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.

(Almost) Chile-bound – a hedge pays off

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like it when:

  • You cancel plans (say, climbing or skiing ones) because of forecasted weather but the weather ends up being favourable
  • Finding out the item/service/commodity you just bought went on sale shortly after your purchase
  • Make the decision to change airline travel plans e.g. because with imperfect information you are quite sure you will miss your connecting flight; don’t get on your original flight; and later find out you could have made your connecting flight, which would have saved you a great deal of trouble.

Fortunately, #3 did not happen today.

This round of travel involves many steps, all tightly interwoven and dependent on each other. Like blocks in an igloo. Or like this engineering marvel: a ring created out of Pringle chips. If you remove one chip, the entire structure collapses.

Getting to my final destination of Nevados de Chillán required:

  1. Flying from Boston to Miami
  2. Catching the connecting flight from Miami to Santiago, Chile
  3. Flying from Santiago (SCL) to Concepción (CCP), Chile
  4. Ground transport from Concepción to Las Trancas

Many steps: BOS to MIA to SCL to CCP to Nevados Chillán.

It was only when I was looking at why the travel time from Miami to Santiago was so much longer than I expected (~9 hours) that I learned just how large Colombia (440,800 sq. miles), Peru (496,200 sq. miles), and Bolivia (424,200 sq. miles) are in size! Texas (268,597 sq. miles) is super dinky in comparison.

Closer up of Chile stops/destination in relation to each other. Note the scale at the very bottom of the image.

As I write this, I should be in Miami by now with plenty of time to spare for my connecting flight to Santiago. But I’m not because I made the decision at the check-in counter to change my flight to be a full 24 hours later (same time tomorrow) based on estimates from non-airline (in this case, I am flying American Airlines) websites (e.g. Google which is based on FlightAware); forecasted weather for the next few hours and tomorrow; and predicting how a ton of flights were going to be backed up. The original departure time was supposed to be 1645 hr. This was pushed to 1730 hr this morning, which still gave me enough time to make the connection. We continued to check flight status right before leaving the apartment, and during the drive to the airport. AA continued to stand by this 1730 hr departure, despite predictions from FlightAware of a delay of over an hour. As of right now, this is the status of that flight:

Original departure time was 4.45p then 5.30pm. The plane still hasn’t taken off.

Of course, so that airlines can minimize the official delay time, the flight has been pushed off from the gate for a long time now, and just sitting on the runway waiting for takeoff, with passengers wanting to gouge their eyes out, I’m sure.

So yes, I can now feel vindicated about my decision, but it really was not clear at the time. Firstly, my SCL to CCP domestic flight was on  a separate ticket with a partner airline that would have been the same airline I would have flown had I kept that leg as an AA reservation. Nevertheless, AA could not make changes here. I did this to save a couple hundred dollars. Maybe the moral of this is to try and have all legs of a journey on one airline.

Before I made the decision to shift my departure to be 24 hours later, I needed to see if I could change my internal Chile flight and what this would cost. Comically, when I called LATAM customer service and tried to do this, the agent told me their system was down for maintenance. WTF. Who schedules maintenance on a fuckin’ weekday afternoon. So I didn’t know what was going to happen there. But I was also sure I was going to miss the connection in Miami so I’d just have to sort that out later.

The next complicating factor was travel insurance would likely not cover the additional and non-trivial expense of having to get a separate private shuttle from CCP to Las Trancas due to my late arrival, if my original flight actually had taken off in time to make my connection.

I might be wrong, but it seems like the pain and inconvenience of travel is rarely conveyed. On the whole, it is a relatively small price to pay for the reward of the destination and experience, but it is still very much a necessary evil to me. The neuropathy in my left leg from the Spinal Cord Injury, inability to sleep at all on planes (sleep is a big issue for me in every day life too), and the back pain from all the hardware holding me together makes me loathe/dread flying or any other kind of transportation that involves sitting for long periods of time.

