Thursday, August 29, 2013

Shoulder Update

Well, it's been well over a month since I dislocated my shoulder. In that time I have seen four different doctors, had three x-rays taken, one MRI session, and I finally feel like I'm moving forward with a sense of where I am headed. The first radiologist gave me high hopes, saying there was only some minor fraying, no tears. The second radiologist shed a different light on the MRI scans, saying I had a Bankart lesion from a partial separation. I must thank my coworker friend Craig for helping to get this second opinion from his brother-in-law. Finally, last week I went in to an orthopedic surgeon for an evaluation and received the most practical opinion yet.

Dr. Waslewski out of Scottsdale / Mesa has been one of the most cut and dry, honest, and inspiring doctors I have seen thus far. Although I have a labral tear in the front of my shoulder, it is his opinion that I forgo surgery for now and dedicate the next several months to PT. Being a climber, I would lose 15-20 degrees of my arm reach if I went the surgery route. Since this is the first time I have dislocated and since the tear is centered over the humeral head, the cartilage should heal back over time and I should be able to regain all my mobility as long as I take the recovery slow and steady. The scar tissue that is in place is currently helping to keep it stable. I just need to work with a therapist to slowly tear the tissue and heal through the frozen should onset.

I also owe a sincere thanks to Dr. Ryan Connell, my hockey teammate and physical therapist for many years. He and his staff took care of me from day one until I could finally get the full diagnosis, helping me with inflammation and adjustments to kickstart the healing process.

Last but not least, thank you to my wife and family and extremely supportive friends who have helped me and held doors for me throughout the past month. Kindness is inspiring and it must be spread. So off I go, down this long road of rehab. Every day I see my therapist / trainer, he asks me, "so have you been climbing yet?" almost to tease me. I always respond with, "wait, am I allowed??". He shakes his head with a chuckle, but it always seems to conjure up a sense of determination before each session. It's almost cruel, but I understand exactly what he's doing. I want to get back outdoors. It's calling to me. For now I wait.

I have finally gotten around to uploading some pictures and words from this year's trips:

Monday, August 5, 2013

Accepting Setbacks Amidst Successes

My right shoulder from two perspectives, lame & way lame. It sort of looks like a
cylinder in cross-flow with an evolving wake, resulting in the ol' von Kármán vortex street.

There haven't been many updates from me in a while -- if I'm reading this right, it has been since Februrary, in fact. I doubt many people read this so I really only have myself to answer to. Unfortunately, I am my toughest critic for reasons unbeknownst. When I first began this "blog" (I still hate calling it that), I intended to document every ounce of my effort and learning process that I opted to devote to climbing. Just four or so years ago, I was just another avid outdoorsman  / layman hiker looking to define the edge of comfort within myself. I sought to push the defined and undefined boundaries of where I could take myself in this world, beyond the comforts of our coddled urban centers of living -- I don't know what to say other than I don't find peace in my everyday environment. I know I distance myself away from my fellow majority species when I simply state that I don't fit the mold of city dweller. Here I digress already from my original intent at penning this "post".

It's middle July of lucky year '13 and I find myself wrestling with my first possible long-term injury. I have had minor setbacks health-wise throughout my last few years, but few to this degree. In fact, this past March I accepted the consequences of my first fall while climbing. I was bouldering and warming-up on a very simple overhung but easy problem. When my feet blew, I could only hope that my crash pad below would be able to handle the rest of the next few events in rapid succession. Unfortunately, I bounced off of the crash pad and continued falling downward onto solid rock some several feet below, landing on the vulnerable area where my upper back meets my neck. The fall was enough to take the wind from my lungs and when I came to, I thought I had escaped cleanly. The next few hours of my neck seizing up would prove otherwise and so I slowly began what I thought was the ultimate spiral into my innermost struggle with coping. I enrolled myself in a physical therapy program, subjected myself to gamma particles to prove I had not fractured any vertebrae, and after a few weeks of ramped-up treatment, I was able to bounce back fairly quickly. Within a month, I was back on my schedule, training and planning for my next endeavor, Liberty Ridge.

