Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Yesterday, while I was cleaning out my wardrobe in an attempt to streamline the ridiculous quantity of clothing (specifically, high-end sports/outdoor wear) I have, I came across a pair of ski pants that had my Kirkwood ski resort season pass 2009-10 attached to it. I broke down and cried. A lot of people don't know or forget that I was a big skier before my accident and derived almost the same joy from hucking off cliffs, picking a line down moguls, or negotiating a narrow couloir, as I did from climbing. I guess the parallels are many: pushing yourself physically in sometimes precarious physical conditions and situations in order to feel alive. I haven't attempted to ski (alpine and certainly not telemark) since my accident. For some reason, I was more interested in getting back into climbing first, and also feeling like climbing w/ one limb is more feasible than skiing without the use of my left quad/leg, especially since skiing is so quad-intensive. Sit-skiing does not appeal to me, again because I find extra equipment so off-putting for me at least. I might have the opportunity to try skiing when I am in Colorado for ABS Nationals. I'm not sure how I feel about it. Like climbing, maybe worried that I will feel incredibly sad that I can't ski like I used to.

I've also avoided climbing publications for the most part since my accident for emotional reasons. But today, I finally had some down time and decided to read a copy of Climbing magazine, that was mailed to me last year. It was not the easiest edition to read. It just so happened half the magazine was devoted to chronicling High Sierra routes i.e. routes that I had done. Looking at the pictures and descriptions of the climbs conjured mixed emotions, as always. Reading the approach information to these climbs made me feel sad as I know long, arduous approaches are out of my reach now. But there was also a small part of me that tried to be a little positive and tell myself, hey, you can look back and actually say you went to these places and did these climbs.

My climbing has improved though. On Monday I threw down some 10's on lead that surprised me. I've developed some inside elbow pain though :( So I have to lay off a little, avoid pull-ups and lock-offs for a few days, that kind of thing. I was actually marveling to myself that it was pretty cool to be in the (familiar) position of balancing training/getting stronger and injury-prevention. Post-accident, I never thought that I would be able to push myself hard enough physically to have these concerns.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Fund-raising for ABS Nationals and para-climbing competitions

A few weeks ago, my friend who runs the Boston Adaptive Climbing Program asked me if I was interested in competing in para-climbing competitions. I have missed training and competing in sports these past few years, so the idea was appealing. But I was also worried that I would develop an unhealthy attitude towards the whole thing. I didn't want climbing and how well I did or didn't climb to be a single failure point in my life, like it was before. And I also didn't know if I wanted to or could put in the time in the climbing gym to prepare for climbing competitions.

It didn't take me long to make up my mind and say Yes, though. Some of the reasons are selfish. I just want to climb more, harder etc and enjoy the camaraderie of climbers. It is also a nice ego-boost when people think you are bad-ass for even climbing at all. I'm still insecure/un-confident enough that I sometimes need such external reinforcement. But I'm also motivated by the idea that I can perhaps show others that they do not need to be defined or limited by a disability. How kick-ass would it be if someone learned of my story, saw me climb and decided they could take on whatever challenge (physical or otherwise) they wanted to?

Since I am a pre-med student these days, I'm not rolling in money. I am trying to raise money to fly to ABS Nationals in Colorado Springs next February 2014, and I would also love to take part at the GoPro Games in Vail next June. If I place in the top-3 at ABS Nationals I will be able to represent the US at the International Para-climbing Championships in Spain next September. At the ABS Nationals I will be competing alongside able-bodied folks, but will be in the "Neurological" category.

I feel kind of douchey asking for donations, but if you feel like supporting me and this cause, please donate via the PayPal link located on the right hand side of this page. The money will go towards flights, accommodation and entry fees for these competitions. Don't worry, it isn't going towards a new rack or anything like that.

While the event in February is a bouldering comp the para-climbing championships will be sport-climbing (leading). I posted a video of me leading indoors last week in a previous post, but I'll put it here again.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hey guys, I can climb!

Wow, 6 months in between posts. While my posts have not been prolific, the last 6 months have been.

In August I went back to Tuolumne and got in more climbing, getting more comfortable leading, learning how to adapt my movements to my new body.

This Autumn, I decided to join a local climbing gym that opened up close to where I live. I had a lot of reservations about climbing indoors, even. I was concerned about how self-conscious I would feel, how I would be comparing myself to how I used to climb pre-accident, what other people would be thinking watching me flail up routes. As usual, the "Fuck It" attitude came in; I had to start somewhere.

