Feature in Base Camp Magazine

I am always astonished by the people who happen to stumble across my blog. One such person was Cass Légér, the Editor of Base Camp Magazine. Taken by my life and stories, she reached out and asked if I could write an article about my accident and road to recovery and back to my life in the mountains. I am usually pretty prompt about attending to tasks and matters in my life but, for some reason, when it comes to writing about myself, I put things off till the very last minute. I know exactly why. So much has happened in my life; so much tragedy and joy, so many emotions and feelings experienced. The volume and enormity of these events and emotions are so overwhelming that the idea of attempting to convey even a sliver of it all is almost paralyzing (no awful pun intended).

I am really glad that Cass’s offer forced me to write this little piece. I do not think I find writing to be cathartic. But the process of writing always helps organize my thoughts and notice how I can go from being completely clinical about things to unexpected weeping. Writing for an audience who will quickly lose interest in a verbose, rambling article discussing every single detail forced me to prioritize and be selective about what I wrote about. I hope you enjoy reading the final article.

Quick Chile trip recap

Outrigger power

As usual, there has been considerable delay in my brief write-up of my brief trip to Chile in early August. It took a full 24 hours of travel each way, from Boston to Las Trancas. South America is big! I think people outside of South America don’t realize how large even countries like Peru and Bolivia are.

The group accommodation was simple and very pleasant. It seems like there are a ton of accommodation options in this town.

Unfortunately, the weather gods were not on our side. It was raining half the time, and when it was snowing decently, the resort would stop running their lifts due to high winds. Certainly a bit of a bummer.

Not what you want to see during ski season

But I did get a day or two of decent skiing in. I also met another three-tracker in the group. It has never happened where I meet (1) someone who skis on one leg and ski, (2) Rips, too, (3) Skis on the same leg as I do. Holy shit, the trinity is complete!

I think we have a good shot at qualifying for the US National Synchronized Outrigger team. (Photo: Maria Peters)

We just look fuckin’ weird here (Photo: Maria Peters)

It is pretty cool to ski in August! And it was nice to visit Chile again; it has been a very long time since I was last in South America. As I am currently teaching myself Portuguese, my Spanish is totally mangled, and I spoke some kind of Portuguese/Spanish hybrid when I was in Las Trancas. I was able to get away with this because the area gets a lot of Brazilian skiers/tourists, so most folks there can speak some basic Portuguese.

An unfortunate health problem cropped up for me on this trip  and it made me wonder about what kind of medical care could I get in Chile, let alone a place like Las Trancas. Access to excellent health care and specialists is a huge factor in deciding where I will live, and that elicits a lot of negative feelings and emotions in me. I hate feeling and being limited in my choices.

I was pretty wrecked after so much travel, and connections in confusing airports (i.e. Santiago). It’s not that fun lugging around a huge ski bag twice my size around airports. I am very mobile given my disability. However, I was thinking the whole time about the difficulties someone less mobile than me would have in the same situation, and what assistance they would receive.

If you are making a connection in Santiago, the process and airport are very confusing. You might be approached by guides or people with official airport badges offering to help you.  They aren’t doing it to be nice; they expect a sizable tip.

I will be off to Portugal again soon. It is kind of cool to go from the Andes to sunny Portugal. I love contrast.

Quarterly Update – Another Round of Travels Begins

It has been four months since my last post :( Even I do not let so much time pass between posts. March, April, and May were the toughest times of my life; even more so than the process of being pieced back together, and acquiring a Spinal Cord Injury. The physical/health issues I was dealing with had me house-bound for much of March; I was desperate for an answer as to what/why I was experiencing such symptoms. Ultimately it was a self-diagnosis that got treatment going, even though my condition was/is tricky to treat. This period was also a reminder of how woeful our medical system is. Call after call, email after email, going from one specialist to the next, going to alternative medicine practitioners, rinse and repeat…now I am probably as proactive a patient as you can get and familiar with dealing with our health system. But this experience totally eroded me. It is ironic how I live in the Boston area, probably the densest concentration of medical professionals and hospitals in the country, and yet, had so much difficulty trying to be seen by the people I should be seen by. Things reached a nadir in mid-May; I was just done. Fortunately, I have been on an upward trajectory since then, after finally finding some doctors who actually help me.

