Thursday, May 24, 2018

Milestones attained, in spite of struggles

I had the fortune of hitting nice round number milestones, completely by happenstance: my 60th successful summit of Mt. Hood on my 200th successful summit of *any* mountain out of 250 attempts on *any* mountain (92 of which have included Jay!).  Jay “merely” attained his 98th successful summit of Mt. Hood (out of who knows how many hundreds of climbs!):
(click on any picture to enlarge)

We’re shown above with the shadow of Mt. Hood stretched out on the clouds, below, and the early morning sunshine (barely ½ hour after sunrise) catching one of the outcroppings near the summit.  I love the texture of the clouds, center left of the photo – see that bit of a swirl in there?

Jay is clutching his trademark drink.  If we just go on a one-day climb, there’s always the sound of pssssssssfffffftttttttt, as he opens the bottle in the low pressure atmosphere as we climb higher, which tends to make everyone laugh after they whip their heads around, trying to figure out where that sound is coming from.

So, what’s this about struggles?

After our success on Mauna Kea, marking the end to our 50 state highest points project, we climbed Mauna Loa, also on the Big Island in Hawaii.  On the way down off of Mauna Kea, and then, again, down off of Mauna Loa, I not only suffered from altitude sickness, but my left knee hurt terribly by the end of each climb.  I figured that I’d get it looked into, after I got back home.  Well, the very next hike that we did, now on the island of Kauai, resulted in a slip of some sort on the rain-slicked mud, and me tearing the meniscus of my left knee.  After a torturous 4 hour descent of only 2500ft, and about 2.5 miles, which normally would have taken us less than 2 hours, if that, we made it to the car, but we were unable to do any more climbing or any significant hiking, after that, for the rest of the month that we were in Hawaii.  That meant that the long-planned-for Na Pali coastal hike was out (for which we’d bought a relatively expensive permit), as was all of the other hiking we’d planned or anticipated while there.  We consoled ourselves with snorkeling a good deal, instead, which was also gentle on my knee.

After we returned home, I got the meniscus tear diagnosed and started up on physical therapy.  We then took off on a trip to Germany to visit Jay’s sister and her husband, and took in Iceland using Icelandic Air’s generous no-extra-airfare-fee long lay-overs in Iceland enroute.  And then, after getting home, and both of us dealing with a cold for about 3 weeks, went off on a trip to Michigan, where the flat landscape turned out beneficial for allowing me to finally go on long walks. 

I brought with me to Michigan (where my family still resides), a sweater that my immediate family all had acquired some 40 or so years, prior, and we took this photo to celebrate my parents’ 61st wedding anniversary:
Too bad we never took a similar picture 40 years ago!  That would have been pretty funny!

After returning to Oregon, I finally was able to see an orthopedist, who seemed to think that my time was up – no more backpacking/hiking/climbing  - I needed to think about winding down, he seemed to indicate.  Even though I *knew* that that should not be the outcome, it made me afraid to do more because of either re-injury or worse outcomes.  I kept telling him that’s not an acceptable response to my situation (it turns out that I have some osteoarthritis in my knee), until he eventually offered that an off-loading brace might help me out.  The osteoarthritis is affecting the cartilage in the inside part of my knee, so the brace makes it so that when I walk, the force is transferred to the outside (good) part of my knee.  That seemed to make long, hilly walks doable.  My physical therapist suggested other providers for me to talk to.  I talked to them, and wound up getting a cortisone shot in my knee, which seems to have made some things better.

Jay and I decided that I should try a previously planned climb of Mt. St. Helens.  To reduce the descent, Jay and I packed in and stayed overnight partway up the mountain.  Here’s our mountain home, with the clouds rolling in the background:

We were joined, the next day, by the rest of the team.  After getting to the summit (Mt. Adams in the distance, and the northeastern part of the St. Helens crater rim, behind us – Photo Credit: Teresa Redman):
we glissaded (sat on our butts and slid down) a good part of the upper mountain.  But, alas, the snow got so soft, that we would sink into the snow faster than we could slide down it!  So, we had to do a bunch of walking to get back to camp.  I used the brace for the descent, and it seemed effective. 