I started bouldering because I was too embarrassed to find people to top-rope or lead with. I thought, who would want to climb with me?? Bouldering is usually a very sociable activity. You have the whole peanut gallery encouraging you, giving you beta on a problem...but I found it a little isolating (and still do) because other climbers couldn't really shout beta out to me since I had to approach these problems completely differently.

I started figuring out how to adapt around not having the use of your left leg. I high-step with my right foot A LOT; I use my body's momentum a lot and swing for left-hand holds, in particular; I probably do more lock-offs than normal/required. My attitude was/is that I just have to get super-strong everywhere else to compensate for my leg. I'm not sure when exactly the shift occurred, but at some point I made the transition from looking at routes, seeing all these moves intended for the left-foot and feeling discouraged/sad/frustrated, to just looking up at a route, studying it and thinking "Oh, how am I going to do this move?" The transformation in my attitude and shedding of my self-consciousness has surprised me.

My experiences in the climbing gym and interactions with other folks have been interesting. I climb with a climbing shoe on my right foot and a regular sneaker on my left foot and a knee brace on my left leg. The brace just prevents my knee from buckling/collapsing or hyper-extending (at least I hope it does!) I really don't like jumping off/falling down from high boulder problems so I try to down-climb as much as possible. I much prefer roped climbing, but probably should boulder more to improve technique and strength. I'm not really sure what people are thinking when they see me climb. I know many think I just have a temporary knee-injury; I get the "What happened to your knee" question a lot. I usually don't give them the full-story. Some people clam up after I do tell them that my leg is partly paralyzed.

Getting back into climbing has been wonderfully healing though. I realized that a lot of people DO want to and enjoy climbing with me, and there is something just so natural about interacting with other climbers. I started getting involved with the Boston Adaptive Climbing group and volunteer in their clinics and have found a wonderful friend in the coordinator. I had forgotten how easy it is to make friends through climbing. I also made a few trips to the Gunks, and was reminded of how at home I feel on stone. This past Friday, I was climbing with friends; the day was coming to an end, the sun was setting, it was very cold. As I was belaying my friend on the second pitch of a climb, and saw the last rays of sunlight hit him as he climbed an arete, with the clear sky in the background, I was overwhelmed with this feeling of immense joy and gratitude. How fucking lucky were we to be able to be out here and doing this?? I am not a glass-half-full person by nature, and was extremely depressed (often suicidal) for a good while after my accident, so to experience that feeling was astonishing. I suppose time is a great healer.

A few weeks ago, my friend asked me if I was interested in competing in para-climbing competitions. I didn't say Yes immediately for a few reasons. I didn't want to get completely obsessed about climbing again and having my moods rise and fall with how well I was climbing. I also didn't know if I could commit the time to putting in hours in the climbing gym and training. But, in the end, I said Yes :) So I will be going to ABS Nationals in Colorado Springs in February 2014. If I place in the top-3 I will be eligible to represent the U.S. at the para-climbing championships in Spain next September. I'm working on fund-raising to finance these expenses as, being a pre-med student, I'm not rolling around in money these days.

Here is a video of me climbing a steep over-hanging route at Brooklyn Boulders in Somerville this past Sunday. The top part of "the tongue" is almost horizontal, so I expend a lot of upper-body strength, with my feet cutting out each time. I had never seen myself climb before, so I was very curious to see what I looked like climbing with one-leg. Lots of room for improvement but it doesn't look quite as bad as I imagined.

(The music isn't particularly relevant/significant. It's just a song I am rather enamored with and am listening to a lot right now :))

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

No big deal, yet a really big deal

I walked all the way around The Stanford Dish for the first time yesterday. And today.

I know many people who thought this would never be possible.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Kind words

One of the things that Steve (my neighbour on my first plane ride to Kauai and now a good friend) said in response to an email update of mine was: "You shouldn’t doubt yourself one bit, or feel inferior to anyone.  You can see by now that there is nothing to have high insecurity or self-doubt about.  Try to turn the corner to focus on the many of life’s challenges, not just the frustration that you can’t do physically what you did in your 20’s. "

Simple words, but the part about insecurity and self-doubt really touched me. I do feel that this trip has helped a lot in terms of recognizing that there is a lot more to me than just being able or not able to climb, run etc. and having a disability. In some ways I did feel slightly inferior because of my physical limitations, but I don't think I feel that way anymore. Not to worry, I'm sure I'll find something else to feel insecure about :)

It was wonderful to see Heather in Reno yesterday. Heather was the first person to my hospital bedside in Reno, before my first surgeries and she had never seen me out of bed and upright before; so it was wonderful for both of us for me to swing my backpack onto my back, walk towards her and give her a big hug.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

An eventful Monday climbing

Met Clint at the Lembert Dome picnic area. Really glad that he drove up to climb and hang out with me. All the photos below are courtesy of Clint.

