10 Questions with: Meredith!

As we wind our way into April (crazy!), there’s a lot on our minds and several items on our to-do lists, although each of us is focused on and working hard to address different things. Over the next few days each of us will post a “10 Questions With:” blog entry, to each answer the same 10 overall questions and ¬†share what we’re thinking, what we’re doing, and where our head is at with regards to the rapidly approaching Denali climb.
First up? Yours truly.
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1. What has been the biggest change in your day-to-day life since beginning to train for this climb? What are you doing this spring that you wouldn’t normally be doing, at this time?
Can I say “spraining my stupid ankle” without sounding like a petulant seven year old? Because spraining my stupid ankle definitely became a defining experience in this training period. It was frustrating (and somewhat agonizing) to get super amped up to really get started and put in the training time with the rest of the girls, then go out on our first all day conditioning hike, and slip on ice …while standing still looking at the view. And it sucked to stay home while they went out to train, a few of those earliest weekends. It made me feel 100 years old. 100, and seven, apparently.
My sister during a recent visit, "helping" me with my ankle physical therapy the way she would have when we were little - by mimicking me, like a dork. :)

My sister during a recent visit, “helping” me with my ankle physical therapy the way she would have when we were little – by mimicking me, like a dork. ūüôā

The biggest change post ankle, though, has been the addition of actual weight training (weight lifting) to my weekly workout routine, and that of ramping up that routine much earlier than usual (early January versus late February). I’m carrying 45 lbs, as of this week, and would normally be at about 35 right now.
Jenn pulling weights around back in February

Jenn pulling weights around back in February

In terms of weight-training – in early February we got together at Leigh Ann’s gym, Level 4 Crossfit, to talk about specific training movements to focus on, and pull sleds loaded with weight. Leigh Ann made a list of upper body and core workouts to focus on, and rather than keep track of them individually, I took a photo of the wipeboard, and then turned them into a checklist in my Droid’s ‘Keep’ app that I run through every single time I’m at the Y, checking them off as I go (very satisfying, psychologically). I do all the upper body and core stuff twice a week for about an hour and a half, and afterwards, I’m totally wiped – to the point where my arms tremble while I open my gym locker. Weight-lifting is hard (and a bit intellectually un-engaging) but I have the core (back and waist-area) resilience, and hunky new biceps, to prove it’s worth it!
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2. We’ve each purchased or borrowed a ton of gear for the trip – what two or three Denali-specific new items are you absolutely loving right now, and is there anything that simply didn’t work for you, and that you returned right away?
Some of my favorite gear I’m taking on this trip is old gear: circa 2011 Patagonia Expedition 4 black long underwear pants (the newer Exped 4s are¬†really thin!), and a pair of white Elita long underwear that I got way back when I first started¬†backpacking, from my parents. There’s nothing like the old standbys.
Me in my "new" Elita long underwear, a thousand years and a lifetime ago, in an Appalachian Trail hut back during college, in 2006. This may be the coolest I've ever looked in an outdoors photo (because it's fuzzy).

Me in my “new” Elita long underwear, a thousand years and a lifetime ago, in an Appalachian Trail hut back during college, in 2006. This may be the coolest I’ve ever looked in an outdoors photo (because it’s fuzzy).

In terms of new gear: I bought a new hardshell jacket (hardshell = plastic-like wind-blocking external layer) from Patagonia, sized bigger than I normally would so that it can cover all my layers, and I took it out for a test-drive this weekend and kinda love it. It’s their Patagonia Alpine Houdini, and it’s a super stripped down, super lightweight layer, complete with tiiiiny zippers! Although I admit, I wish it had pockets! (They left ’em off because it’s supposed to be super light – hence the “Houdini”). Plus, I like it because mine is purple. And that’s not because I’m a girl – it’s because I like purple!
Putting hard-earned knitting skills to use unsnaggling well-snaggled tent cords for the new Trango! Check out that awesome purple hardshell and those sweet, expensive Spantiks!

Putting hard-earned knitting skills to use unsnaggling well-snaggled tent cords for the new Trango! Check out that awesome purple hardshell and those sweet, expensive as all get-out Spantiks!

