One Year - And Recovered
It has been exactly one year to the day since my brother and I made that fateful decision to descend from Zits Saddle. It was a tough year, but now it seems we have both come full circle. Over the last six months we've both had our last surgeries, and finally regained the normalcy we'd both craved so much in those early months. Nelson is all signed up for the 2014 Kepler Challenge (no pressure bro.. you know the time to beat ;) ), and I've just returned from a fantastic trip to the French Alps.
Month 7 - February
I was starting to feel a little anxious about my back. My NZ surgeon had clearly stated the metal should come out between 4 and 6 months after fixation to maximise my chances of regaining mobility of my lumbar spine. I'd decided to have this second operation through the NHS in the UK reasoning it would be better to avoid a 24+hr flight so soon after a major surgery, but as I quickly learnt they do things differently here. UK doctors aren't too keen on removing metal wear, and they certainly wouldn't want to remove my metal wear after less than six months in situ. In late February, almost seven months after the initial operation, I finally got the go ahead from a UK surgeon for the metal wear to be removed. Now I only needed to wait my turn.
While this was going on, I was still getting out into the hills when I could. An early trip to Swanage started things out nicely. This was my first taste of UK sea cliff climbing; the absail stakes were 'interesting'. We spent a surprisingly sunny day at Subliminal (embarrassingly I got burnt), and I was happy to end the day with Transcript Direct an HVS. Later in the month I headed up to Langdale in the Lake District with the CUHWC. It was their 25 anniversary, which they celebrated with a fancy dress three course meal. Certainly a novel affair. There had been murmuring of winter conditions on the internet, but it seems we were a week late. Never the less we wandered up a rapidly melting snow gully to justify out packed ice axes.
In the last week I squeezed in one more trip to North Wales with the CUMC. The weather forecast was perfect, but in reality the skies dawned gray and stormy. We spent the first day at Gogarth climbing the atmospheric HVS Britomartis before settling for a scramble up Trafan in the rain on Sunday.
Month 8 - March
I finally got the call. My operation was set of March 17th. I was stoked; the only downside was the timing. It was only a week before I was supposed to meet Al Walker, a NZ based Scottish Ex-pat, at Ben Nevis. We decided to wait and see. In the mean time, I was keen to make the most of my last weekend, so I invited some friends to join me for a trip to North Wales. We made it a long weekend. Besides the company, highlights include the VDiff Grooved Erete on the East face of Trafan and my first E1 in the UK - Meirionydd at Tremadog.
Satisfied, I returned to the 'cutting board' hoping for smooth sailing. It went well, and I returned home the same day. The first few days passed in a blur of eating, sleeping and preparing food. As the swelling and stiffness eased I focused my attention on my back eager to see how it had fared. It was hard to tell as the stitches meant I couldn't bend it too much, but there were some positive signs. Namely, I was no longer waking up at night each time I rolled over!
Now to business. Could I manage that trip to scotland with Al? First I headed to KK, the indoor bouldering wall, to see if I could actually climb. The answer was yes, and better than expected. Next I checked to see if I could wear a harness. My back was still swollen and not keen on touching anything. Surprisingly, however, it didn't seem to mind a harness. With the climbing side looking manageable, I took a look a bus prices. I could just manage, and so one week and a day after my operation I found myself in the rain struggling up the last of the track to the CIC hut. As I picked my way through deep snow my front-loaded pack (it was too painful to put on my back at this stage) obstructing my view, I was struct by the absurdity of the situation. Surely this is not what the surgeon had in mind when he discharged me last week. I arrived at dusk to a freshly brewed cup of tea and hot meal (thanks a million Al). The next day we headed up Tower Ridge. With less settled weather for the remander of our time we satisfied ourselves with some smaller climbs closer to the hut. Later as I headed back to the carpark, I was grateful to have my pack on my back like a normal person.