Started off on Golfers route on low profile dome...much longer and more runout than either of us remember. I was belaying Clint in the furnace so I was pretty dehydrated, sunburned etc by the time we were done there. No matter. We decide to do Holdless Horror on Dozier. Neither of us remembered the approach so there was a fair bit of bush whacking and we got a late start. Still a fair bit of snow at the base - alpine climbing! My energy level was very low and I was not at all psyched abt getting up this thing...but I thought, if Alex Honnold can do the Half Dome - el cap link up, I can stick it out for a couple of pitches.

First pitch. A snowy start.
The climb started off hot and blazing. I have ridiculous looking tan lines on my back as a result. Clint and I were not too psyched abt the second pitch where it gets a bit wide. There were ominous looking clouds in the distance and we saw rain to the north and heard the thunder.  At that point we decided it would be better to get higher up and then look for the rap route to the left of the climb. then we got hailed on. Then rained on, then the wind picked up. Wonderful. After some traversing and down climbing, we find the rap station. We descend as quickly as possible, down a bloody waterfall, wet ropes and all. Took at a couple of full rope length raps; I'm still not a huge fan of rapping. Or lowering. Pretty psyched to get out of my soaking wet shoes and shirt into my soaking wet approach shoes and jacket which had been left out of my pack in the open. More meandering through the forest for awhile before we get back to the car just before dark. Race to the Mobil station for a humungous bowl of veggie chilli (still cant believe I ate the whole thing, such a glutton). In short, awesome day :) I think clint and I are pretty good people to be around when climbing situations get a little iffy - I was glad to have him as my partner.

Days like that remind me how climbing combines so many different things to make it the ultimate activity/sport.

A long wet final rappel. Still not a huge fan of it.

At least we caught a double rainbow at the end. Notice the soaking wet pants, jacket and bloody knee. Good times.

First multi-pitch and lead post-accident

Did South Crack on Stately Pleasure Dome w/ Kent. The approach was a little tiring for me, and I was slow heading up and on the descent. Built my first natural anchor, hanging belay, and did my first lead. Good to get those fears out of the system. Kent was a wonderful partner - we had a lot of fun climbing and hanging out together. Made it to the Mobil station for dinner and some live music, then to Benton Hot Springs for a sunset soak, before heading back to 120 to spend the night off the road there. What a wonderful day.

Still had to get over the fear of leaning back on my anchor

Top of the climb

Leading. I sewed that crack shut.

First time in Tuolumne since accident

Wei came up for the day to climb in TM with me. The last time I had been to TM before my accident was with Wei too. I remember we had a great time climbing American Wet Dream and thrashing about on Galen's Crack. This time, our/my goals/expectations were significantly lower.

We started off on Puppy Dome and then climbed at Daff Dome. The approach and descent was quite difficult for me. I think it was the first time I really just enjoyed being outside and enjoying our surroundings and view, regardless of how shitty I was climbing.

Moving up the crack awkwardly

Fairview Dome across from us. One good looking dome.

Drove back to the Valley to have dinner with Kent. He had brought up all the vegetables, spices, grains to make a fantastic dinner, knowing that I did not have my usual cookware with me. We hung out around a fire, drinking wine and eating chocolate. A wonderful day.

An Eastside day

Went back to Rock Creek to hike to Ruby Lake. Still some snow at elevation. I was moving quite slowly today; my left leg tends to drag when it is tired and I was tripping a lot :(

I met Patrick and Holly, two of the people who helped with my evacuation the day of my accident. I didn't even know what they looked like and didn't know how our encounter would go. I didn't break down in tears or anything like that. It was just like hanging out w/ two fellow climbers. It was wonderful to be able to see them under better circumstances. Holly, in particular, asked very good, probing questions about dating, sex, etc. post-accident. We hung out at open-mic night at the Black Sheep coffee shop in Bishop. There were some, erm, interesting performances.

Patrick, it turns out, is a guitar and banjo player. Here he is performing w/ another local climber (Patrick is on the left playing the banjo). Ugh, trouble loading video.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

11,000+ ft - Rock Creek to Mono Pass

Cold, rain, snow. Loved it.

