I started to cringe with each step, steeper and more angled than the previous. The weight of my pack and the events of the day were starting to wear on me and my ankle was getting sore. I was walking differently to compensate for the discomfort and then finally, feet hit flat ground and we were in the home stretch back to the truck. As I dropped my heavy, not so heavy burden to the ground and commenced to follow suit I looked up at Patrick with a smile, the words “Thanks for a great day” spilling from my mouth.
Six months prior I had fallen at the Buttermilks and landed with one foot squarely on the pads, the other crookedly in the hole between the pads. Upon impact my talus cracked in two places. For a minute there, after popping it back into place, I managed to convince myself it was fine. In reality it would be two months of disuse followed by months of rehab. At the time this seemed exceptionally cruel as we had just returned from spending a fall and winter traveling and climbing in Spain. I had red pointed my first 5.14 as well as numerous other memorable routes and I was feeling strong and psyched.
We returned to Bishop in February and I hit the ground running. There were a few problems on my mind at the Buttermilks and I went after them almost immediately. I was rewarded with quick ascents and as exciting as that was I was also starting to feel a little confused. I went out climbing even on days I really didn’t feel like climbing and I questioned what my motivation was. I was starting to not feel present and just at the height of that feeling I broke my ankle. It was as if the universe was telling me I needed to sit down and get grounded again.
No one ever really told me how badly broken bones hurt, or how they go through a range of pain or how the mental and emotional self also hurt. I can safely say one thing I learned is that healing hurts – almost more than the break itself. For days I could hardly get out of bed, the discomfort coupled with the amount of energy it took to drag myself around were just too much. I watched movies, I read, I wrote, I cried, and I slept. Despite the pain I never filled my prescription for Percocet – I just endured and winced with the waves of discomfort. I never filled it because I was afraid of it, because I knew I would fall into a depression as the time wore on and if I had those pills I would probably find myself down a very dark hole.
I’m a very physical person – at times in my life one could equate my happiness with my activity level. I have always been this way. I love nothing more than trying hard, pushing myself, sweating and feeling the deep burn. I enjoy my body and using it to it’s utmost capacity. This being my first broken bone I was afraid of the down time, afraid of not expressing myself physically, afraid, afraid, afraid. Some days were better than others and I grew a lot as an individual during that time. I reflected on what things are important to me and what I came up with was an array of things but at the top of the list was health. I went on to take this apart and ask myself what about health is important, is achievable, am I working with currently and how could I continue to work with that in the longterm?
The work I do with Sacred Rok as camp cook has pushed me into a realm of being responsible for not only my own diet but the diet of many youth and mentors/adults. I cook seasonal foods, organic foods, local foods, whole foods – basically real food. Being an athlete I also want to know what is the most nutritious and beneficial way I can eat for performance. These two things coupled together with the down time of recovery pushed me to enroll in graduate school for a masters in Holistic Nutrition. I’m a few months into the program and I’m loving every bit of it. It’s pushed me further to consider each thing we put into our bodies.
After a few weeks of being broken I started to get creative with my exercise. Unable to walk or put weight on my right leg I resorted to a lot of floor exercise – like one leg push-ups, ice-bucket lifts with one arm, countless ab work outs, I even started to strap weights to my legs to do leg lifts, and then I entered into a serious hangboard program. I eased into it and always followed suit with push-ups, wrist curls and other oppositional training. Having trained on the board for years I quickly arrived at the point were I was ready to start training max strength. This involved a series of different repeater exercises with added weight as well as pull-ups with weight. It also involved one arm hangs and one arm pull-ups – these involved taking weight off until I could do a pull-up unassisted. It helped structure my time and give me direction even though it seemed like I would possibly peak in my fitness at a time when I wouldn’t even really be climbing. I did it anyway.