I also love (love, love, love) my La Sportiva Spantik (Carolyn rather adorably calls them “Sputniks”) boots, which look like moonshoes. The Spantiks are double boots (so there are two individual lace-up boots you wear on each foot – one nests inside the other), as opposed to plastics (which have a hard plastic shell, like ski boots). The Spantiks were my biggest, splurgiest purchase – they cost more than I have ever paid in monthly rent, to put it in perspective. I really wrestled with whether I should get those, or the Koflach Artis Expe plastic boots, which are about $300 cheaper (I actually bought and took home both, and then stared at the two pairs obsessively for most of February before making a decision), but I realized that most of the time when faced with a decision like this, I go for pragmatism and choose the cheaper option, and I’ve been known to suffer for that in the past. But my feet are literally what’s going to carry me up the mountain – so I went for the fancy option, this time, and haven’t regretted it whatsoever. And to quote the MountainTrip gear list¬†– what’s $750 divided by 10 toes? $75 a toe? The most expensive boots of my life, for sure, but keeping toes is worth at least that much. (Don’t worry mom and dad – losing toes is extremely unlikely!)
Other goodies I’m loving – the Mountain Hardwear Absolute Zero parka I bought with a killer deal (in bright orange, no less), even though it’s sized for a dude with a barrel chest and I’m pretty sure I could fit Jenn in there with me(!), and Leigh Ann’s super sweet new Mountain Hardwear Trango 3 tent! So sweet! So much internal storage! Such bright colors!
Maiden tent erection. Hmmm, that's not quite what I meant. But I like it, so let's leave that here...

Maiden tent erection. Hmmm, that¬†didn’t quite come out how I meant it… But, whatever. ūüėČ

Finally, can I cast a “cool gear” vote for Leigh Ann’s sweet new climbing bibs, which I can’t seem to find in my size anywhere, for the absolute life of me,¬†but¬†I’m sure she’ll tell you about?
 
3. Which logistical or planning-related decision are you feeling most thoughtful about, or has you worried?
I’m not worried about much, to be honest – I’m a pretty level-headed, logical task manager, and that trait has been very much present these last two months. I think the main thing I’m¬†worried about is what you might call the “controversial leave-behinds” – the question of how many shovels to bring, how many probes, whether to bring our avalanche beacons, and whether to bring helmets. (I’d be interested in the perspective of other people on this issue, I should note). A lot of the rescue gear we carry in the Cascades is more disproportionately useful in the Cascades, and so some climbers leave it behind for trips like Denali, but having been trained to compulsively wear one’s beacon…it’s really hard to contemplate leaving it behind, ever.
 
4. What’s your go-to snack for food on the mountain? The Denali Girls are planning for hot breakfasts and hot dinners – what will you be eating the rest of the time?
I can’t do bars or oatmeal, and I don’t eat meat, so no jerky, which pretty much makes me the most difficult mountain eater imaginable. I would rather do raw, unadulterated nuts (of almost any kind), straight up chocolate, or absolute crap candy (hello, gummy bears!) than anything else. Normally I’d carry raw almonds, dried apricots, Stretch Island, single serving fruit leather things that were all the rage a few years back, and Primal Strips –¬†pseudo-paleo vegetarian snack strips, as well as a few pieces of honest-to-god candy, around here. I also regularly steal dried mango from Trader Joe’s and peanut M&Ms from my boyfriend, here in Washington. In Alaska I’m anticipating a lot of fruit chews and some gels (consistency is a hang up of mine – I think oatmeal has the consistency of that which shall not be named, and some of those gels – don’t even get me started). So I’m experimenting a lot with what snacky foods to bring, and would very much welcome creative suggestions!
 