Near the beginning of hike, around 10,500 ft
Wearing a down-jacket and another jacket underneath my rain-jacket. And yet, I didn't wear pants...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Convict Lake

Morning stroll around Convict Lake. It was a nice 3-mile walk, w/ some uneven terrain. Even now, when I look up at the mountains, I look for lines to ski down the couloirs, or climbing up to a peak. I wonder if that will always be in me.

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Second Chance

I just learned about the death of Mason Robison, a Montana climber, on the Muir Wall on El Cap last week. I didn't know him but his death affected me greatly for some reason. Robison was an experienced aid-climber who just had shitty luck. He had placed a cam behind a loose flake/block which dislodged under his body weight. As he fell, the block cut his lead line, and Robison fell 230 ft to the end of his (static) haul line. As I read more about Mason and learned more about him as a vibrant life and not just a fatality, I felt incredibly selfish about my feelings. I'm alive and still have the ability to experience joy and beautiful things; Mason is not.

I listened to a lot of James Taylor after reading this thread. That song, "Shower the People" is stuck in my head.

There were many poignant posts on SuperTopo following this accident. Here are a few passages that stood out to me:

“It's hard to explain why we put ourselves at risk. It's just.. what makes us happy and if we don't follow our dreams then we don't feel fully alive. Perspective on life slaps you right in the face when contemplating a hard or dangerous move. The love for my family and friends and the love I have for them becomes crystal clear. It becomes the only thing that matters.” – ElCapPirate via SuperTopo

“Being able to persue (sic) ones dreams is the gift we all have, but those with real courage are the ones that follow that dream.”  - Delhi Dog

"This week's accidents hit closer to our climber' cores as they can not be chalked up to inexperience or a mistake. The thin veil of confidence between us and oblivion is dissolved and we get a view of true reality. We feel bonded to each as climbers but also to our fallen brothers because our fallen brothers are us. If you are a climber you have no choice but to answer the call and if not for luck and grace there go everyone of us a thousand times over. I have often thought if I should get the chop while riding the wind and granite on the sharp end that my only wish is that it be quick and absolute.
I take comfort in knowing my fellow brothers had quick deaths and did not suffer.
I do not feel waste in these deaths the way I do so many others. Sometimes during the course of living our wonderful lives accidents just happen.
RIP brothers and to the families please find peace in the happiness your loved ones found up on those glorious walls. It is an experience in ridiculousness, in magic and in the absurd and it is a spiritual epiphany and celebration of being alive greater than most people can imagine." - Riley Wyna 

"Mason's death is a terrible and sad reminder that our skill and experience is not always enough to control nature's vagaries. I agree that risk is an intrinsic part of the appeal of adventure climbing, but the appeal comes from our ability to neutralize risks with skill, cunning, and self-control. The trouble is that we don't always succeed, and even when we do we may be mistaking good luck for evidence of our ability to control our environment."- rgold

First time on rock since accident

Saturday may 25, 2013

Met Kent Richards, a fellow from Supertopo who had offered to climb with me. This would be my first time touching rock since my accident. I wish I could say my returning to climbing was a triumphant one, but in reality, it fucking sucked. I struggled up climbs I used to fly up on lead. Huffing and puffing, carrying my extra weight, didn’t help matters. I followed Kent on jamcrack 5.9, one of my first leads (and an easy one at that), and while I did not hang, it still felt shitty to clumsily make my way up, especially while there were a bunch of people below watching me.

I looked enviously at the toned, muscled shoulders and backs for the female climbers, a physique I used to have.

I actually backed off a climb one of very few times in my life. About 1/3 of the way up Black is Brown at Church Bowl, I asked Kent to lower me. I was gutted. I hung my head in shame, despair…but at the same time, tried to remind myself that this was just like learning how to walk all over again…baby-steps. Yeah right.

Sunday May 26, 2013

Driving from Valley to Mammoth Lakes, via Tioga Pass, Tuolumne and the Mobil Station.

So many mixed emotions, some expected, many not.

Boggy Tuolumne Meadows – made me recall so many bug-filled approaches and climbs. Looking up on Lembert Dome, I recalled NorthbyNorthwest, my first 10c lead, and my subsequent lead fall on the second pitch that resulted in a broken collar-bone. Still had a hard time looking up at the monoliths and being reminded of all the climbs I did on them, remembering approaches that are either impossible or prohibitively difficult for me to do anymore. I miss carrying my weight in climbing gear.

