Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Resilience? Mind Over Bone? or Just Some Pig-Headedness ...

Here I was on the 20th of January a bit less than five weeks ago. I had broken my left wist when I took a fall skiing. I was free riding in terrain in a heavy snow storm with very poor visibility. I slowly traversed a very steep slope that unknown to me was above a small cliff. The lip of new snow broke away and I fell three to four meters on to a hard landing, ejected from the bindings and impacted my wrist. The injury, of course, couldn't have happened at a worse time ... A few close friends knew about this. Shit, I hate being injured.

I had courses in which I was both registered as a participant in for my own continuing training and education as well as courses that I was leading as an instructor -- predominantly with ice climbing. I had to cancel the work, but I was determined to  partake in the courses that would be prerequisite certifications for the American Mountain Guides Association. I also wanted to keep commitments to some friends for ice climbing and ski mountaineering in the west Alps in the second half of February and into March.

I went through the standard check ups after a three day hospital stay. I had the cast changed three times as is standard procedure. The wrist was pretty severely broken. The operation, which happened on the evening after my accident on the 19th of January took over three hours and was a little complicated. The surgeon put in a plate with eleven screws, and basically asked, "What the fuck did you do?" The photo above shows my unauthorised, super customised tweaks to the soft cast that was put on just before my trip to the west Alps on the 12th of February. This allowed me to ...

Climb this easy couloir in Cogne on the 20th of February. It was my first time using ice tools on the real stuff. I had done some easy indoor climbing just two weeks after the injury. I also did swings and hangs with my ice tools, plus other supplemental training. I felt that my wrist was healing up well. I believe that the body is really magnificent in it's ability to adapt and recover. it is a phenomenal system that needs to be listened to with a calm mind. It then tells you what it needs. Mine needed to move, climb, ski.

When I was first climbing in the the indoor gym, about two weeks after surgery, one of the regulars asked me, "Are you allowed to climb?" Well in one sense, of course not. In another, why do you need permission? How many doctors do you know that have any idea about climbing? Less about ice climbing. And none that know my body. Even in the very good Austrian health care system, you go to your short follow up appointments, that take a handful of minutes at best, and are not really regarded as an individual but as a case with a standard protocol. It is very clear that as an individual patient you are not really seen or heard. 

As you heal and recover, any stress applied in the right doses causes adaptations and improvements in the body. The trick is listening to your body and finding the right dose, which fluctuates day to day. The happy Joe face above shows just how very lucky I feel being in a narrow, rocky couloir with perfect styrofoam snow and solid ice. I was, however still climbing with my customised soft cast. The previous week, I was also wearing a cast as I completed some avalanche courses (as a participant) in Chamonix. I had to be a little imaginative with glove systems as I was skinning and skiing at that time.

I removed the cast. At the last check up about ten days prior, the examining doctor said I could have the cast removed on the 23rd of February. He said it would be no problem to have someone remove it in a hospital in France or Italy. I Just took it off myself. My wrist looked like a deformed sausage. i guess the hand modelling career has gone the way of my underwear modelling career because the wrist scar complements a pretty good scar I have somewhere else from a bouldering mishap.

Yesterday, 25th February, I got a little ambitious. I climbed a nice little 35 meter stretch of ice at WI3 to warm up and then did the approach to "Lillaz Gully" in Valille. I have soloed the gully before. It goes at WI4 and M5, or maybe it's WI3 and M-whatever. It doesn't matter. It's a nice couloir with steep ice steps, snow bowls and about ten meters of mixed climbing. I think it's around 200m long. It all went well.

Another happy face just before the crux ice and mixed pitch in the gully. I climbed with my wrist completely free of the cast and without using a removable splint. The range of motion is of course restricted still.  My wrist is weak and painful in certain positions. But everyday will bring more mobility and strength.

An old, injured climbers standard treatment: a beer and ibuprofen. Icing the wrist, range of motion exercises and stretching are also clearly helpful. But, thank God for 'vitamin-I'.

