaning after my lead of Bloody Fingers

This was my first experience even setting foot in an RV, let alone living in one, and it has many advantages. I have to admit though, after ten days of RV life, I am very pleased to be back sleeping in a proper bed and having daily showers. And while there is always that dirtbag climber bit of me, I like “culture” and urban amenities too. I really do need it all, which is a really useful piece of information to have as I continue to think about next steps, but a slightly inconvenient truth as well.