More RevelSTOKE to whet appetite for more BC skiing

There was much more RevelSTOKE today to whet my appetite for more interior British Columbia skiing. Today was a more characteristic Revelstoke day: snow turning into puking in the afternoon, no sun in sight. I was pleased to achieve a little milestone today, and that was to negotiate my first cliffs on ski since my accident.

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Cliff sign

Cliff sign

Went off to lookers right

Went off to lookers right

Raining snow

Raining snow

At one point I was deep into very deep snowy glades; but because the runs are so long here, the glades went on forever (in all directions) with no person or marker for navigation in sight. Being a planner, thoughts of falling into a tree well and being stuck there with no one being aware of it did cross my mind a few times. I wondered what my plan of action would be, and did think that temperatures were mild enough for me to make it through the night at least. Fortunately, it did not come to that.

A lot of snow to get through

A lot of snow to get through

Up and over/through this

Up and over/through this

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Again, with all this new snow, avy danger is high and I do not feel good about going out of bounds tomorrow. Avy work along Trans Canada 1 likely precludes a trip to Kicking Horse tomorrow. There are worse fates than getting first tracks at Revy tomorrow morning though. I wish time allowed for me to check out all the other interior BC ski areas e.g. Red Mountain, Whitewater…but it just means I need to make another trip out here soon.

How to change from ski to crampons

Petzl put out a useful instructional video on how to change from skis to crampons in tricky terrain/a tricky situation. As I think more about whether it is possible for me to ski mountaineer again, I wonder how will I manage to do this, with a ski boot and ski on my right leg, and a snow boot (Sorel) on my left leg which does not have a ski attached to it. My left leg will be clipped up as usual. What I am thinking is:

  1. Create anchor (ice-screw) as shown in video and secure myself
  2. Release left foot down
  3. Have one crampon be adjusted to fit my Sorel. However, I am not sure this is possible because my Sorel is so wide and big. Assuming this is possible, I balance on my right leg/ski and put on the crampon on my left boot
  4. This is the tricky part. I will then need to put my weight on my left leg and make sure it is secure with crampon points in the snow.
  5. Release right binding. Again, this could be hard because I set my DIN to be very high (8-9) for someone of my stature because I do not want my ski to release and I have to retrieve it (with great difficulty)
  6. Put right crampon on ski boot

Stuff like this makes me wonder whether I should even bother contemplating moving in this kind of terrain again, or whether just sticking to more mellow skiing is just fine. I am really not sure. It might be the case that this idea continues to poke/bug me, and I just have to try/experiment and assess the results.

Last day in Hong Kong

If you cannot tell, I am just a bit taken with something as ordinary as a reservoir. So much so that I wanted my last morning here to be spent walking to Tai Tam Reservoir(s) for the third day in a row.

Last morning looking up at the Mount Parker Observatory

Last morning looking up at the Mount Parker Observatory

A view from the walk down from Mount Butler towards the reservoirs

A view from the walk down from Mount Butler towards the reservoirs

There are a few reasons for why I think I am so enamored. It is a place that I was driven across all the time I was living in Hong Kong (I was not old enough for a drivers license then), but never actually walked to and experienced; it is something literally in my back yard that feels like a newly discovered treasure; engineering is cool; and I am so so grateful and appreciative that through many factors, including mostly my own efforts, I can do the couple of hours walk over.

The Upper Reservoir was the first phase of the project, and built between 1883 to 1888. The square structure is the Valve House.

The Upper Reservoir was the first phase of the project, and built between 1883 to 1888. The square structure is the Valve House.

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Engineering is cool.

Circa 1880s.

Circa 1880s.

I can’t try to set running speed records anymore, but I think I can still experience the place like most people. Each of the three times I have done this walk have felt very different. Being a week day morning, I pretty much had the place to myself.

The part of the reservoir visible from the road

The part of the reservoir visible from the road, that I grew up seeing.