Given my health issues, entering climbing competitions was the last thing on my mind. Earlier on, I firmly dismissed the idea of competing at the Paraclimbing Nationals competition, held at my local climbing gym. I didn’t just want to show up, and I knew I would feel bad for not being able to climb at my best/well. But upon seeing how fun the routes looked, encouragement from many people, I altered my itinerary and registered at the last possible moment. I actually had a blast, even though the top-rope format usually does not interest me.

A super fun climb. I am actually pushing off a hold with my left arm, not humping the volume. (Source: USA Climbing)

This was actually the first climbing competition where I was not super nervous because I did not have expectations about how hard I would climb, placing, etc. And it showed in my climbing!! I climbed loose and relaxed, having to dyno for many holds (I am very short), entertaining spectators with my moves, and climbing well. In short, I climbed with style.

I ended up placing; not bad for someone in really rough physical and mental shape a month earlier, who did not train at all. Unfortunately, I had to dash off before the awards ceremony because I had a long drive ahead of me to Acadia National Park. Ironically, I am currently climbing at my very best! I am climbing routes at a grade I would usually never touch, and actually climbing – not thrutching or hang-dogging at each clip. It is rather strange. I guess not being injured from overtraining (as in the past) helps.

Tomorrow I head to Lisbon, Portugal for a fortnight. Although the city does not have a rope climbing gym (?!!), and I don’t want to regress in my climbing abilities, I predict I will dig the place. I am glad to be spending a fair bit of time in Lisbon and fully exploring the city and surrounding area. It will be interesting to see how I fare with my Portuguese. Then, at the beginning of August, I head to Chile, and then likely back to Lisbon at the end of August. Given the depths of despair I was trapped in, it feels especially good to be back on my feet, exploring and experiencing new places again.

(N.B. I am trying out using the AP style guide for my blog post title, even though unnecessary capitalization annoys me; probably more than it should :))

Last day: Sugiton and parting thoughts

(Photo: Yves)

(Photo: Yves)

After the very cold and windy experience on La Grande Candelle, I had one requirement for our last morning of climbing: sun. We had a train to catch back to Paris at 1456 hr, so there was a little bit of anxiety when we found the 30 minute approach expressed in the guidebook was really more like an hour, able-bodied or not. The climbing, views, and setting were one of the most enjoyable/spectacular of my entire trip: a fitting end.

Where we were the previous day, from a different perspective

Where we were the previous day, from a different perspective

Sugiton is a very small calanques, with incredible views of La Grande Candelle. Even more so than yesterday’s climb, the views on the approach, route, and especially the top, filled my heart in ways so beautiful and soaring, that it hurts.

Morning calm

Morning calm


I cracked up when I learned from Yves what the A.N.P.E., in Secteur A.N.P.E. (where we climbed) was: it was the Agence Nationale pour l’Emploi, or basically unemployment agency.


How can one ask for a better belay spot (Photo: Yves)

It is pretty incredible to be able to go from a proper sit-down breakfast, doing a route of this quality and in this setting in the morning, boarding the TGV train from Marseilles to Paris (in not too grubby condition!) in the afternoon, be on the Paris subway, and back at the steps of the Eiffel Tower by dinner time.

It is often hard to convey to strangers, and maybe even people closer to me, how much I felt (and sometimes still feel) I lost in my accident including climbing/skiing/mountaineering in remote places, a “simpler” life devoid of day-to-day logistics around my medical issues and more extensive planning around this, being able to pack up in an instant and travel distances to meet someone and embark on an adventure. In spite of various setbacks, I think this winter, this trip has allowed me to reclaim a little, maybe even a lot, of that part of me.