It's amazing how fast the days in the weeks passed. In no time, I found myself arriving in Seattle, meeting my mountain comrades and dearest of friends, ready to conquer our next objective in this series of test pieces that we had laid out in our minds. This attempt at Mt Rainier's nordwand and most famous ridge was ever so close in my sights. We toughed out some harsh conditions, but we pushed on and arrived at one of the most memorable vantage points, keen to soak in the glory and the fear that lay before us. It was there at the base of the route, in the next turn of events that I would realize a goal that seemed so attainable was to be pulled away for reason's outside my/our control. It just wasn't time. As much as I want to say it was, it just wasn't. We retreated from the north face of mount Rainier, vowing to reflect on who we were as individuals and what our purpose was in tempting that ever-alluring route. I might write more about it later -- I still have many beautiful photos to pour over and each are of their own merit in sharing, though the wound still feels fresh. I came back to the desert with one of the most frustrated auras looming overhead.

Then my calling came. My friend Jay offered up the last-minute objective of seeking out some ever-waning alpine ice in the Eastern Sierras. Mt. Gilbert would be the arena. I found myself on the road one Friday after work, during the summer's most drastic heatwave, chasing the sun on the horizon as I inched closer to my prized stretch of mountain range. We made quick work up to our base camp at an alpine lake at 11k feet above mean sea level. Once again, we had a treasured view of the next day's route before us. Despite a rough night of sleep, battling a mouthful of mosquito for each breath, the morning came. We set out, with an early start as our proverbial "ace up our sleeve", but what we found was yet another round of humility.

The route was far from in condition and we sloughed up melting snow, scraped our crampons against loose blocks of rock for purchase, and desperately climbed frozen mud that was in a perpetual state of change. We rallied and topped out above Mt. Gilbert late in the day, relieved that we had safely ascended some of the most unnerving terrain of our climbing careers. We soon realized thereafter that the real adventure began on the descent. We quickly learned the value of clear heads and clear minds when staging each of the rappels back down to the glacier. By nightfall we arrived back on the snow, ever grateful but ever eager to get within a "cellular earshot" of our significant women and families back home. We pulled a 20-hour work day and by the end of it, we vowed never to attempt such misery again. However, once again, Time had a way of blurring the distinction between misery and unbridled success. Soon thereafter, we were both dreaming of the next alpine adventure to come. Cue next major setback...

On a rare Monday night, after playing our week's game the prior day, I set out to the ice arena across town following a long day of work. I was tired, but my commitment to my hockey team dictated my involvement, no question. For my birthday, I had just received a brand-new pair of skates from my wonderful, wonderful wife. I was still getting the feel for skating with better skates, something that I was far from accustomed to. During the second period, I was faced with what I thought was an opportunity to pay back some grief to a long-time foe. He had already cross-checked me in front of our net and butt-ended me with his stick early in the game -- I still have bruised ribs to show for it. He was on a breakaway and I was the only defender left between him and our goalie in net. I was matching his every move as he led in to our zone with me keeping pace in my backwards stride. I predicted his next move to cut left away from the boards, as he always seemed to do, and when I went for the hip-check he squeaked by along the boards unscathed. In a moment, I went from being in full-control to hitting the boards and then sailing backwards through the air. My elbow was cocked far back behind me, naturally aiming to break the fall. When I landed, my elbow guided my arm through the corner, where the boards meet the ice, all the way around to the front of my chest.

As I leaned upward, my right arm dangled in front of me, my wrist unresponsive. I couldn't feel anything in my arm, my fingers wouldn't move. The self-awareness began to set in as I realized my arm was outside of my shoulder and beyond the predefined space where I could sense it. I panicked and laid back down, writhing in fear. How the hell could this happen, was the only string of words that were pouring through my mind. I wretched my shoulder back and forth in a fit as I lay there on the ice. It felt as though the seconds were slowing around me. After what seemed like a long struggle, my arm "sucked" back in to the socket, all in a hail of "chalkboard-nails" glory. It was awful. But my arm was back where it belonged. I rolled over onto my knees, stumbled up to my stance and skated for the bench in what began the first of many unfamiliar reactions to come. I coped with my situation, sipping beers with the team in the parking lot after our game. Walmart was eventually given the weird, welcome surprise of one of it's own, shirt half-draped over one busy arm, clutching the painful other, stumbling in after-hours in search of an arm sling.