5. What new food or drink products have you added to your daily life since starting preparations for the climb? What do you like the best?
This is one of my favorite questions, because I’m so pleasantly surprised by my answer. Coco Libre, a company that makes coconut water fortified with added protein, agreed to sponsor us by providing product (a few boxes full of single-serving, to-go containers of coconut milk) and I felt a little gun-shy at first, because the last time I tried coconut water that wasn’t straight from a coconut, I didn’t like it. The Coco Libre stuff is¬†awesome,¬†thought, and I’m completely addicted. Current training philosophy suggests that consuming additional protein after a work out aids in muscle recovery, so for awhile my fridge was totally stocked with the squeezable containers of it, and I’d grab one and throw it in my workout bag before heading to the gym. The chocolate one and the vanilla one are particuarly awesome, and both have additional protein added.
Breakfast of (pescetarian) champions: egg on a real east coast bagel, and a Coco Libre. Add a greek yogurt (Tillamook is my go-to) and I'm ahead of the protein curve before the day has even started!

Breakfast of (pescetarian) champions: egg on a real east coast bagel, and a Coco Libre. Add a greek yogurt (Tillamook is my go-to) and I’m ahead of the protein curve before the day has even started!

I’ve also added a fish oil supplement, whey protein shakes, and other healthy bits (plus more eggs for breakfast: protein source), but don’t have much more to say about that beyond – yeah – I’m doing it. Those whey protein shakes are pretty good – that BCAA-G stuff in “Lemonade” is headed back to the store as soon as I have a minute. The Omega-3 vitamins are the size of horse pills. Gulp.
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6. What’s the most interesting, most complicated, or most useful skill or technique you’ve learned or perfected over the last few months?
Working with the sleds is pretty interested, pretty challenging, and just kinda cool. Probably just that experience, of wearing a huge backpack while towing a full-loaded sled last weekend. I felt so super strong (and so super wiped out afterwards!)
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7. What’s still on your Denali to-do list? Give us a sample of the things you’re about to get to, or make decisions about, this week.
So. many. things. The most obvious are filling my gear holes (which are somehow more glaring than those of the other girls) – I still need a new pair of crampons, insulated overboots (which are like a wetsuit that covers your entire boot and lower leg), a bigger harness (sized to go over all the new clothes I’ll be wearing), an extra pair of long underwear, new glacier glasses (SO over my old ones!) and down booties. Like I said, I’m a little behind. Eeek. Other things – confirming our flight date and travel plans, ride information, etc. The biggest single thing we’re still working with as a group is our food planning – that’s a whole other challenge, with our varied diets and desire to travel light (freeze-dry allll the things…)
[Editor’s Note: writing this entry induced enough panic that as of yesterday I now have the overboots, long underwear, and down booties. I also don’t have $600 that I did yesterday…]
 
8. What does your training or conditioning schedule look like this week, for example? Is there any one part of your physical conditioning that has most noticeably changed your physique?
In a nutshell: two days outside last weekend – Saturday: sled work and snow camping, Sunday, hiking the big slope on the approach to Rock Lake. Monday: wasn’t feeling so hot – too much business travel wedged between a lot of climbing training. Tuesday: got stuck in traffic-pocalypse and missed my stair climbing plans (please see “Overturned fish truck on Viaduct ruined everyone’s day” – because, yep, thanks for that, Seattle). Tonight I’m working around social plans (with climbers – ha!) to hit up the West Seattle Y, first, and get my core and upper body workout in. Thursday I’m hoping to swim in the morning (for some active recovery and additional cardio),and then do our night hike with 45 lbs. I’m angling¬†to take Friday off from work so that Jenn and I can head to the Mountaineers, hang off the roof, and give me a chance to practice escaping the crevasse by passing a sled, which the other girls practiced back when my ankle was still too messed up to bear weight. Then Saturday we condition again (45 lbs), and Saturday night we’re doing a “sleepover” at Jenn’s down to enjoy some downtime together but also get a bunch of small to-dos done! Sunday afternoon is real downtime, and then Monday it all starts over, again. The pace, at this point, is a little bit unrelenting.
And yes, on the physique – my core feels totally strong (which I partially attribute to the swimming I did most days in February!) and my biceps and shoulders could give Popeye a run for his money. ūüėČ
 
9. What are you reading or listening to right now? Denali books, or training books, or books to give you a break from all of the above?
I’m trying to concurrently finish Steve House’s book ‘Training for the New Alpinism,’ and Colby Coombs’ ‘Denali: The West Buttress,’ which is a matter of fact treatment of what the climb entails. I had dropped both when we got really busy training, so that’s the goal for early April.
 