Month 9 - April
My incision wound was healed, so it was back to the Physio for some wonderful massages and stretches. They sure worked a treat; I can say it is an amazing feeling as a joint slowly remobilised after six months of fixation. I noticed the effect most running - the tensed unnaturally erect stranger was a thing of the past.
The month past quickly with a trip to the North-Eastern Lake district and a rainier than ideal day trip to the peak district.
Month 10 - May
May saw my back continue to loosen as I diligently performed my stretching program each day. During this month I also experienced my first sport climbing in the UK. It was funny to find myself tweaking after so long climbing only trad. Later in the month I also headed to Idwal Slabs for the first time with Tom Hare. We planned to head to the Alps in June and wanted a test run first. The trip went well except for a lost watch, stollen drink bottle and dropped guide book… Oh an did I mention he sand bagged me on the E1 Javelin and Blade - which grudgingly I must admit I enjoyed.
Later I spent the last week of May with my brother in America visiting our aged Grandmother. This was a real treat. At this time his wrist and feet were still healing, but it was great to see the progress we had each made. I was glad to hear they were much better a month after our visit. We spent a day walking around the Smoky Mountain National park enjoying each others company.
Month 11- June
June was a little hectic as I tried to catch up on work after visiting my brother and before the pending Alps trip with Tom. We headed to the Ecrins where his parents live and had a pleasant time climbing around the Galcier Blanc. We fit in three routes around some slightly unsettled weather - a lovely TD rock route 'Voie du Voiux Piton' on Pointe des Cineastes, the AD mixed line 'Coulior De Coolidge' on the Barre Des Ecrins and a traverse of the peaks Roche Paillon, Roche Emile and Pic De Neige Cordier. It was a memorable trip married only by my lost camera as I learnt the hard way that Mallions are prone to working themselves open.
After returning to the UK, I snuck in a weekend trip to Pembroke in perfect weather. After accidentally climbing my first E2 I decided to do another and then another. The next weekend I headed to the peak district and was stoked to climb yet another E2, the historic off-width 'Elder Crack'. I lwas particularly happy with this last E2 as I have found the peak district rather intimidating.
At the end of this month, I had my last physiotherapy session; I was sad to see the end of . My physiotherapist reckoned I'd regained 95% of my lumbar spine flexiblity, and erged me to continue doing my streaches indefinitely. He also warned me that I might have some back touble in the future. I had suspected as much myself, and am just thankful to have recovered as well as I have. As they say 'time will tell'.
Month 12 - July
July proved the perfect end to my recovery. I spent a memorable two weeks with Dan in Chamonix; see link to come for details. I spent half my time in the mountains, and the other half in the valley cragging or on two occasions actually resting. We managed a fairly good range in the mountains with four rock routes of varying lengths and seriousness. We started with the Noire Des Pueterey by the South Ridge in perfect weather but snowier than ideal conditions (link to video). I followed this two days later with the less serious Contanmine Voucher, which even has a bolted rap line. A few days later Dan an I grabbed a short weather window for an ascent of the Grands Charmoz via the Pilier Cordier and a traverse to the Grepon. Much of this climb was done in the dark. Perhaps most memorable was our last outing, the Frendo Spur. We squeezed this in the night before I left leaving Chamonix town at 9:30pm and topping out a 11am giving me just enough time to catch my shuttle to the airport.
The mountains were great, but it was two valley climbs I was perhaps most proud of. In some quiet granite cliff above Barberine I finally climbed my first 23 (6c+), which I followed with a 24 (7a+). A quick history of my climbing should show their significance. The first 22 I remember climbing was 'Burly But Sensitive' at Paynes Ford at Easter 2009. It is also the last climb I projected. Later that year I flashed the 22 'Rohans Arete' in Kawakawa bay. The next year a handful of on-sights at Paynes followed. In 2011 I was getting impatient for my first 23. I wanted to onsite it and that may well have been the problem. I moved on to trad, and it 2012 I on-sighted a few 22's at Arapiles, but still no 23. It is because of this history that these two climbs at Barberine mark the end of my recovery - the first time I have performed at a higher level than I have pre-injury.