It's been two weeks to the date since that fateful Monday night. I have finally begun to shed the arm-sling at the risk of letting my right arm dangle in all of its painful glory. I can feel the muscles recovering, but there's a dull, throbbing pain when I move my arm beyond it's equilibrium position. I'm already tired of thinking about repercussions. I made a seriously careless error in judgement during that night and I'm stuck paying for it. I have already been faced with accepting and owning up the fact that I am uncomfortable being cast in the spotlight by having a very visible injury on display to the world. I enjoy blending in to the surroundings. With each act of kindness, with each door held for me though, I am realizing people, strangers as they may be, still act with compassion. I appreciate that blessing inasmuch as knowing the strong presence of goodwill, even when it seems hidden at times. I received my MRI scans on Friday and I have already self-diagnosed myself with a bankart tear of the labrum. But what do I know? I'm just a lowly engineer. We shall see what the doctors say. At this point in time, I'm in it for the long-haul if it be so.

Later that night update:
I have absolutely no reason to feel down. Yet another slice of humble pie :-)
I don't even know where to begin. What an amazing fella, this Richie Parker guy is.

Later that week update:
I just got back from my doc with the results of the MRI. No tears! My rotator is still intact. I have only fraying and blunting of the anterior-inferior labrum, which can be seen in the image at the top of this post to the immediate right of the humeral head (right scan). Luckily no bankart lesion with my partial separation, just some badly strained, beat up tissue and cartilage at the front of the joint. I should be able to heal with rigorous physical therapy over the next few months. Sigh... o'... relief.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mt. Gilbert North Couloir Ice Climb - June 29-30th

The opportunity arose, one fateful week in June. My friend Jay had recently scoped some areas in the Eastern Sierras. As fate would have it, there was still some glimmering white lingering in the Sierran crest. He proposed a quick weekend trip to slay the Gilbert couloir and on that Friday afternoon, I found myself loaded in a car of gear, enroute to Cali.

[ Overview Video for those who opt not to read ]

THE APPROACH - June 28, 29

The trip out there was mainly uneventful, except for the balancing act I played with my aging car's air conditioner and the 121-degree midday heat. For most of the stretch to Palm Springs I drove with the windows down, fearing each tic of the ever-advancing temperature gauge on my dashboard. Within 9 hours I made it to Ridgecrest, our meeting spot. In lieu of my early arrival, I made use of the time to finish putting my minimalist pack together. No tent this time, just pads and sleeping bags; summer mountaineering gear made for light packs.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Climbing Rock in Washington - Post Rainier

With the turn in the weather, we all opted to head back to Seattle to spend our last few days. Mark made quick work of smoozing the Mariott rewards lady over the phone and hooked us up with primo digs for the next couple nights. "Oh what's that? Breakfast, included? Thank you dearly, ma'am, you're quite wonderful".

That night we grabbed dinner at a place in Bellevue, so we could be in a prime spot for making the pilgrimage to Mammot Mountain Works. I could spend hours meandering that store, picking through books, checking out the latest offerings from the usual and unusual gear brands. And we did. Of course we did. We probably logged a solid two hours in there pouring through the local guidebooks, looking for a decent crag with as many sport routes that we could find -- we only brought glacier ropes and alpine draws, so traditional climbing was ruled out. We chatted with two of the regional route developers and narrowed our choice down to Exit 38, literally the 38th exit down the I-90 corridor. It was settled. The next morning, we convinced Dave to loan us his car for the day -- he had a commitment that demanded his time. So the three of us, Jay, Mark and I set out towards Snoqualmie pass for an enjoyable time of clipping bolts.

Climbing at Exit 38
Mountain Project Info

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

This Year's Rainier Retreat! Sigh... Liberty Ridge Attempt

Behold... our former objective for 2013:
Spoiler Alert: Objective for 2014!
Liberty Ridge - June 2013. Exposed ice for several pitches above the Black Pyramid would have been quite the highlight. *D

Opinionated Fact: Liberty Ridge is by far the most coveted route on Rainier. It lies on the north face of the mountain, splitting two shear walls of rock and ice and provides the "safest passage" up the nordwand. On either side of the ridge, Willis Wall on the left (east) and Liberty Wall on the right (west), rock and ice tumble toward its base, giant masses of glacier cleave off and avalanches wipe clean the terrain below throughout the entire day on the regular. Liberty Ridge, although much less risky than its neighboring routes, still poses its own challenges to any party willing to test their alpine mettle.