I’m not thrilled that my layover in SCL is now 7+ hours instead of the original 4 hours as they did not have seats on the same flight the next day (I was told by the organizer that the whole process of disembarking, collecting bags, rechecking bags, and getting onto the domestic flight took them ~3 hours yesterday). But I would have been a lot more unhappy if I was stuck in Miami overnight or Santiago for who knows how long. I was lucky that Scott was there to drive me to the airport, wait with me to see how things transpired, and drive us back; and be able to sleep in my own bed tonight. As Tim (the organizer) said, you’re the best person in the whole group for this to have happened to. Yay, I’ll take one for the team.

In any case, I’ll be going back to Chile for very different reasons and under very different circumstances from 8 years ago when I was in Santiago. It will be an experience, that is for sure.


Climbing under castles

I love revisiting a place and seeing it from a different perspective. In this case, I returned to Sintra only a few days after I first went there, to check out the climbing a bit. This was my first (and only) climbing experience in Portugal, and it was a nice introduction.

Routes right under Castelo dos Mouros

The routes were short (the longest route we did was three short pitches), and sport climbing, but thoroughly enjoyable with some pretty great views. I mean, how many crags have a view of a castle??!

View of Palácio da Pena from a belay

Being July, we only climbed for a half day before it got too hot.

View of Sintra from another belay. You can see the Quinta da Regaleira in the left foreground

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the granite here. Certainly there were some dirty parts, but the routes that were clean had great rock.

Some quality rock here

Sintra is noticeably cooler than Lisbon. So while it was a warm day, I was super glad not to be in blazing hot Lisbon. We did not see any other climbers, which made for a great climbing experience. I guess that is not too surprising given that climbing is not hugely popular in Portugal, and this area is also not super popular. I’ll certainly bring some light climbing gear with me the next time I am in Portugal.

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.

Gorge du Verdon

There were/hardly any climbers in the Verdon in February, due to the cold temperatures. But since I do not live in/near this part of France, I had to take advantage of the opportunity to climb here. We had our sights set on L’Eperon Sublime (7a), but had to bail. It was still quite the experience.


Gorge du Verdon in the setting light


Dropping into the gorge required a fair number of rappels

Dropping into the gorge required a fair number of rappels


Lots of caves and winding water

A familiar position... (Photo: Yves)

A familiar position… (Photo: Yves)

More familiar poses, leg brace and all (Photo: Yves)

More familiar poses, leg brace and all (Photo: Yves)




Moustieres Sainte Marie: Another unexpected treat

A wondrous view of Notre Dame de Beauvoir at night

A wondrous view of Notre Dame de Beauvoir at night from the village

The tiny village of Moustiers Sainte-Marie was a total surprise! I only decided to stay here because of the availability of budget accommodation near Gorge du Verdon. Little did I know that we would be seeing one of the “most beautiful villages in France” (it’s official), set against limestone cliffs.

View of the village: out of a postcard

View of the village: out of a postcard

One of the most notable features of the town is a large hanging star hanging between two rock formations high above the village. The history of the star is quite interesting. Legend has it that a chevalier of Blacus was taken prisoner by the Saracens (Arabs/Muslims) during a crusade in the Holy Land. The knight vowed to suspend a chain with a star above Moustiers if he returned. Apparently no one knows how the star was originally hung in place. The current star is 1.15m (4 feet) across, hung on a 225m long chain suspended between two cliffs, and originally placed in 1957. When the chain snapped ten years ago, the star was rehung by a helicopter.


The Notre Dame de Beauvoir was one of the great pilgrimage churches of the Middle Ages. It is always really cool to visit sites like this, and imagine all the pilgrims ascending these steps and crossing these thresholds before you.

As you ascend the staircase up, you pass by these small pillars, chemin de croix, where pilgrims would stop to pray at along the way.

A chemin de croix along the staircase up to the church

A chemin de croix along the staircase up to the church


The entrance to the chapel

Unfortunately, the chapel was closed.


I was also unaware that Moustiers was so famed for a particular kind of pottery, Faience. Faience comes from the northern Italian region, Faenza, from which these wares were exported. Until today, I was not aware of the distinction between tin-based enamel (Faience) and lead-based enamel, say.

Because of the time of year, many things in the village were not open. As a result, our dining options for the evening were limited. We could not find the canteen the hotel staff pointed out, but it is pretty great to eat at a Michelin star restaurant (Les Santons) without knowing it, instead! We were wondering why the food was so good…