After returning from the IFSC World Championships in Paris in early October, I was admitted to the hospital for complications related to my spinal cord injury. Right after that, the following trips ensued:

  • Mid-late October: ~10 days rock climbing in Utah and City of Rocks, Idaho
  • Mid-November: Climbing in Red Rocks, NV and climbing the hardest trad route since my accident (Cloud Tower, 5.12-) and after nearly dying again in May/June from sepsis
  • 1st half of December: Visiting family in Hong Kong
  • 2nd half of December to late January: A solo road-trip across Canada and the United States to (mainly) ski
  • Late January: Warm weather sojourn in Martinique
  • Late January to mid February: 10 days of skiing and ice-climbing in Chamonix
  • Late February to early March: A little over 10 days rock climbing in the south of France in Les Callanques

Perhaps it was the breathless pace of travel and moving on from one trip to the next, which did not allow me to fully grasp how amazing doing all this is, especially given my accident and disability. Yves said a very nice thing early on in our Callanques trip: I made all this happen. I do not think that is entirely true, because Yves did so much to facilitate and arrange our Chamonix and south of France trips. But, I guess it does take an inner strength, passion, maybe even love of life (even if it is balanced with sadness and darkness) to imagine, plan, and execute the things I did.

My travels need to stop for the time-being, while I deal with practical things like work and making a living. For a number of reasons, there is sadness. But maybe, in spite of physical and emotional setbacks, the last 5 months have taught me that more wonderful things can and will await for me to seize.


(Photo: Yves)

Soaring heart after La Grande Candelle

Morning light

Morning light on the approach to the base of the route (La Grande Candelle on the left, Morgiou on the right)

My heart was soaring after our climb on Secteur du Temple up to La Grande Candelle. Again, very cold, windy conditions made for no other climbers in sight. The views on the approach to the climb continued to make me feel both so lucky to be able to experience places like this, and also sadness that I do not live closer and/or have more time to climb here more.

Continued awe of my surroundings on the approach in

Continued awe of my surroundings on the approach in

Not being able to feel my fingers for the first few pitches made things a bit challenging.

Cold. (Photo: Yves)

Cold. (Photo: Yves)

Eager to get into some sun (Photo: Yves)

Eager to get into some sun (Photo: Yves)

We also got off-route, and put up some kind of variation that made for some spicy, harder, adventure climbing, which I realize feeds my soul in ways other kinds of climbing fail to. Even after I started climbing again after my accident, I never thought that I would be doing this sort of climbing ever again: very exposed, airy, super run-out, leader cannot afford to fall-kind of climbing. Being on lead the entire time was definitely a little taxing, mentally and physically, in retrospect. But in the moment, I found myself very comfortable in this zone, and taking on an “I have a job to do to get us out of here safely” kind of attitude. Yves’ extensive military experience lets us relate a bit on things like this.

The views, the views!

The views, the views!

The last few pitches, where we were off-route, reminded me quite a bit of the high alpine routes in the Sierra Nevadas, even if the former is limestone and the latter is granite. Both are similar in the wind, cold, heights, and exposure; and in both, you have to be careful of loose rock, be extremely focused and precise in mind and movement. It was incredible.


(Photo: Yves)

Our original plan had been to climb the 16 pitches to the top of La Grande Candelle. However, because it had already been so cold and windy on the first 9 pitches on Le Temple, and we knew it would be even windier and colder on the ridge the rest of the way up, we elected to exit the route at this point. Nevertheless, I was not disappointed to finish our climb and find the reverse approach in the daylight; sun, soul and heart singing from some incredible pitches.

The ridge line we elected not to get on because of the cold and wind

The ridge line we elected not to get on because of the cold and wind

Scrambling back down to get onto the main trail again

Scrambling back down to get onto the main trail again


A parting look back

En Vau – Les Américains and a nasty surprise

We headed to another and, again, very different, calanques on the 28th Feb. And again, there were no other climbers in sight, being well in the off-season (February is considered too cold and windy), and on an overcast, bordering-on-rain (we were caught in the downpour but, fortunately, near the end of the reverse approach) day.