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This sign marks the “end” of my walk

The rest of my day was spent in the side of Hong Kong that more people are familiar with, or at least associate with the city: negotiating suits, skyscrapers, shopping malls, stinky wet markets, designer shops, and crowds. I love that all this can co-exist in this really special place called Hong Kong. I hope it will not be long before I return.

And now, I am off to the frigid Northeast United States, where temperatures of -20 degC await me. It will be a hectic few days while I prepare for a weekend of skiing, and then an approximately 1.5 month long skiing and ice-climbing road trip.

My life is certainly one of contrasts.

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.

The walk was so nice I went back the next morning. I took a different route since I departed from my home. From the terminus, I caught a mini-bus to take me to Chai Wan MTR station, and then took the MTR and then another bus home. It’s pretty awesome that I can do this without needing a personal car. In all my years of living in Hong Kong before, this was the first time I took the MTR from Chai Wan MTR station!!

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The to Tai Tam Road (the end of the hike) from my home

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!

Accident Anniversary losing its significance

While the significance of my accident has not diminished with the passing years, it seems marking the day itself, October 16, becomes less and less important. What is important is acknowledging all the strangers, friends, and family who have supported me the last six years. I am filled with love and gratitude; co-existing with many many other mixed emotions.

It is good to process and re-contextualize life-altering, demarcating days. A friend put it well when she explained why she no longer marked the day her best friend died:

“When I was in 5th grade one of my best friends died. There was before April 8th, and every April 8th afterwards for a long time, until it became less important to mark that day not because I missed her less or that day didn’t wake me up to mortality or how rotten people can be around things like death, but because I remember her and think about mortality and in different ways now and I’m glad that date has shifted for me.”

In my mind, there is still a bit of a “Before Accident” and “After Accident” divide. But this divider, even barrier, has blurred and become to come down over the years. That being said, my plan of climbing that day was thwarted with two Emergency Room visits and a hospital admission (again). Even a nurse recognized me during a procedure I had to undergo, because of the renal failure/septic shock episode from the summer! It really is not good to be memorable to hospital staff in that way! I joked with the nurse that we needed to stop meeting each other in this manner.

The cause for my distress were abdominal complications due to my Spinal Cord Injury.  After an overnight stay of highly uncomfortable proportions, it was fortunate to learn that there was nothing more serious. However, I have to be more vigilant about managing another issue, which is a bit depressing. I was completely drained from this hospital experience, and unsure whether I would have recuperated enough to go on a climbing trip just a few days later. I am certainly not fully recovered but fuck it, I am going anyway!! So I am writing to you on a plane en route to Salt Lake City.

While I had really wanted to go to Indian Creek, my friend injured her finger. Thus, we will likely be climbing in Idaho and around Salt Lake City. The last time I climbed with this friend was in Yosemite, one week before my accident.

I think this trip will recharge me in a much needed way, even if we are not climbing the most difficult routes. Just being outside with good company is enough for me right now.

 

Crested Butte

I was not sure what to expect of my extended weekend in Crested Butte. Arriving feeling physically poor certainly did not help. But as I write this en route back to Boston, I can say with confidence that my time in Crested Butte and Colorado this season was a success, in terms of taking my three-tracking abilities to another level, reconnecting with old faces, meeting many new, wonderful ones, and being lifted by the incredible things the Adaptive Sports Center and its staff enable.

Part of my trepidations about the Crested Butte Ladies Adaptive weekend was how structured it seemed e.g. fixed instruction time, meal times, social activities etc. I generally like doing my own thing so this seemed quite restrictive. However, I found that I learned a tremendous amount being exposed to different instructors and a different program. The Adaptive Sports Center has a tremendous wealth of knowledge, yet also an open-mindedness to try new things. My instructor from my first day is actually a Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) Adaptive examiner, so she was definitely very knowledgeable and skilled at three-tracking. While the mechanics of skiing, whether it be on one or two skis, are the same, it still was nice to be with someone who could ski as well as I could on one ski. I have had the experience of instructors needing to ski with me on two skis to keep up. In the space of my first day, my ability to ski bumps of all sizes, in variable snow conditions (crud, ice, softer snow) and ski bumpy traverses (this is harder on my uphill ski side) improved considerably.