Before I knew it it was time to start using my foot again. I developed a program to recovery that included physical therapy, pilates, bike riding and some strength training for climbing. I went to physical therapy twice a week from April until June at the Bishop Physical Therapy Clinic. I worked with 2 PT’s who really helped push me and get me back on track to an even stronger me. They helped strengthen and stabilize my ankle, my foot, my toes, my calf and both hips. It’s amazing to me how once a person starts to pay more attention to their body they start to realize other imbalances and weaknesses. For sometime now I have been going to see Mary Devore at the Bishop Yoga and Pilates Studio. She has been my primary body worker and through her excruciatingly healing touch has helped show me certain problem areas in my body. Stuff that’s been there probably since infancy and accumulated throughout the dramas of life. During my rehab time she taught me how to use the Pilates Reformer. Originally this contraption was referred to as The Universal Reformer because it “universally reforms the body.” It works the small stabilizing muscles as well as a deep core and it also helps to align the body. This marvelous machine has done more to balance me out than anything else. In wanting to train strength I could think of no better resource than Ian Nielson at Mammoth Strength. He is not only a great friend but also a great coach and very knowledgable about the body and how it works. He helped me understand how to structure a training week as well as establishing exercises on the gymnastic rings, hang board and systems board. I worked some with him through my recovery and once I was climbing again.
During my rehab time I also gave in to a long standing desire to own a road bike. For many years I have wanted one but substituted my mountain bike tires for road wheels – it worked for a while but with rehab as a good excuse I bought myself the sexiest, fastest bike I could afford.
I took some intro rides around the Owens Valley and became better acquainted with two super fun and super rad Bishop locals who were also in the rehab process: Trish McGuire and Christie McIntire. Together we rode through some beautiful places and reveled in our bodies abilities to heal and strengthen.
As I got stronger on the bike I took on longer, harder rides solo. The top two being riding to Glacier Point and riding the whole Tioga Pass from Lee Vining to Tuolumne. They were both hard, both alpine starts and entirely worth it.
Sometime in May I was able to start climbing again. I took it incredibly slow, only top roping for about a month and not really climbing anything too hard. Even though I had been training and was feeling strong it felt weird when I started to move on rock again.I wasn’t breathing and I was guarding my movements; things weren’t flowing freely. Thankfully 18 years of climbing have given me a good foundation and I was back to feeling natural and confident on the rock within a couple of weeks. My psyche was high – I felt more motivated, more positive and more appreciative of climbing than ever. I took the opportunity to tick some classics, revive some long forgotten gems and just enjoy myself.
At the start of July I had been leading for about a month and was eager to get into some long valley routes. In scouring the guidebook for things I hadn’t done I came across some lines that had been forgotten to the lichen. I ventured out trying some of these and found a bag of mixed results. Certain unnamed routes should be left in the past and certain other unnamed routes are “c’est incroyable” and will be getting some more attention from me in the future. I also came upon the fact that I had never climbed the Chouinard-Herbert.
On a hot July 4th Christina Freschl and I left El Portal in the dark, the crickets still owned the air time as the birds hadn’t quite come out of their slumber. We arrived at the Four Mile trail parking just as the cool blue light of morning greeted the Valley. Marching up the Sentinel approach I felt lucky to be able to walk up there, much less climb the route. My ankle had been healing perfectly and this day would be a great test.
The route was amazing and was quite the trip into the past. The climbing went quickly and we beat the sun to the summit. Partnering with Christina was perfect for this endeavor – she is efficient, tough as nails and really good energy to be around. We had a marvelous day out on this old-school classic.
As the summer heat rose I migrated to the High Country. For the last 8 or so summers I have been fortunate to do a lot of climbing in Tuolumne. Some might say I have climbed it out, but that just isn’t true. There are some newer, obscure routes that beckon me – one of which was Mikey Schafer’s Night Shift. In mid July Christina and I made an ascent of this test piece and wow what a route! Anyone intrigued by this line better bring their A-game in the tech-ten department – mentally and physically.
For the past few summers I have been making ventures into the Hulk. Last year after climbing the Venturi Effect I got psyched on the other hard lines, one in particular called Solar Flare. If anyone is familiar with this wall, then you will know the bright orange sun spot on the left side of the formation. The Sunspot Dihedral climbs the right side of this “sun spot” while Solar Flare climbs the left arete of it. In late July Ian Nielson and I went in for a couple of days to try our hands at Solar Flare. It is a stunning route. I believe actually at one point while digging deep on the 12d crux pitch slab arete I yelled, “Holy shit, this is like Eat your heart out Mikey Schafer.” Needless to say it was hard, techy, physical and at times cryptic. I fucking loved it! Ian was a great partner and while neither of us made a full free ascent we had a great time, did some stellar climbing and got inspired to go back.