10. What, to you, would make for a successful climb? Is there one moment or experience you are most looking forward to?
I’m most looking forward to landing on the glacier – I think that’s going to be a bit mind-blowing – like whoa – we’re really doing this, we’re really here. To me a successful climb is everyone going up and coming down friends, and each woman feeling empowered to speak her mind about what we do from day to day, and feeling heard, and engaged in the decision-making. I’m less attached to the summit (to all summits, really) than a lot of people – for me it’s all about the adventure, and always has been. Even if something happens and I end up sitting down at basecamp, waiting for the other girls to come back – it will be an adventure, an experience, a great story. I just realized as I typed this that I have the perfect fortune cookie taped to my computer monitor, to sum it up:
Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
I’ll take a bit of daring, please!

What Kind of Week Has It Been (Part II(A): Recovery & Rainier)

Good god. Where to start?

After I sprained my ankle and we found out that it was, indeed, enough of a thing that I had to stay mostly off it for a few weeks, the Denali Girls decided as a team that rather than all heading down to Rainier together on Saturday and Sunday of this past weekend, we would instead get up early as planned, meet at a coffeeshop to discuss the ramifications of my ankle injury, and then the other Girls would head off to Rainier to do a first planned overnight, and I would head off to figure out this whole “swimming” thing.

And so Saturday morning I woke at the wee hour of 5am to trek down to a Starbucks in Renton, where Leigh Ann, Carolyn, Jenn and I would talk it all through. I was worried the Girls would be more worried about me being able to hack it, after a month of not much activity, but we had a good conversation and came up with a bit of a plan (my end of said plan: more swimming) for how we’d continue to advance towards our training goals, and avoid having the Ankle of Gloom ruin all the fun this May.

After our meeting I gave the Girls a parting honk and cruised home to that first day of swimming I mentioned in my last post, and they rolled off toward Mt Rainier. Our plan for the weekend had always been to make it a bit of a gear shakedown weekend – we’ve been accumulating literal piles of expensive new gear – cozy down layers, technical equipment like trekking poles, ice axes, stoves and snow saws, and we had some decisions to make – decisions about which second tent we should take (we are already borrowing a first very bomber tent) and about the sleds – how does this sled stuff, work, anyway? We were going to go find out.

Secondary goals for the weekend were to have another good long conditioner, and to just plain old spend more time together – to create more of the kinds of bonds that take you through the moments in climbing that we describe as Type II Fun – the part of an adventure that is mostly fun when you’re laughing about it in a bar a few days later, and not in the moment where you’re dealing with it (I also recently heard this called “Pre-Joy” as opposed to the real deal – Actual Joy).

So: Gear test. Check. Gear decisions. Check. Yet another conditioner? All over it. Bonding. Yahoooo.

When the Girls left Starbucks without me, I had a mix of emotions. I was energized and grateful that the Ankle of Gloom wasn’t overly daunting for them, and I was full of excitement and the belief that this is a really, really great team. I wondered a little bit if it wasn’t maybe a good thing that I was being taken out of the picture for a little bit, as I had been the convener of the climb. Perhaps my absence would lead to everyone else getting to know each other a little bit better, without me there to talk everyone’s ears off…

And on the other hand, I was living a little bit in This-Sucks-ville, as here we were finally at our first overnight, and I wanted to test the tents…and try out the stove…and pull a sled…and just be out there. I wanted to go too!

Instead I headed off to the Y on Saturday and then again on Sunday, benefiting immensely from the time and guidance of a fellow climber and former swimmer and lifeguard who took the time to show me some techniques and acquaint me with a workout on Sunday morning, and returned from ‘Day 2 of Lap Swimming’ pretty pleased with life on Sunday (I even figured out the swim cap!) …until Paul called.

Me, totally stoked on the YMCA (and a lot of chlorine), until Paul called.

Jenn’s post did a great job of sharing the experiences of the Girls on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday – well, here’s how it went on my end.