Coming off some successes in February during our ice climbing foray in Ouray, it was natural that I pitch the idea of this route around to the comrades. Our collective four interests piqued and we each  committed our next several months to training hard for this objective. Fast forward to the first week in June. Us out-of-towners arrive late into SEA-TAc one night, with our buddy Dave on the ready to intercept us and head for the mountain. We crash at the finest digs Enumclaw has to offer and rest up for the few hours we have until day breaks.
First bad sign of the trip: Jay getting charged $800 extra dollars for his breakfast and coffee! *M
After a rousing success of breakfast we took to our luggage and began re-assembling
our packs, divvying up group gear, and trading hypothesis as to what went down in the
neighboring motel room the night prior.

Who knew the parking lot of the motel would have its own objective dangers?
I'm talking about rockfall! While packing my bag, a riding lawn mower about
20m away launched a decent sized projectile that pegged me right in the ribs!
Not a good sign, number 2. (Left: *J, Right: *M)

Come 10 o'clock, we were loaded up and ready to head in to the park. Vibes were high, stoke was strong, until...
Not a good sign, Number 3 -- Getting pulled over by park 5-0 (he wasn't even a real cop), for no front license plate on display. "Hurry up, maaannnn, you're pushing back our start time!"

Finally we arrived at the White River ranger station, close to noon. *M
The crew. Jay, myself, Dave, & Mark. *M
 One might notice, Mark and I have different packing strategies. He always wins, hehe. *M

We finish our last minute prepping. I stash some craft beer (Twenty-First Amendment "Brew Free or Die!" IPA to be exact) in the snow nearby and we head off down the glacier basin trail to find the Inter glacier.
The approach was rather uneventful for the most part, with just the memories of sucking wind and some newly discovered altitude. Please let it go by quick, pleeeease... Oh yes, and Jay learned of the consequences of chugging soda before starting our approach. He was hurting for most of it.

Time for a breather... Though I'm not the one hurting in this picture.
Dave forgot he left the stove on back at the hous--- err, he left his
water sitting in the snow at our previous rest stop. He sprinted the
whole way down and most of the way back up to us. Hardcore. *M

Home, sweet home away from home, perched atop St. Elmo's pass. (Right: *J)

We settled in for the night and took to the kitchenly duties. *J

Overlooking the Winthrop glacier at sunset. *M

Day Two: St. Elmo's Pass, Across Winthrop Glacier, to Lower Curtis Ridge

Last minute prep-work to get ready for our easy day of traversing over
to Curtis Ridge. Let it be known for the record that putting in contacts
while sitting atop an exposed ridge during the windy morning hours
is a crap-shoot. I lost one contact as it blew right from my finger
tips as I was transporting it to my eye hole. *M

Jay finishing up his pack, with Russel Cliff in the background. *M

Once again, the approach across the Winthrop glacier was mainly uneventful. Mark took point, followed by Jay, then Dave, and myself at rear. We only had one slightly sketchy crevasse crossing as Dave punched a leg through the snow bridge. We made excellent time, with the thought of being able to continue over Curtis to the Carbon glacier, where we would make our way up to Thumb Rock. We were doing everything we could to make up for the delays the day prior. Most people traverse over to Curtis Ridge on day one -- but we had two extra days of leeway just in case.

 Crossing some waves of ice, where the glacier buckles into the rocky ridge. *M
Liberty ridge starts to come in to view, the further we creep along Curtis ridge.*M
The gnarly broken-up higher sections of the Winthrop Glacier.

Poop break, somewhere on Curtis. *J

Looking out across the Carbon Glacier.
Jay assessing his recently-groomed cuticles at the most epic of locations.
The crew. With high hopes still intact. *M
Willis Wall and Liberty Ridge from atop Lower Curtis Ridge.
Looks great to me! One continuous turf of hardened snow all the way to the toe of Liberty Ridge!
Broken up Carbon.

One of the joys of rolling in to camp early was we had an ENTIRE day to sit and do nothing but bake in the inescapable UV rays. We took turns sleeping in the tent, until it got too hot after 20 minutes of sweltering heat. It was hot enough to put you to sleep, but some unconscious trigger would sound the heat-stroke alarm and instantly wake you up. Bad times. So we got to thinking. Many options failed, but soon emerged a brand-new technology that would soon sweep the ridge! The Inflatable Badger Shade™...
Our only respite from the sun was to inflate out air mattresses and tie them to our backs using climbing slings & runners.
Pretty soon, the entire crew took to the idea (Mark was a hard sell :-D).
Imagine the most brutal of sun exposure.
Times that by two, or maybe a million if we want to be exact.