The calanque is quite different in character to Sugiton and Morgiou because it is narrower, and the overcast day made for a very different atmosphere and feel. The hour+ approach down/uphill was fine for me, especially since Yves was carrying both ropes, I have a tank of a right leg, and the road/trail being in good condition.


You can see how much narrower this calanque is

(Photo: Yves)

(Photo: Yves)

I was quite excited to be climbing on the Les Américains secteur, where Gary Hemming and Royal Robbins had put up a route. Due to time-constraints, we elected to run up La Révolution (6a) (with me accidentally doing the first pitch of La Si-ray, instead).

In slimming navy blue (Photo: Yves)

I feel like I am dressed more like a cyclist than a climber here (Photo: Yves)

I like the picture below because I can recall what I was thinking in that moment: and that was how amazing, how incredible the fact I was standing in that spot overlooking the azure blue waters, even alive, let alone having gone from skiing, ice-climbing, rock-climbing in the space of less than 10 days.


(Photo: Yves)


Compression moves are a common thing for me, since I often have to unweight both legs to make a move (Photo: Yves)

Les Américains

Les Américains

In continued awe of my surroundings (Photo: Yves)

In continued awe of my surroundings (Photo: Yves)

After rushing back to the car to get out of the downpour, and upon arrival at a coffee shop to attend to some affairs, I was met with an unpleasant surprise. When I opened up my wallet, I discovered all my cash, credit cards, and bank cards had been neatly taken out of my wallet. My U.S. drivers license, health insurance, and other (non-financial) cards remained; how considerate. I knew Marseilles was known for its crime, but I did not expect leaving my wallet in the glove compartment, out of sight, in a remote parking lot, was in danger. These thieves were pros; they must have been making the rounds of fairly out of the way parking lots (we were the only car there when we arrived, and not many more cars were there upon our arrival back in the late afternoon).

Of course, the first step was cancelling all my cards and disputing any transactions that might have taken place. If I had been on my own, I would have figured out a way to get some kind of cash advance or credit card mailed to me. But, having Yves there was such a tremendous help, both practically for the rest of my stay in France, and also just in terms of emotional support for these kinds of small, but really really annoying, pain-in-the-bloody-arse kinds of incidents which can really be a big blow to an experience. Now, the overwhelming majority of my travels in my teens and 20’s was solo. But as I have gotten older, I have realized the value of traveling with a friend, partner etc. and makes me feel very appreciative of being on this with Yves.

The world: vast and small

What are the chances that on your Boston to Frankfurt flight (en route to Paris to meet Person A):

  1. You decide to try checking in online for an air carrier you do not typically fly on
  2. You decide to change your seat
  3. You decide to fashion a sling and carabiner to hold your travel pillow to the exterior of your backpack
  4. Airplane neighbour (Person B) asks if you are a climber, because the coloured tape I have on my carabiner is likely indicative of someone who actually climbs
  5. Person B lives in Australia and is traveling to Frankfurt for work
  6. You tell Person B of your upcoming travel plans to climb near Marseilles with a friend who you were just ice-climbing with in Chamonix
  7. Person B asks, Wait, do you know Person A?
  8. Turns out Person B knows Person A from when they were both living in NYC and had climbed with him then

Yes, the world is both vast and small. It is quite wondrous.

Chamonix – Journey and arrival

Close to three weeks after departing for Chamonix, I am finally getting around to writing and posting about my experiences there and the surrounding areas. While I was on my big skiing road trip I felt compelled to blog about a place and/or experience quite quickly, so as not to forget details I wanted to document; and also so as not to let things build up so much that writing would feel overwhelming. I know that I have a tendency to be quite emotional/volatile when I am documenting my emotions and feelings soon after an event. While there is something to be said about letting time pass and processing thoughts, I am at that point where it feels like there is too much to write about.