First I should say, though, is that one of the reasons I like climbing with these ladies is that we don’t take stupid risks. Did you see Leigh Ann’s note about her helmet being her favorite piece of gear? We’re not mindless rule-followers, but we’re not stupid, either (word to your mother – not wearing a helmet is stupid).¬† We take appropriate precautions, we plan well, and we play by the rules because they keep us safe. I’d love to say that I’m a balls-to-the-way wild-ass hipster climber, but really (you probably know this already) – I’m not. We’re smart, practical, driven women. We’ve got shit to do – we’re not interested in getting hurt, missing work, or messing around. We’re interested in climbing a mountain, standing on its summit, and returning to tell about it. Nothing too crazy here.

One of those rules we all normally play by, though, is the setting of an “overdue” time, and last weekend, we as a group – all four of us – completely overlooked it.

Given the way that Sunday and Monday went down, I’ve thought this over quite a bit, and I personally think the main mistake we made last weekend was to underestimate what it means to climb up to Camp Muir, the “basecamp” on Mt Rainier in winter. That whole winter part being the key.

Experienced climbers often climb Mt Rainier on a route called the DC Route (DC for Disappoinment Cleaver). The DC route is climbed in two or three days, and is widely considered the most basic (easiest) route to the mountain’s summit.¬† You leave from a massively accessible parking lot and Visitors’ Center called Paradise (which is entirely un-Paradise-like in the way that it is absolteuly¬† overrun by tourists on the summer days when we mostly climb), embarking on your climb from 5,400 ft. You hike up and up to Camp Muir, a bit of a (kinda vast) campsite, more or less, at 10,080 feet (on a 14,410 foot mountain, do recall). Camp Muir is used in our normal training months (more or less March through June, and/or beyond) as yet another conditioning hike to get ready for the climbing season – it’s kinda what we do for exercise, and just another way to workout. It’s “just Camp Muir.”

A wicked great image of the DC route can be found on highpressurephotography.com (except the turnaround below the summit was unique to that person’s climb – but look for Camp Muir in yellow)

So the girls went off to just go to Muir (in winter) as we had planned, with sleds and lots of lots of new (but technically tested) gear intended for weather much colder than anything they’d find on our “little” mountain.

And I didn’t really put much thought into it (besides occasional pings of jealousy when Saturday turned out to be a beautifully clear night…in the city) until Sunday morning, when Paul, a friend of ours and one of Jenn’s emergency contacts called, because another friend of Jenn’s had mistakenly believed that Jenn would be back Saturday night, and was growing concerned. I reassured Paul that the Girls had absolutely intended to be out overnight, and were equipped as such, and asked him to let Jenn’s other friend know, so she wouldn’t worry. But in the process, I suddenly realized that we hadn’t set an overdue time – a time when their emergency contacts would automatically initiate emergency protocols, so as to ensure they were ok.

A bit about how that works, for those who don’t know – first – climbing time and time of return is naturally fairly variable. The weather, the strength of the party, how a climber is feeling that day, if and what they drank the night before, and a whole slew of other factors can slow climbers down when they’re outdoors, and many times the most prescient thing for a slow party to do is to stay out an extra night, get a bit more sleep, or wait out a storm, and then head down when the climbers are more energized, the weather is better, or there’s more natural light to climb by. Because of that, many emergency contacts will be told to wait until somewhere in the vicinity of noon the day after a party is due back before initiating emergency procedures, because most of the time that group will trudge on out by itself, a bit wet, or with a sprained ankle in the midst, but none the worse for wear. So we normally give our emergency contacts a specific time at which “to worry,” when they should take action to make sure we’re ok, but are unlikely to accidentaly trigger, oh, I dunno, a full Search & Rescue response when the climbers in question are ok. ūüôā

So on Sunday early afternoon, a bit¬† after Paul’s call, and without having heard from the Girls when I expected, I was surprised at myself, and shot off a text to the Girls:

Hi ladies! Just wanted to text and make sure you got off Mt Rainier ok! Hope you had fun – please let me know if you are out/down – I got a concerned call from Ms Carter’s eastside crew today because they didn’t know you were staying out overnight! ūüėõ (you so busted) ūüôā

The ladies had planned on being back to Leigh Ann’s truck at Paradise by about 11:15, which we had discussed in advance, so that they could be back to the Park & Ride by 1:45pm, so that Jenn could be at work by 3pm – for which she’d mentioned she couldn’t be late.