Driving to the Mobil Station, stopping there, overlooking Mono Lake…what made me sad was thinking about all the times I went there with Justin, eating fish tacos, camping just outside the east entrance to the park.

Driving down 395 reminded me of my relationship with Scott, when we would go to Mammoth Lakes to ski, or on the way to climbing Mt Whitney. It was hard imagining summiting the highest point in the contiguous United States, remembering what a lean machine I was.

What has made this trip hard is remembering the relationships I was in when I was visiting these places. Makes me feel very lonely, worried about finding love again, kicking myself for past mistakes, missed opportunities.

I never thought I would say this, but I might actually be okay with not climbing ever again.

A trip of many firsts

I am in Mammoth Lakes, CA right now, after arriving in the Bay Area and spending a couple of days in Palo Alto and Yosemite. I will take advantage of my connectivity while I can.

I had a bit of time between the end of Finals and the beginning of summer orgo, and so decided to head out to CA for a bit. I had my climbing gear, camping gear, a rental car, a return flight home and no other plans. I knew it was going to be an interesting trip, emotionally. This was going to mark my first time entering a climbing gym, touching rock outdoors, being in Yosemite since my accident. Here are passages transcribed from my journal documenting some of my thoughts/feelings.

Wed May 22, 2013
Went to Planet Granite-Sunnyvale with Blase, Serene, Wei and Sam. First time to a climbing gym since my accident and still haven't fully processed emotions. Felt good to move body like that but also felt extremely frustrating and sad because: I couldn't use my left foot holds, I struggled on climbs that wouldn't have even been warmups for me, being super-pumped from doing so many pullups and not having any hand/fore-arm/finger strength anymore.

Felt like a big, fat, lard-ass, as evidenced by the photos.

Here I am, getting worked on a 10a. I am not wearing a climbing shoe on my left foot.

Next, I gave crack-climbing a go. I was confident that if I could get solid hand-jams, I could use just one foot to move up the crack. I made it up clean, but my right ankle was super-sore from doing all the cranking.

It was weird to see the same faces at the climbing-gym 2.5 years on. I wonder if they recognized me in my post-accident body, or knew of my story.

A first step at least. I'm beginning to think it is okay for me not to be able to climb at a high-level, or even at all again; that it is okay not to have a perfectly lean, skinny machine for a body...

I want to be able to devote myself to a career and new life - am I still grasping on to the past? What can I not let go? Getting to a satisfactory climbing level will take so much physical and mental effort - shouldn't I devote those resources to becoming a doctor?

Had dinner at Google with Eu-jin and Serene. I miss the relative cushiness of that job, but also wonder how I would be fulfilled by working there again.

Thur. May 23, 2013
The Valley.
 Terrible traffic out of the Bay Area, but once I was in the foothills, I realised how beautiful parts of the drive to Yosemite are. It was always something I thought of as a chore, a necessary inconvenience to get to climbing. I wasn't prepared for my first glimpse of Half-Dome as I drove into the park. Note to self: don't listen to Sigur Ros when you are feeling melancholy.

The moon was full and low as I entered the park. I could not bring myself to look up at El Cap, Leaning Tower, Yosemite Falls etc. Looking at them made me feel too sad and whistful, about how I could get up these formations before rather than be stuck on the ground looking up.

I had procured a campsite in Upper Pines. Hearing some climbers in the adjacent site talk about their climbs - 5.9's, 5.10's that were walks in the park for me before...was this a mistake???

Really looking forward to meeting Kent tomorrow and then Gregg in Mammoth next week. I think company will make me feel better.

Half-Dome loomed over me as I got to the Valley floor. I couldn't take it in. Not yet.

As I cathed myself in the campground restroom, I felt a strange mixture of sadness and slight indifference - this is my reality. What choice do I have but to deal with it?

Setting up my tent alone, driving alone...I thought a lot about love, past loves, finding it and experiencing it again. The shared experiences climbing, camping etc with Justin contributed so much to our love - what if there is no activity I can share with a future partner? What if my preoccupation with medical school ruins my prospects of love, marriage, perhaps children?

I don't want to be sitting here at the picnic table, writing in the dark. I want to be cooking a shared meal with a partner, enjoying the tasty calories after a day of exertion.

Thinking about cutting this trip short - too painful.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Nice Outside Magazine article

This article came out of a Paradox Sports ice-climbing weekend I attended in Ouray, CO.