Injuries make me feel as if I am behind a gate and I can't come out and play. I hate the state of being injured, yet I know that this state has come about because it is exactly what i need to learn a little tidbit about myself. The how and why of how you got yourself injured is something that absolutely needs to be examined. You find out that the injury is not something that has happened to you, it is something that you brought about. This realisation comes about by reflecting on your inner state at the time of your injury with honesty -- it is usually very enlightening.

It is far better and much nicer to be able to choose when to kick back and take it easy instead of being forced to. However injuries are always tools to learn about yourself and they end up teaching you very valuable lessons. Of course, it's always good to have the luck and good fortune to survive your injuries. That realization right there is a pretty good lesson.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Off-Piste Skiing Course / Schitechnik im Gelände OeAV-Salzburg

On Sunday, March 18, 2018 I will have a one-day course for the OeAV-Salzburg focusing on Off-Piste Skiing (Schifahren im Gelände). The course is through the Alpines Ausbildung Programm. For all the details click here.

I also have a Intermediate Ski Touring Course (Schitouren Fortgeschritten) Friday evening, 23. March through Sunday 25. March 2018. For information click here, and then to register follow the link under the course description or click here.

It looks like there is only one place left for the one-day ski technique course on 18. March. If there is more interest, I will add another unit of the course in March. Contact me directly using the contact form on the right if you want to do the course but did not get a spot.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Training, It's All Training Anyways *

Well, we all want to train, at least that is what we tell ourselves. You work hard, you're busy, there's a lot to do, a lot going on. Training...

It is never optimal. You're too tired, didn't sleep enough. There's that nagging injury. It's raining.
There was no ice in early winter in Vermont when I was there in 2016. Here I was with time to use to get fit, train, get better... but what to do? I didn't accept that I was screwed. I built a training wall and got after it. You see the small logs at the bottom right on the ground? Those were the trees I cut down by hand with an axe as I cleared the land. My training was climbing the "ply-ice", chopping down trees & splitting wood.
Later, some ice formed around the area. By a freak of nature, an ice drip formed on the telephone pole in our front yard. Don't ask me how, I have no idea. I climbed it and thought of it as a gift for the iceless purgatory I endured in November and December. It was a first ascent, free solo, I named it "Pole Dance", WI5. Maybe I should have shone better style, and have done it with less clothes?
Some people peel the casing from their Weißwurst before dipping it in the sweet mustard and washing it down with a swig of Weißbier. Some don't. I first saw that peeling thing somewhere in a finer establishment in Munich - too fancy for me. that's for sure. I just eat the sucker. No peeling. I want everything that life has to offer, casing and all.
On this day, I wanted to climb something else. The days goal held the lure of a test-piece, tick-list, sparkling little nugget that i could wear on my sleeve to satiate my ego. The object of my wanting wasn't fully formed and wasn't safe - though it was running with a small cascade of ice-cold water. My partner and I climbed the routes next door. They were easier, but we got pumped out silly until we couldn't hold on to our tools any longer. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
Consciously or unconsciously, we all spend time in this corner. Try to recognise it sooner and sooner in yourself and your soul will appreciate it. Laugh at yourself when the realisation hits you. Maybe reflect a bit on why you've gotten mired in the gooey mess.
There are prices to be paid when you start smelling the remnants of sitting in the wrong corner of the bar. So you change, reinvent yourself, try to do a little better. "Wow!", you think to yourself, "this is great!" But, some people get threatened. You have left the main stream. Bonatti climbed the north face of the Matterhorn alone, in winter, by a new route. He persevered, fought for his life, suffered. What happened when he gave one of his first presentations to fellow climbers about his groundbreaking assent?  His tires were slashed on his car outside of the venue. Don't expect a parade with roses. It ain't gonna happen...
So, I try to just do my thing and smile at all of it. The freezing cold, the wind, the rain, the less than ideal conditions - both internally and externally - and just let it be for what it is.
At the end of the day, you sometimes can descend by hitching a ride on a comfy lift to the valley floor, there's just one more sip of hot tea left in the thermos and you've had a day that flows by as if in a dream. Let it be. Let it go. Be Grateful. But don't expect it.

* paraphrasing the well known quip by the late Alex Lowe