At 1pm when I sent my text, I wasn’t that worried. Paradise has notoriously spotty cell coverage, and I figured if the Girls got out late they wouldn’t stop to send text messages, but would drive straight back to Renton to get Jenn on her way. I was mostly annoyed at myself for not having thought to ask more about their “worry time.”

After I didn’t hear back from the Girls by 2pm I began to assume they were delayed, and I realized that if I didn’t hear from them in the next few hours, it would mean they were spending the night on the mountain, because it gets dark at about 5:30 right now. Paul and I were in periodic and increasingly frequent text and phone contact, comparing notes on what we thought the story might be, and as the afternoon wore on I slowly began to be a bit more concerned about the team. I ran through their gear in my head: super bomber (very warm) sleeping bags and parkas, two 4-season tents, first aid gear because they’re all thorough like that, and a Denali-rated stove that I had personally tested in my driveway on Friday night before handing it off on Saturday morning. I didn’t really need to be worried, and I mostly wasn’t, yet.

The thing about worry (which I just explained to my still-concerned mother tonight), is that it’s contagious. When someone asks “Are you worried?” it seems to trigger more concern. Having climbed fairly extensively with Leigh Ann and a good bit with Carolyn, I know a lot about their decision-making, reaction to stressful situations, and tolerance for risk – in a vacuum, I wasn’t worried, and I probably wouldn’t have normally become so until heading to bed on Sunday night, because not having heard from them by bed on Sunday would mean needing to watch carefully for a message or signal for them on Monday. But having someone else (who was themselves concerned) ask the question, begged another: should I be?

And so I gradually became increasingly worried over Sunday afternoon. We had known that the weather was going to get blustery Sunday afternoon, but we’d assumed the Girls would definitely be off the mountain and back in Seattle by then – we didn’t even come up with a contingency plan for if they did get stuck, because (say it with me now) it was just Camp Muir. The forecast for Saturday called for new precipitation (several inches of snow) and blowing winds which could get up to 40-50 mph, up high. I’ve slept out in 30+ mph winds, and they’re loud, and feel violent, and eat lower quality 3-season tents for breakfast. So as everyone around me watched the Superbowl, I periodically checked my phone, and when no messages appeared, I became more worried.

Before the game started, Paul, myself, and Bree, Jenn’s primary emergency contact, had decided on a bit of a gameplan for what to do if we didn’t hear from the Girls as the hours passed. We knew our friends well enough that we felt confident they wouldn’t walk out mostly in the dark – for a little while, yes, but not at, say, 10 at night. So if we didn’t hear from them at 6 or 7 or so, we’d know they were overnighting, and would have a decision to make about whether to call the Park and let the staff there know that the ladies were overdue, or to wait till Monday morning, see if they walked out, and if not, then make the call. There are upsides and downsides to each option – the downside to calling on Sunday night was that it was really too early to call, given typical climbing conventions (that next day walk-out possibility) but then again, if the ladies hadn’t walked out already then Jenn was missing work at a job she loves, and nobody thought she’d be ok with doing that unless she absolutely had to – so were they all ok? The upside to calling was that Jenn was missing work, so we knew she was at least a little bit stuck in some way, and that if we called on Sunday night the Park would have more time to come up with a better plan in case a rescue really was needed, and they’d be ready to go sooner. Plus with that weather coming in…

It would be tedious to even begin to try to recount how 4 to 6pm on Sunday played out, but it would be accurate to say it was completely surreal. As the one person who knew everyone involved, their plan, and all of their emergency contacts (plus their gear and had a sense for their decision-making), a lot of the decision-making ultimately fell to me. Checking now, my phone records show that I made my first call to Leigh Ann’s emergency contact at 4:17pm on Sunday (as I watched the sky grow dark through the windows – that I clearly remember), that I followed it up with calls to Jenn’s emergency contact Bree, to Paul, then back to Bree, and so on, until we finally had a sense for a bit of a decision to call the Park, and I tracked down a phone number for and called Carolyn’s partner Jack at 5:57pm, explained the situation (which he, as a climber, had already anticipated) and he agreed that given the forecast, it might be appropriate to call the Park. In that window, between 4:17 and 6:06, I made and received twenty-five phone calls to four people, not counting the calls I made to the Girls themselves.