When we got to our camp, it was a mess.  We’d specifically left the tent open, so that if a rodent or creature wanted to get in, they wouldn’t have to chew holes into it.  Well, the ravens tore through it, anyway – pulling a sleeping bag out of one hole that they made, puncturing the air mattress (still working on repairing that!), and taking off with all of Jay’s food (including the freezed dried stuff!).  This meant that we had to pack out that night – thus negating the whole point of packing in – which was to avoid doing the complete descent in one day. . . 

Fortunately, my knee stayed relatively happy that whole climb, and the next day, and even the following day, until the end of our daily walk, and then wow-eee!  A new hurt came on strong in a new place.  I could barely walk for several days.  Fortunately, the pain subsided, and I was able to start walking again.  We decided to risk another climb when the weather and conditions appeared to be favorable for the Hood climb.

Again, after getting to the summit, I donned my brace, and headed down.  This climb, however, was more technical, and I had to do a maneuver that I’d not needed to do on any of the previous hikes or climbs, and searing pain ran through the back of my knee.  Here I was, in the crux of the climb, and in a tight spot that everyone going up or down needed to go through, and I just wanted to stop.  I realized that I had to get through it, so, I just cringed and bore it until I got to a flat spot, which fortunately wasn’t too far away.  

The brace is bulky, so I can’t just put it on my skin, and put tights, long johns, or even some pants on top of it, I have to put it on top of them, but each bit of apparel is a different thickness, and it turns out that what I wore seemed to be too thick for the current adjustment of the brace, so it was over-correcting.  I decided to take it off before doing the rest of the descent, in hopes that the pain would ease.  It did.  Alas, we were on the mountain so early in the morning, that at that elevation, the snow was quite crusty, so we couldn’t glissade (thus saving my knee) until we got much further down.  I worried that I would pound my knee too much, so I glissaded in spite of the poor conditions, until the lack of steepness forced me to walk, again.  We took it much slower than we normally do, so that the knee wouldn’t be pounding so much.  It must have made a difference, because I didn’t suffer major pain in the following days.

I did, however, talk to my physical therapist, Lynne, who patiently explained what the “new hurt” was that I had experienced a couple of days after the St. Helens descent, and kindly informed me that likely my muscles were not really in condition for climbing.  I went in to see her shortly thereafter, and she confirmed that I wasn’t up to snuff, and has given me a ton of exercises to do to strengthen the muscles that should help to put less strain on my knee.  Oh, for the days when all of this stuff was easy – and just doing what I wanted to do was enough to ready all of my muscles. . .

May your “easy” days last as long as possible. . .


Saturday, September 09, 2017

We completed our 50 state highest points project!

We did it!!!  Just a little over a year ago, when we completed 49 out of the 50 highest points in each state, I did a write-up: 49 continental state highest points complete.  We still had the highest point of one last state to attain: Hawai’i!  And, at last, we did it!

Two days ago, we first attained it when the grandson of my now former neighbor, Cathy, drove us nearly to the top, and we all sauntered over to the true summit.  Knowing how this would engender ridicule and scorn from our hiking and climbing buddies, we then went back, yesterday, and hiked the 6-plus miles (9.6km) and 4,800 ft (1463 meters) to the summit from the Visitor Center.  The weather, yesterday, wasn’t as ideal as the previous day, so we couldn’t see as much.  Here are the two “couple” summit photos from each day.  This first one is from September 6th (when we had Mark to take our photo!) – Mauna Loa is the mountain in the distance:
And then this one from September 7th – since we arrived later in the day, we had to change the background, so that the sun’s direction would be more favorable to the photo, so you can see some of the many buildings that litter the summit area (besides, Mauna Loa wasn’t visible, due to the clouds):

And, as many of you know, I’ve been using our state highest point achievements to bring awareness to Juvenile Myositis (a sometimes fatal autoimmune disease affecting children) by taking a photo of a Cure JM banner supplied years ago by a friend whose son had the disease and has since passed away due to it.  Photos with the banner at all of the highpoints can be seen here (this is public, you don’t have to belong to Facebook to see it).  Here is the Hawai’i Cure JM photo:

A fascinating thing about this state high point is the myriad of antennas, arrays of antennas, telescopes, and observatories that are on the top of this mountain.  These buildings are all HUGE.  The mountain is also HUGE!  Note the red color:

From the summit (on the 6th, when it was clearer!), we could see Maui!  (I’m assuming that it’s actually the top of Haleakala’s crater):
The following is typical scenery for the whole top 1000 ft or so of the mountain:
This was near Lake Waiau at 13,020ft, one of the highest lakes in the US – what I found fascinating is that there was still flora up here:

I’m including this photo because it shows some of the trail we took to the summit.  In the distance, you can see the road to the summit:

Almost all of the signs on the mountain have these holes in them – presumably so that the wind doesn’t blow them over:

May you succeed in your long term goals/projects!


Friday, April 28, 2017

Patience with injury

I’ve discovered that my patience with an injury to me is almost non-existent.  On March 8th, we were happily hiking with friends in the local Columbia Gorge, where it tends to be easy to get multiple thousands of feet of elevation in, in a reasonable hike.  We were headed back down the trail, when I managed to lose my balance and do a face-first dive into some rocks.  When I stopped, I became acutely aware that while I hadn’t smashed my face, something was very wrong.  I’m not sure if it was the searing pain or what, but I became aware that I’d likely dislocated my right shoulder.

Jay was able to remove my backpack, somehow, and began to wonder how he’d stabilize my arm for the couple of miles that we had left to return to the cars.  I decided to try to sit up, and as I did so, my shoulder popped back into place!  I still remember the wave of relief that washed over me.  The extreme pain had disappeared, and left behind extreme apprehension of a reoccurrence.  In addition, I discovered that not ALL of the pain had disappeared.  There still was quite a bit, and my right arm wasn’t exactly mobile.  I descended the trail with Jay carrying both of our backpacks, Dyanne carrying my 2nd pole, and with my right arm at my side.  When we finished the rest of the descent, I finally remembered that I could use my jacket as a sling, and put my right arm inside of my jacket and zipped it up.  That made me much more comfortable.  When we went by a patch of snow, Gary suggested that we make an ice pack.  Mark whipped out a zip-lock bag, and someone filled it with snow, and that was placed inside my jacket on my shoulder. 

After dumping off the crew at our carpool location, Jay and I went on to urgent care, where they took x-rays, told me that I’d not broken anything, gave me a sling, and sent me on my way.

I found out that the pain was lessened by sometimes hanging my arm at my side, so I did that.  Since it was my dominant arm, I re-discovered how useful that arm and hand tends to be in daily life, and how useful having a shoulder is, as well.  Putting on or taking off *any* clothes or shoes; brushing teeth, flossing; eating; closing car doors; putting on seat belts; etc.  I was happy that within a week I’d gained some use of my arm. 

And then, I finally got to see an orthopedic guy.  He broke the news to me that I did, in fact, have a broken bone (a little chip off of the glenoid – part of the socket that head of the upper arm bone (humerus) sits in), and that I also had a dent in the humerus head (also known as a Hill-Sachs lesion), and that I’d likely have to have surgery to fix those things resulting in many months of rehab.  But the good news, he thought, was that everything else seemed to be ok, but just to check, he sent me off to have an MRI and gave me some exercises to do.  The MRI wasn’t able to happen until a while later, so about 3 weeks after the accident, I learned that I also had a little tear in one of my rotator cuff muscles, but the suggestion was that that was no big deal, as it would heal.  I was referred to a surgeon and after a lot of miscommunication, finally got to see one, yesterday. 

By now, with help from my physical therapist who is also a climbing friend, my shoulder was starting to feel MUCH better, my range of motion was good, and I was getting stronger.  She kept telling me that I wasn’t ready to climb, though, and that I needed to have patience – these things take a while to heal.  I was still teaching mountaineering, and, last weekend, unthinkingly started digging with my ice-axe and noticed that I could feel my shoulder.  That made me realize that it wasn’t quite ready for prime time, but I still was under the illusion that just another week or so, and I’d be able to climb, again.