This was my first visit to Chamonix, and came about by the kind invitation of my friend Yves who I stayed, skied, and ice-climbed with the entire time. I am surprised we were able to spend close to a fortnight with each other, in a small space and with each other all day, without killing each other. I could not have asked for a more accommodating, generous, and wonderful host.

My journey to Geneva got off to an inauspicious start. My original Boston to Montreal to Geneva route got completely wiped out after my original Boston to Montreal flight was cancelled due to weather (hard to believe since the snow was very light in Boston), and then my later Boston to Montreal flight was sure to be delayed thus ensuring I would miss my connecting flight. While I was pissed with Air Canada (there will be an Air Canada-shaming post later) for the original flight cancellation, I will say they did try hard to find an alternative and called me to ask me to come to the gate when I was outside security killing time for the later Boston to Montreal flight, when it was apparent I would miss my flight. After a bit of scrambling on their part, and even the gate attendant holding the departing plane for me while he made phone calls, I agreed to get on the Boston to Toronto, Toronto to London Heathrow (LHR), LHR to Geneva flights. Of course having to go through two connections instead of one did not make me happy, but the alternative was arriving in Geneva one day later versus 4 hours later. Connecting through Toronto and LHR did have me going through nice airports with plenty of amenities, and incidentally, places where I have family should I needed to spend a night/long time in each of these places.

It was a real treat to fly into Geneva on a sunny day; I could not believe it was wintertime. The views of the Alps in the distance (I think I was looking at Parc naturel regional du Haut-Jura) were spectacular. I was struck by how clear the water was in Lac Léman; it could have been an alpine lake, or even the clear waters on a Pacific Ocean beach. I was also struck by how much wealth there was, as I saw the châteaux and boat docks around the lake. We also know how the Swiss acquire(d) their wealth in a clandestine and dishonest manner, which leaves a rather bad taste in my mouth.

Yves picked me up in Geneva, and as we drove to the Chamonix-Mont Blanc valley, you could see the western part of the Mont Blanc massif. It was quite a sight to see the snowy peaks, including the Dômes de Miage and Mont Blanc behind it, but I knew more spectacular views awaited me in Chamonix.


Mont Blanc massif East (Source: Wikipedia)

Mont Blanc Massif West (Source: Wikipedia)

Mont Blanc Massif West (Source: Wikipedia)


Yves picked me up in Geneva, and as we drove to the Chamonix-Mont Blanc valley, you could see the western part of the Mont Blanc massif. It was quite a sight to see the snowy peaks, including the Dômes de Miage and Mont Blanc behind it, but I knew more spectacular views awaited me in Chamonix.

From left to right, you can see the peaks of the Aiguille du Grepon, Aiguille de Blâitiere, Aiguille du Peigne, Aiguille du Plan, and the Aiguille du Midi:

View of Aiguille des Charmoz to Aiguille du Midi from the town

View of Aiguille des Charmoz to Aiguille du Midi from the town

Chamonix church

Chamonix church

I also got my first taste of the hearty Savoie food of the region: ridiculous amounts of cheese smothering a baguette with big morel mushrooms on top, served with even more bread. This pretty much characterizes the cuisine of the region: simple, rich, hefty, mountain fare, developed and consumed by the farmers who occupied the region before it became a winter sports destination.

I had a little bit of time to myself the next morning, and as I walked through the town to sort out some lift ticket inquiries, I saw why the location of the village is so spectacular.

View of Brévant from the front door of where I was staying

View of Brévant from the front door of where I was staying

Chamonix is really quite uniquely situated in a valley surrounded by a lifetime of climbing/skiing/mountaineering. The peaks in this part of the Alps are so striking. I can see why it would be difficult to leave if you are an ambitious mountain (wo)man.