And so it happened that at a few minutes after 6, as the house at which I was a guest roared with the ebbs and flows of the Superbowl, I called 911, and asked to be connected to the Mt Rainier Ranger Station, because I wanted to report a climbing party that was overdue.

What Kind of Week Has it Been (Part I: Swelling & Swimsuits)

This week has felt a lot like this...

This week has felt a lot like this…

Aaron Sorkin of ‘West Wing’ and ‘The Newsroom’ fame is notorious for titling¬†multiple episodes of his different shows “What Kind of Day Has it Been,” a quote which he attributed to a movie¬†producer who used ¬†the question as a kicking off point for review of the day.

Last night as I drove home from a wonderful Town Hall talk by famed climber Reinhold Messner, the “week” version of those words ran through my head over and over, some 20-plus hours into what proved to be anything but an ordinary Monday…

But before I get ahead of myself –

Earlier last week, on Sunday, the 25th, we Denali Girls embarked on a first daytime conditioner, and I was.so.pumped. to be getting out there together. You could have fairly called me hyper.

Our training hikes mostly take place at night, in the dark, but back in November or December we sat around a table with our calendars out, and planned an extended run of weekend-long or long single day weekend outings to work on specific skill sets (which we then outlined in a shared document). We were very organized about it, as we have been in most aspects of the climb planning, and I was so stoked that we were finally getting outside together to keep making things happen!

Carolyn planned the outing for us, and did a great job. Her aim was for us to get out on an accessible but long day-hike, carrying most of the Denali-specific gear we have to-date, and get a long-ass, vigorous conditioner in: 6+ hours of continuous movement, as she put it.

As I drove out to meet the Girls in the wee hours, I ran through the order of operations for once I arrived at the trailhead (moving efficiently to get from car to hiking is not my strongest suit), and then switched to thinking about all the cool blog posts we could write Рthis was going to be such a great day!

And it was a great day. We got out and got moving, it was a beautiful, ridiculously warm morning, and we were chatting and comparing notes on gear, trip ideas, conversations we’d had about the climb – a perfect outing for a great group of friends.

After gaining some elevation we came upon a stream (Denny Creek), with a prominently placed sign highlighting that the only somewhat-deep water can occasionally rise abruptly, and a log crossing that was clearly washed out. We considered hopping across anyway, but since we were at the beginning of our hike, didn’t really want to risk slipping into the water (or having Jenn slip into the water, since as our most petite member, she has the smallest stride), and so we opted to go poke around the hillside above us, to¬†see if there was an easier way across.

A half hour or so of some hillside exploration later we decided there really wasn’t a better way, that we still didn’t want wet feet all day (we thought we heard another party slip and splash in after we left the crossing area), and decided to head back to the trailhead and switch over to nearby Granite Peak for a drier training hike, as it was still early. We headed back to the area next to the river crossing, paused to consider whether we were being wimps¬†about it, and then as we turned on the ice-filled path to head down and out and over to Granite, I completely wiped out.

In the process of pivoting and turning to head off on my left foot I somehow managed to pull one heckuva banana peel slip and slide, and arc’ed up through the air, and down hard onto the ice, landing with my full body weight on my right ankle, effectively spraining it, although that wouldn’t be confirmed until the next day.

CAUTION. No, seriously. Caution.

CAUTION.
No, seriously. Caution. (Photo courtesy Rob Busack)

A sprained ankle is a major drag for a climber (any kind of ankle or knee injury is a major drag for a climber), mostly because we are so very dependent on those very joints to enable us to walk uphill.  It is a major drag for this climber for two reasons: one, because I already was feeling a bit behind the others on conditioning after a minor back issue and a nasty cold compelled me to miss a couple of our training hikes earlier in the month, and two, because I sprained the exact same ankle this time last year, and re-sprains take longer to heal, and increase the likelihood of re-injury in the future.