Anyway, it was with this mindset that I saw the surgeon, who specializes in shoulders.  She listened to me tell her what I do, and that it is important that it not re-occur, she felt my shoulder, and had me do a number of things, and then we looked at the x-rays and MRIs, together, while she explained to me what she saw.  She thought that the bones all looked very good, that the little dent was not too concerning because of how small it is, and that the little chip was so tiny, that it, too, did not merit surgery.  She pointed out that just going in there, moving around the muscle to try to find that little chip, which is so small that she wouldn’t even be able to put a screw in it, would cause way more damage than currently existed.  When we looked at the MRIs, she showed me that even though my humerus head wasn’t broken, it did get badly “shaken up” and that the blood was rushing in there to try to fix the damage.  And she showed me all of the damage that the various muscles had, but that, given what happened, that I really lucked out.  The damage was quite minimal.  However, it WAS damaged.  And. . . that damage takes a while to heal.  When I told her what I’d done with the digging, she cringed.  When, in conversation, I waved my arm back, she cringed, again.  She told me that I was doing too much, too fast.  When I told her that I thought that the bone would heal in what, two weeks or so, so that by now, 7 weeks later, surely it was fine?, she cringed, yet again, and told me no – it takes a long time.  That, really, while it should all heal with rest, if I do too much, too fast, that I’ll cause it to take longer to heal in the long run.  When I pressed her for how much longer I should expect it to take, she said at *least* another 6 weeks.  I can’t remember what I said, exactly, but I happened to mention “a year”, and when I did, she nodded her head and said, “yes, that is typically how long it takes for it to be all better”. . .

So, the good news is. . . it *should* all heal, and it *should* all heal without surgery.  And I don’t know what in the heck I did, yesterday, but I seem to have delivered a little set-back, because today, it actually hurts.

The other good news is that I *can* hike, but I do need to be careful in that, and in everyday activities, to avoid re-damaging or annoying the whole shoulder.  I think that I’m going to have to just assume that I won’t be able to climb for a year, and concentrate on rehabilitating the shoulder during that whole time.

I was upset that we couldn’t do our annual wedding anniversary climb in April, but I know that there are far worse things that could have happened, so I’m going to TRY to be patient. . .

Because I can still hike, we should be able to finish up our little project of getting to the highest (natural) point in each of the 50 states when we go to Hawaii in September and October.  (Of course, given that there is a road to the highest point in Hawaii, Muana Kea, we should be able to succeed no matter what, but our preference is to hike up it.)

I’ve also discovered that apparently about 50% of my friends have dislocated or damaged their shoulder, or know someone who has.   I’ve appreciated hearing all of the stories.

May you have good health AND be injury-free!


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

49 Continental State Highest Points complete!

As you’re probably aware, Jay and I have been on a quest to summit the highest natural point in each of the 50 states of the United States of America.  We went on a trip this July and August to attempt to wrap up getting to the highest points in all of the states situated on the continent.  On August 25th, 2016, we succeeded (Jay and I, and our Cure JM (Juvenile Myositis) banner)!!!  Now, all we have left to do is Mauna Kea in Hawaii, and we’ll have been to the highest point in each of the 50 states!

Here, I’ve included a collage of the final continental high points (I’ve been posting the Cure JM photos at this publicly accessible link.) We also did the highest natural point in Washington, District of Columbia, since we were so close.  Finding the USGS marker for the point that is the official recognition of the highest point that the public is allowed to visit, turned out to be a bit of a challenge, but, in spite of the almost 100degree Fahrenheit (38C) weather (with very high humidity), we did find it, as you can see from the picture:
(Click on Photo to see the higher quality image that you can zoom in on.)

We did hikes with friends around New Jersey’s High Point, and we did hikes to reach New York’s Mt. Marcy, Connecticut’s Mt. Frissell (the high point is on the shoulder of the mountain, whose peak is in Massachusetts), New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington (we had a choice for this one – there’s a road to the summit), Vermont’s Mt. Mansfield, and Maine’s Baxter Peak on Katahdin.  The rest were readily accessible via at most a stroll from the vehicle.  Speaking of which, Jay’s Ford F150 has now been in 48 of our 50 states!  Not many vehicles can say that for themselves!

May you have goals around your own passion to which you can strive!