I am very thankful for all the new experiences I have had during my recovery and for the completness of my recovery. Each on it's own is more than enough to sustain me.
6 Months In
The last two months have been great. My aches and pains are mostly a memory, and I returned to all my old activities.
On the 13th of December, my physio admitted 'He'd run out of exercises', and gave me his blessing to do anything as long as it doesn't hurt. At this appointment, we also had a chat about my metal-wear and both agreed I should probably try limit myself to running a max distance of 10k until it comes out. In addition to 'not falling', this seemed to be the sum total of my limitations 4 months and 1 day after the initial surgery.
Month 5 - December
December stated well with three weekends in the Peak district. The first was spent walking near Kinder Scout. I still couldn't run but enjoyed stretching my legs. The next two were spent grit-stone climbing at Cratcliffe Tor, and Froggatt Edge. At Cratcliffe I lead the first pitch of the immaculate Suicide Wall, HVS (17), before bailing off at the belay point. I was happy with my decision to bail as I was feeling a little spent, and don't want to put myself in a position where I might fall until the metal comes out. By the time the next weekend rolled around, I felt much more comfortable on the rock (P1 of Valkyrie HVS proved a treat).
Next, I headed off to Germany/The Netherlands for Christmas. In Germany, I spent a day walking around the black forest followed closely by an overnight trip to a rock bivy in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, Saxony. This was my first time at carrying an overnight pack since the accident, and I was eager to see how I'd fare. There were a few aches and pains in the soft tissue over my fracture and metal-wear sites, but these were superficial and lessened by the second day.
Then came Christmas and New Years. In addition to eating a lot, I also spent some time running. From the second week of December on, I found my body was finally ready to run. Up until then my right adductor muscles had still been to weak, and hurt whenever I tried. Although I had no pain, there was some discomfort in my lower spine do to its immobilisation. I kept and eye on this, and it too gradually passed as my lower back muscles strengthened and began to offer more stability to this region. I spent December running about 7k once or twice a week.
Month 6 - January
This month started with a weekend trip to snowdonia. Mountaineering was on my mind as I packed, but atrocious weather meant the axes and crampons stayed at home. We spent two days walking; the second around Cadair Idris.
The next few weeks were spent back at University with a few runs during the week and one wet trip to Birchen Edge during a weekend. By this time, the running felt comfortable, and I was starting to increase the pace. Already though, my mind had turned to the end of month, and the BMC international meet.
Each year the BMC runs an international met in Scotland. I had signed up shortly after my accident, figuring I should be adequately recovered by then; I was accepted as the NZ representative. Well come Mid-January: I could carry an overnight pack, I could climb and I could walk all day. I was ready to go. I will keep it brief here, see here for a more detailed account. Suffice to say the week was fantastic. Out of six climbing days, I spent five in the hills and a particularly inclement one dry tooling. I felt good, and the aches and pains of previous months were only memory. All the same, I was paying close attention to my body, and spent a while stretching my hips and lower back each night. Happily, I could roughly keep pace with my climbing partners (sometimes I was even breaking trail), and I was carrying my fair share of the communal load.
Over the week I got a good feel for Scottish climbing. Highlights include climbing the West Buttress of Ben Eighe (300m Scottish IV 4) on the six-month anniversary of my initial fall, and Poachers Ice Fall on Liathach (180m Scottish V 5).
I finally have a surgeon, and the promise of an operation. Apparently, it is no big deal and I will likely walk out the same day as I walk in. He did allow that my back would be a little stiff and sore for the next few weeks due to the trauma he will inflict wrenching out the metal. I am awaiting the exact date of this operation, but have been told it should be sometime around the end of March or the start of April.