I saw that Crested Butte had two T-bars that serve double-black terrain. I was interested to see if I could ride a T-bar as a three-tracker since a lot of terrain in Europe, say, is only served by T-bars. Bryn, my instructor, had never ridden a T-bar as a three-tracker either, as most three-trackers are not skiing that advanced terrain. But, after a bit of strategizing we gave it a go. We had to take the High lift as the North Face lift was closed for an annual ski race. But, as you can see from the trail map below, one still needs to be able to ski advanced terrain to get back down. It was great to know that I could manage that as a three-tracker.

Check out all the awesome double black terrain on the North face

Check out all the awesome double black terrain on the North face (Source: http://www.skicb.com/the-mountain/trail-maps)

I sat on the left side of the T-bar, so that I could hold the middle of the T-bar with my right hand, have my right ski on the inside and have my left outrigger on the snow for balance. For my right outrigger, I kept the cuff around my right arm and balanced the outrigger on the top of my left hand. Bryn rode the T-bar more like a regular skier, skating on her left ski boot (she had a ski on her right leg). We congratulated ourselves on riding the T-bar without any incident! The next day, Tereza (another ASC volunteer/instructor) and I rode the North Face lift. Upon the recommendation of another instructor, I tried to ride the T-bar by myself. This did not work out as well. The lack of a counter-balance and the sudden jerks of the North Face lift had me fall within 10 feet of where I had loaded. Tereza and I found that it was easiest to the ride the T-bar with her having her ski on her left boot and sitting on the right side of the T-bar and we rode the T-bar quite a few times Sunday afternoon. This gives me confidence that, with the right partner (i.e. not a snowboarded and not someone who will knock me over) I will be able to ride T-bars all over the world again.

The best part about making it to the top of the T-bar lifts without incident was getting to ski the super fun double-black terrain at Crested Butte! My skill level as a three-tracker continued to improve leaps and bounds on Monday. I was able to build upon the skills I had picked up from the previous day and navigate rocky, thinly covered terrain, trees, glades, all in less than ideal snow conditions. Which is exactly what one (or at least I) needs to know how to do if they are going to be skiing advanced, off-piste terrain.

Very friendly warm-up double blacks off the North face lift.

Very friendly warm-up double blacks off the North face lift.

More challenging runs off the North lift.

More challenging runs off the North lift.

A bit more stuff to deal with.

A bit more stuff to deal with.

Tereza was terrific three-tracking company and it was very useful to see how she used her outriggers while carving on groomed terrain. It was incredibly useful (and fun) skiing with four-time Paralympian Sarah Will in the morning too. Monoskier tracks tend to be quite beautifully shaped and I was right on her tail (we both go fast). Later she said, you have the downhill mentality, which was nice to hear. Some women (and men) get nervous when they move “too” fast. When I move fast, things slow down. Time and senses dilate with the hyper awareness and focus.

I found that using my outriggers a lot in bumps puts a fair bit of pressure on the outside of the hand (little finger side of the palm) and my hands would involuntarily cramp when I was not skiing.

My fingers/hand are not doing this voluntarily.

My fingers/hand are not doing this voluntarily.

I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the High Fives Foundation for their generous donation that allowed me to attend the Ladies camp. I had not heard of this organization till just before this trip; I wish I had been aware of them earlier! They could have helped me tremendously in the months/years immediately after my accident. While I am sad that I did not have access/awareness of such a resource for myself then,  I am very glad that such a resource exists for injured mountain sports athletes.

Yosemite 2015 – Part 3 (the best part!)