How can one tire of these views

How can one tire of these views

Yves brought up the good point that being surrounded by all these peaks and terrain can make a person feel a certain pressure. I am sure being surrounded by lots of very skilled skiers/climbers does not help. While I am not totally old, I think I am at a point in my life where orienting my life around chasing hard lines is not really practical any more, especially given my disability. Nevertheless, there is still an internal tension around leading a comfortable, financially-stable life, and being a bit more of a dirt-bag. While Cham was a great place to visit, and I would love to go back there for more climbing and skiing, Cham, for me, is not a practical choice for year-round, permanent living; I don’t have EU citizenship/residency, I don’t speak French, and there is not enough culturally/intellectually outside of winter sports.

I love that Cham is at the intersection of three countries and that we were driving so casually between Italy/France, France/Switzerland. It gets a lot of tourist traffic, but mostly from Europe/Britain. Goodness, there were a lot of Brits there. It is not ethnically diverse at all, but what mountain town is, I guess (I know I do a lot of “white people sports”). The search for the “perfect” mountain town for me continues…

Phelps Lake snowshoe


While I waited for my cortisone shot from yesterday to take effect and test skiing out tomorrow (Sunday), I decided to check out the Granite Canyon Trailhead area near Moose, WY, also within the Grand Teton National Park. Like Thursday’s snowshoe, the plowed road ends and you can snowshoe or cross-country ski in. I picked this starting point because it was not a long drive from me, but also known for being very quiet. Indeed, I had the entire place to myself and did not encounter a single person on my snowshoe to Phelps Lake. The only downside to such a quiet location was that I found myself having to break trail a lot of the way, but this was a good way to stay warm on this cold day. The temperature at the start of my snowshoe was -15 degF (-26 degC)and when I returned a few hours later, it was still negative Fahrenheit (-18 degC). I probably seem like a cold weather wimp, but I actually have no problems with these kinds of temperatures when the humidity is low.

A colder day today

A colder day today

Even though the pace of this kind of activity is slower than I like it to be all the time, the surroundings remind me of the serenity and sense of home these mountains bring to me. I would seriously consider making Jackson Hole home, or a part-time home, but employment opportunities and the health care infrastructure are rather poor here, and I would like to be closer to a major airport for international travel.

A slightly overcast morning

A slightly overcast morning




I had to veer off and break trail soon after this point


Phelps Lake was the reward for the solitude and breaking trail.


Phelps Lake and Mount Hunt and Prospector’s Mountain behind it


Prospector’s Mountain (11,240′)


I came across this van today and had to smile. Looks like someone else had the same idea as me…


A familiar looking set of stickers…

They must be as excellent a planner as I am if they are Swiss. They have probably been better on the execution part though :-/

I left this note on their van :)

I left this note on their van :)

I think the leg is doing better as it was not hurting as much as it did on Thursday’s snowshoe. I am keeping my fingers crossed tomorrow’s test on ski (singular) will be a smashing success.

The Peace of Wild Things

I needed to get out and recharge my very depleted batteries from the last fortnight of misfortunes. One of my favourite poems describes the sense of peace and home this morning in Grand Teton National Park.

A familiar place...

A familiar place…

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

–Wendell Berry


The light changes so quickly.

I knew that there was going to be a lot of snow but I didn’t realize just how deep it would be. It would make travel slow-going.


The snow bank came close to my shoulders


The end of the plowed road and start of the snow-shoeing.

I was eager for the sun to hit me.

I was eager for the sun to hit me.


Which it did.


An errant side track that led to nowhere. It was one of the few spots where there was an existing track of some kind.


I was quite interested in the touring possibilities in that gully.

Because of all the new snow, breaking trail was very tiring for me. I had to stop far far short of my original destination because I knew I had to save my left leg for the return journey back to the car, and also my lower right leg muscle was aching and I did not want to reduce the chances of skiing any further.


My tracks.


There was little danger of me exceeding the speed limit.

PT and orthopedic specialist appointments tomorrow – fingers crossed these will yield (fast) dividends so that I can ski.