 It was a bloody hot day on Curtis Ridge. The sun got the best of some. *D

 More sun misery. Jay must be super bendy from all that yoga he does. *M

Dave and I fought the sun continuously, trying to obtain any semblance of cool shelter from its radiation. *M

I finally resorted to digging a shallow grave in the snow to hide in.
It was a little wet, but I finally felt a chill for the first time that day.

No Liberty Ridge trip is complete without the token First Light tent shot!
The route above Thumb Rock in higher detail. Credit to Dave *D for taking these close-ups!
When some clouds finally moved in, we all gathered and took turns scoping out the route in higher detail. The ranger had already warned us of waist-deep snow on the slope up to Thumb Rock. From Jay's scope we determined most parties were skirting the ridge on the left-hand (east) side from Thumb Rock upward. There were a few rock bands to negotiate from there, and then several several pitches of exposed alpine ice that formed the ramp up the left side of the Black Pyramid. I was beyond stoked at the opportunity for some multi-pitch ice climbing thousands of feet above the glacier below.

It was right around that time when fate struck hard. One of our teammates suddenly felt the overwhelming sense of panic and doubt. I'm sure there were many factors at play here, but when it comes down to it, it just wasn't his time to be on this particular route. Too much risk. We decided as a group to retreat together. And in a matter of 30 minutes, our outlook for the coming weekend had completely reversed. It was decided, much to my frustration, that we would head back in the morning.

 Jay and I hadn't even begun to quench our appetites for some alpine fun.
After dinner, he and I roped up and dropped down onto the Carbon glacier
to find some nice crevasses to climb in before the sun set. Worth it. *M

Jay building one of our deadman anchors for some crevasse climbing laps.

The innards of a crevasse, this one particularly muddy.

Sunset, taken by Mark on the ridge. *M
Sunset, taken myself, with Jay on the Carbon glacier below.
Ain't that a beauty. It was all right there, laid out for us!
Jay and I each took a few laps on a very snowy crevasse wall, belaying off a couple of buried pickets above. When we each were tired, we packed up and continued up the glacier a ways to get a better view of the crevasse maze that we would have to come back to at a later date. Looking back, I wish we would have split up with half of us continuing up the route, and the other half meeting us on the descent route on the Emmons. It all came as such a surprise that it felt like there wasn't any time to work alternate plans out. Who knows what lie ahead if we were to continue. It's hard to say.

Day Three: Retreat Back to White River Campground

We woke up at sunrise to an intense wind storm and Thumb Rock shrouded in clouds.
It was a rough night trying to sleep through the weather system moving through, with the
tent shaking and straining back and forth in both directions.
From our vantage point, we could see the curved caps of lenticular clouds forming over each of the orographic terrain features in the foreground of the mountain. That spelled out high winds moving through the region.

Another leading edge of a lenticular, forming to the west as the winds blew eastward over the mountain.
Liberty Ridge with a spot of weather moving in, early morning. *D

It was windy enough to capture some cheesy helmet-on-a-rope shots.

We made quick work back to St. Elmo's pass, where the stashed the ropes and continued on further. There was a little bit of precip on the way down, but by the time we reached White River, most of the weather had blown over and settled out of the region. It was frustrating passing the scores of people heading up the route with unbridled optimism for their coming days and shot at their prospective goals. It'll have to be another time. I think I've lost count, now... I believe the current tally stands at 1 for 6 on Rainier. At least I live to attempt another day. At least there was beer stashed back at the truck to look forward to.
We are outta here. *M
Some last parting scenery on the way out.

 We retreated in the most proper manner... Craft brews and pizza in Issaquah! *M

No trip to Seattle (Bellevue) is complete without a stop at Marmot Mountain Works.
We stopped in to get the low-down on climbing areas. *M
>> Part 2 - Climbing our Remainder of Time in Washington

Photo Credits:
Mostly my photos except for those denoted by an asterisk.

*J  = Jay 
*D = Dave
*M = Mark