Five days short of five years ago, my life intersected unexpectedly with Christopher Williams. Christopher, along with his partner, were the first people to reach me when I fell (200 ft according to Chris!) and were part of the rescue effort with a handful of other climbers. No words were exchanged and Chris later said he had no idea how I was going to live beyond our first meeting.

This past weekend, we finally had the opportunity to meet face-to-face. I felt so grateful to finally be able to thank Chris in person and to give him a very long and very emotional hug. We were both crying. Not only were we able to meet officially, but we got to rope up and climb together. We decided to climb in Tuolumne to escape the heat of the Valley. As we waited for temperatures to warm up, we picked American Wet Dream as our first climb together, due to the all-day sun exposure it receives.

This was a poignant choice for a climb as this had been the last Tuolumne route I had climbed before my accident.

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Getting into the .10 tips sections

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More .10 corner trickery

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Chris getting started on his crux pitch.

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Praying at the altar of Cathedral Peak in the background.

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Chris’ leash to me. I hate down-climbing 5th class terrain un-roped, so I ask to be tied in. Tenaya Lake is in the background.

I still feel a bit bad that our choice of climbs was limited by the length/kind of approaches. So what do two climbers – one who dislikes slab climbing and one who used to like slab but can’t trust one of her feet/legs now – do? Find some runout slab climbing. We headed to Pywiak Dome, where both of us (especially me) were pushed out of our comfort zone.

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Zero gear, zero bolts to the anchors, ~135 ft above. First pitch, so a fall would have been a ground fall, and Chris was not anchored. Chris’ expression says it all. I was very very glad to reach the anchors.

It was interesting to see what kinds of techniques I employed to compensate for my left foot. Aside from the usual crimping on tiny flakes and crystals (there were not many at all), I found myself palming up a lot with my hands to create space to move my right leg, and just be on my palms momentarily while I moved my right leg up. Being on just your palms on near vertical, featureless, steep slab is pretty spicy (i.e. scary). As Chris says, [my] climbing is really bold!

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On one of my .10 runout slab pitches. I would trend upwards and right because of my good right leg, only to find that the bolts were way to the left and I would need to do something desperate to get over to that left side.

I was not at all pleased when I saw how far the anchors were away from the last bolt on this pitch. They were a good 20+ ft above the bolt. Well, what could I do except keep my concentration and focus and make my slowly and deliberately to the anchors?

After a dicey first half of that section, the last ten feet or so eased up. I found myself right at the anchors, but not clipped into them yet. Suddenly my left foot blew and I found myself tumbling 40+ feet, scraping down the sharp rock, inverted and not really knowing what to do except wait for Chris’ catch. Fortunately, because it was very cold and we were climbing in the shade, my long pants, baselayers and jacket protected me a bit and prevented me from looking like an even bigger piece of scar tissue than I already do. My hands were pretty trashed though, and one week later, they are still healing. Typing and using a mouse have been a bit painful.

I was quite proud that even after such a long and disorienting fall, I decided I wanted to finish off the pitch, despite Chris’ offers to do so. I knew I would not be happy if I did not. I hung out at that bolt for a bit, gingerly tested out my feet and still not feeling like I could trust them. But I went for it anyway, and once I got within reach of the anchor chains, I grabbed them immediately! I/we were safe.

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Climbing back up to the last bolt before the anchors, after my 40 foot fall. “I’m okay” :-/

While NIAD did not happen on this trip, I think in some way, I got to do some even more rewarding things. As many climbers, especially trad climbers I believe, will tell you, one of the most valuable and rewarding things a climber gets out of climbing are the inter-personal relationships formed. Meeting and climbing with Chris was such a wonderful and unexpected gift, and I know I can always call him a friend. Life isn’t a fairy-tale, and we move in and out of different trials throughout our life. I am thankful that I was able to meet Chris on the other side of a particularly traumatic episode of my life. He insists that things will only get better. I hope so.

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This picture makes me simultaneously tear up and happy.