Last year my friend and frequent partner Patrick O’Donnell and I discussed doing the Hading Route on Conness. By August of this summer it had been in the works for a year. I had made it a goal to be feeling as fit as ever for this endeavor since it consists of a 4 mile hike in and back out, a 1200ft climb and an elevation of 12,600ft. My training, my bike riding, all of my climbing as well as the trip to the Hulk had me feeling pretty fit and the mission was a great success. The route was amazing, the location sublime and I never felt stronger at elevation than then.
This route, although easier, felt similar in character to the Chouinard-Herbert. Much of that sentiment stems from how historical both routes are as well as the ancient fixed gear that gives a glimpse into a bygone era. The old YC stamped pins in the CH with the some of the original bongs made such an enjoyable trip down a historical path. As I led my way up the notorious 5th pitch of The Harding Route on Conness I felt similar appreciation for the old bolts. They are old Star Drives and the hangers are original Harding chopped piton, hole punched, ring hangers. They are amazing little pieces of art. My appreciation stemmed not from desperately wanting to clip them but from an admiration of the story that played itself out on this Alpine rock. To think of Harding out there, drilling those bolts, groveling through the squeeze chimneys with his hammer dangling made me smile. We are lucky to have such beauty so close!
In between Alpine endeavors and long routes I worked with Sacred Rok, enjoyed the vibe in Tuolumne, did a lot of school work, and spent a lot of time on the East Side. I sport climbed a lot, returning to crags like the Tioga Wall, Bear Crag and Pine Creek and checked out other spots like Column of the Giants. I found myself to be in good shape, having power and endurance and maybe even annoying my friends a little by doing their projects first go. I made some first female ascents at Bear Crag, Tuolumne, and Pine Creek and the second overall ascent of a new route at Pine Creek called Planet X ((13b), its the extension to Planetarium and its really worthy.)Not to brag too much but it’s been great fun!
I was fortunate that my ankle break was so textbook and didn’t require surgery. I was lucky it healed so well. As of now there are days when I don’t even remember I broke it, which is interesting because in the beginning I couldn’t imagine how it would ever feel normal again. I owe a lot to my dear husband, Ben Ditto, for all of his patience, help and support. It would have been a long, hard and miserable journey without him. I also owe a lot to all the people who helped me through rehab and training – without this core group of knowledgable and kind people I would still be a gimpy mess.
There are a few little projects to tie up and one more week of work before this Sierra sojourn comes to an end. I will meet Ben in France and we will spend the fall and winter in Europe again. The Verdon Gorge will be the first stop, a place that has been a dream of mine for many years. I am looking forward to spending some time there, pratiquer mon francais et bien manger.
I wish all of you a great end to summer and happy fall climbing season – and may the snow gods please deliver an abundance of moisture to the Sierra!
also…in case you all are wondering where Ben is in all of this:
In June he made a free ascent of the Freerider – like a bowse! In early July he departed the US and met up with the Belgians and Cpt Bob for another sailing expedition. As of now they have been to Greenland where they established some new routes and boulder problems and have been in Baffin Island doing the same. Stay tuned for more on their adventures.
August 28th, 2014 at 12:37 am
Great time for me to read this; thanks for sharing your journey. I’m glad you’re having such a great summer and successful recovery:)
August 28th, 2014 at 1:15 pm
Your writing is mesmerizing .. Pulls you and holds you. I’ll just say again .. You are AWESOME! Hugs Katie and I look forward to reading more of your adventures.
September 1st, 2014 at 11:23 am
Erik Sloan put me up to the Chouinard-Herbert back in ’07 to replace bolts. We didn’t bring a topo and he just kept telling me every pitch was 5.9 in totally seriously tone haha. What a sandbagger! I had no idea and laughed my butt off looking at the topo that night. Dude this finger crack feels hard for 5.9 gee! Nice work lately- Good luck getting off the injury stop- keep it up!
September 2nd, 2014 at 4:24 pm
So cool to hear about your journey and how you’ve opened and grown from this incident. Wonderful!