And then there’s the mandatory break from our group climb conditioning,¬†as the sharp pain in my ankle and resulting swelling clearly weren’t going to allow me to trek rapidly uphill anytime soon.

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Normal ankle, meet super-swollen-swallowed-a-baseball sized ankle. From the next morning at the doctor’s office.

Admittedly, my little skate across the ice really threw me for a spiral last Sunday. We were finally getting out! I was feeling strong and fit! It was a beautiful day! The Girls are awesome!

And so when I left the girls (as they headed off to continue their hike and I drove myself home to ice), I was stewing. I bought a pizza and a beer and sat in the sunshine in West Seattle and hated everyone who walked by smiling, which was everyone, because it was sunny out, and then I hated on them some more. And I hated my body for being weak and I hated myself for not pushing through the back pain and the cold the previous weeks and conditioning anyway, and I was just – so pissed. I headed home to ice and elevate (or RICE: Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation) and proceeded to RICE my ass off for the next twenty-four hours, like clockwork – if this was really happening I was going to do everything right – no, perfectly – and I was going to heal as fast as humanly possible and get back out there. I went from livid with outrage at my own clumsiness to furiously determined to catch up to the other girls and not lose my conditioning, and my resolve only grew from there.

The next morning a quick trip to the doctor confirmed our fears, and I was instructed to take 3-4 weeks to let things heal before again carrying weight.

3-4 weeks is a long time when you only have four months left! I wanted to punch holes in things. I wanted to punch holes in things a lot. But instead my ever so thoughtful athlete-doctor helped me shift to focus on reorganizing my training, and figuring out how to keep my cardio up and on the increase, while meeting the requirement of staying off the ankle at the same time. She considered all the options, then gave me her recommendation: lap swimming, and lap swimming only, for one to two weeks, followed by one-two weeks of biking and rowing, while slowly adding walking, and then a StairMaster with a pack, and then real honest-to-god hiking conditioning back in over those last two weeks, – all assuming my ankle¬†didn’t hurt.

Lap Swimming. Really? I haven’t swum laps since…visions of my hometown public swimming pool¬†filled my mind. Since I was a scrawny sixteen year-old trying to pass the lifeguard exam because I just liked being certified in things, really. Because I just wanted to see if I could pass¬†it.

So, lap swimming.

One of my favorite life lessons that climbing has taught me, is that every goal can be reached, if you are willing to focus, double-down, and really work for it (ask Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, if you don’t believe me!) You just have to really bust your ass and earn it. I had planned on applying that experience to Denali, in the 3-4 weeks and moreover, 3-4 months to come, but instead, I began to refocus. I would bring the same approach to healing, and recast my training over these coming weeks as a “micro-training” period. I would be serious about not using my ankle, serious about not weighting it, serious about doing the PT exercises my wonderful friend and PT Sarah showed me, serious about eating right, reducing (note: not eliminating – sorry!) alcohol consumption, and serious about god-damned lap swimming. I was about to become a lap swimmer, and I would do it every day, for a month. Period.

Hello, I am a swimmer. File this one under: Denali Gear I didn't count on...

Hello, I am a swimmer. File this one under: Denali Gear I didn’t plan for…

By Tuesday of last week I had suspended my Crossfit subscription for the month (my doctor said no Crossfit), found the nearest YMCA, figured out what it is that one needs to equip oneself with to become a lap swimmer with the help of some amazing friends and a long Facebook post, met with my physical therapist, consulted with a naturopath on diet, and added all the public lap swimming hours at the Y to my Google calendar. Shit was getting real.

By Thursday I had a swimsuit, goggles, and a swim cap (I didn’t know exactly¬†why I had a swim cap yet, but whatever, I bought one), and on Saturday morning I timidly but determinedly became a card-carrying member of the West Seattle YMCA, donned my swimsuit (too tight), peeled the protective covers off my goggles (hello, raccoon eyes!), left the swim cap in the packaging and in my locker, and limped my bum ankle slowly down the old lady ramp and¬†into the pool to¬†get my freaking swim on.

And that about brings us up to speed on where I was at when the Girls left for their first overning training outing to Mt Rainier National Park on Saturday…