In terms of my continued recovery and future plans in the hills: I intend to keep relatively fit - running and climbing a few times a week with trips to crags or hills most weekends - until my second operation. At this point I hope to regain my former level of fitness through some of these 'Mountain Marathons' I have heard so much about. Hopefully, I will make it to scotland pre or post op to climb with Al Walker when he is in the country. Later in July I'll head to the Alps to climb with Team Member Daniel Joll and some University friends.
4 Months In
Four months and a lot has changed. I am no longer the bed bound invalid I once was. In fact, I'm not an invalid at all. I've been walking in the hills and climbing for two months now and running for a few weeks.
For those who don't know, I broke the right side of my pelvis in four places in a fall. The breaks left me unable to weight-bear though my right leg during the initial healing process. I also sustained significant trauma to muscle in and around the area (see link for details).
How is this possible? I basically took an aggressive approach to my recovery. I listened hard to my body, while trying to be as active as possible without over doing it. I did this because your body allocates resources based upon need, and I wanted to make it clear I need my bones and muscles to be strong.
Month One – August
I spent the first three weeks in hospital. In this time, I had an operation align my pelvis by temporary fusing the lower part of my lumbar spine (no where near as bad as it sounds). This will be reversed in February.
I was able to begin crutching from the 14th onward and just tried to crutch as much as possible each day. This wasn't far, as I was weak from so much time in bed. I recall my first outdoor crutch was part way along Port Smith drive, Dunedin. It took 40min and I went less than 1k. Crutching was also often painful, but so was sitting. It wasn't my bones, but my pulverised feeling soft tissue. It did feel better each day, and I do think the crutching helped with this process.
I also began doing some physio prescribed exercises. These focused on increasing leg mobility and regaining basic muscle function like lifting my right leg while lying down. I did these every day and made noticeable gains throughout the month.
Month Two – September
I was still not weight-bearing and continued crutching each day. Happily, the soft tissue pain quickly faded away. My phsyio also continued; now the focus was on strength and endurance. I spent too many hours sitting or lying lifting my right leg up in funny angles. But, there was progress!
Half way though September I was standing by my bed, when I realised I was putting weight through my right leg. I took this as a message form my body, and began tentatively weight-bearing. I gradually increased the weight each day and by the last week I was down to one crutch. I only did this when I could walk without limping. At the end of the month, I had a fracture clinic check up. All was in order, and I was given the go ahead to transition to walking without crutches over the next month.
Month Three – October
This started with a move to UK. Within a week, I was able to leave my crutches at home for the last time. Again, I only did this when I could walk without a limp. It still hurt to walk for the rest of the month, but it was a dull ache in my groin muscles that got better each day. I went on my first walk in the peak district on the 21st: 18km, 600vm in Kinder Scout from Edale to Hillside.
I also begin bouldering as soon as I began walking. Isn't that a little reckless you might ask? First, I've been climbing for some years and would say my risk of accidentally falling while climbing is no higher than walking. I also acted to further mitigate the risk of injury from an accidental fall by climbing no higher than 1m during this month. Still? There were benefits. Climbing is a low impact activity that allowed me to mobilise my hip in a wide range of positions while having fun. It proved perfect for physio, especially as I was still unable to exercise in the pool due to a lingering infection at my surgical site.
In addition to walking and climbing I continued doing physio exercises each day. These acted to target my right quads, hams, gluts, adductors and abductors, as these were all still noticeably weaker than my left side.
Month Four – November
At the start of this month my leg finally stopped aching when I walked. I began experimenting with running but my adductor muscles were still too weak and it proved painful, so I waited. The daily physio exercises continued, and by months end it was only my adductors that remained weak.
I also had three trips into the hills with weekend walking trips to Snowdonia and the Lake District. These both involved some scrambling and I felt progressively stronger happily walking up to 30k, 1500vm a day by the Lake District. The third trip was a day of trad climbing at Stanage, in the Peak District. I was still feeling pretty rusty, so I took it easy leading a few VDiffs (10) and one HVD (11).