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Thread: Climbing post-SCI

  1. #1

    Climbing post-SCI

    Pre-SCI I climbed both rock and ice, leading to about 5.7 trad and WI3-4. My neurosurgeon says I should not resume climbing for about a year post-injury (I will see him again for my 6 month followup in about 2 weeks).

    Curious to know if there are any other climbers out there ... I've exchanged some emails with a few people who were able to resume rock climbing after SCI and have heard a few anecdotes. Haven't heard from any ice climbers though.

    One thing I've read is that with a multilevel cervical fusion, there is the possibility of problems later with other parts of the spine, due to increased stress. I wonder if climbing could make this worse, or make it happen faster.

    From what people tell me, most doctors really don't understand climbing, so they are likely to err on the conservative side ... which is fine, except that I would like to start training again and it seems like going to the gym and toproping ought to be good PT ... ok, maybe that's just wishful thinking

    (don't worry, I plan to listen to my doc ... I guess I'm just counting the months )

  2. #2
    Hi rhyang - Climbing mountains up here in the N.Cascades was a major part of life until a year and a half ago. I'm working hard everyday to get back out there,
    can't wait to be able to just take a stroll in the woods. If you are already ready to climb again, congrats. I read you are taking long hikes and can only imagine
    the heightened sensation of appreciation being back out there.

    IMO - toproping some low 5th class sounds like great PT. Obviously you're not going to be out there taking leader whippers or peeling off high-balls.
    Of course, if the worst thing you're facing is sitting out another 6 mos/1 year....

    Good hearing that near/full recovery is possible without the NFL or whatever. My friend Kelly can run and jump 2+ years post injury.
    Check out John Cardiel 5 years post. He started with no leg sensation and a tiny flicker of the toe 3 months into it. Dudes like you and Imight, given time and effort, are going to be just fine.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by alpentalic
    Hi rhyang - Climbing mountains up here in the N.Cascades was a major part of life until a year and a half ago. I'm working hard everyday to get back out there,
    can't wait to be able to just take a stroll in the woods. If you are already ready to climb again, congrats. I read you are taking long hikes and can only imagine
    the heightened sensation of appreciation being back out there.

    IMO - toproping some low 5th class sounds like great PT. Obviously you're not going to be out there taking leader whippers or peeling off high-balls.
    Of course, if the worst thing you're facing is sitting out another 6 mos/1 year....

    Good hearing that near/full recovery is possible without the NFL or whatever. My friend Kelly can run and jump 2+ years post injury.
    Check out John Cardiel 5 years post. He started with no leg sensation and a tiny flicker of the toe 3 months into it. Dudes like you and Imight, given time and effort, are going to be just fine.
    Thanks for the encouragement. I've only been to the North Cascades once, but loved it. We climbed Cutthroat Peak (S buttress), Sahale (quien sabe glacier) and Liberty Bell (becky route). Boston Basin reminds me a bit of the Palisades down here in the Sierra, and with more oxygen I hope you are able to get out there soon !

    Hiking seems to work out for me right now, but I notice that I am not as strong as I was - not really a surprise I guess I have to take more breaks, and my calves seem to have gotten really weak. At the end of a long day my left hand can barely be used to untie my bootlaces. I have gotten out snowshoeing twice though, and that seems to have worked out ok.

    Being able to even scramble 3rd/4th class again is definitely going to take a while... Some of the muscles in my left leg are in pretty good shape, others not so much. I guess whenever I do start climbing again I am going to have pretty major sewing machine leg at times

    I probably should wait a year simply to get my back muscles in better shape - I think they probably had to cut through some muscle tissue to install the rod fusing C5-T1 (not sure why it goes all the way in the back while the plate only fuses C5-C7 in the front). I seem to have pain in the shoulder blade area recently, though some exercises my PT has me doing seem to help.

    Maybe what I should do first at my 1-year anniversary is take up aid climbing

  4. #4
    The last thing I did before injury was climb Mt. Shuksan on a perfect blue sky day. I stare at those pictures a lot.

    I'm pretty thankful to have spent so many days in the mountains. Mountaineers and climbers have what it takes dig deep and persevere. I often conjure up those final steps on Mt. Rainier (suffering) when I'm at my limit trying to walk or re-learn how to do something. It always puts what I'm doing in relative context and makes me try harder.

    You are well past him in the gains department, but you might enjoy reading up on Brad and his climbing exploits. He will likely be the first quad to climb El Cap and already has Stawamus Chief in Squamish under his belt.

    I mentioned my friend Kelly. 1 1/2 years post he could stand up and hobble around but still needed his chair for any distance. Like you, most of his muscles were firing to some degree but many were very weak. One year later, he walks with perfect gait, climbs hills, rides his bike, jumps, I can hardly believe it with my own eyes. Given time, your muscles are only going to get stronger the more you use them. Keep hammering, remember your next goal is to lead 5.8!

  5. #5
    Thanks again for the encouragement

    About 6 weeks ago my neurosurgeon ok'd me for cycling, so I've been doing that and longer / more intense training hikes. I've also gotten out snowcamping and backpacking. My doc said climbing would be ok in late August (1 year post-injury). I can wait.

    Two weeks ago I did my first mountain since the injury - Lassen Peak (10457')



    Snowshoed in from the park entrance (6700'), snow-camped at 8500', then got an alpine start the next day (not really necessary, but good practice). I used crampons / ice axe to the summit, then descended by glissading most of the way. Packed up camp and snowshoed out.

    Very tiring, and I felt crappy most of the way up ... then I remembered that's how mountaineering felt pre-injury

    Next goal: Shasta !

  6. #6
    You did say spinal cord injury right?!?! Wow nice work...1st mountain post a 10,000ft+ volcano, what can I say? More pics please?

    Lassen is a great, overlooked National Park. It's been nearly vacant both times I've been there. As I recall, the path in the summertime is wide enough that if one had a few friends along they could be pushed to the top. The entire park for that matter is full of sights and trails that would be accessible (if I remember right) without the crowds.

    Here's a good read from my friend Glenn (stories are linked to pics). He's disabled with Spinal Bifida and degenerative nerves. He spent upwards to a month camped on top 4 of 5 Washingtons Volcanoes photographing the horizon for people who aren't able to be there. Always on a shoestring budget, I portered a pack of supplies for him on Glacier Peak that included 20 pounds of Spam.

    Keep the trip reports coming (drool)!

  7. #7
    Congrats! Many of my pre-injury friends are serious trad climbers-- I can't imagine the energy needed to tackle that vertical w/ an injury. Hat off!

    Many of us can live vicariously through u-- keep em' coming man!

  8. #8
    Senior Member Imight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alpentalic
    Dudes like you and Imight, given time and effort, are going to be just fine.
    Barely reading this til today. Very encouraging words. Thanks a lot.

    Really, I don't know what's going to happen to me. I might walk unassisted, I might not. I really just don't know.

    I can only hope.

  9. #9
    I know nothing about climbing (and I'm ok with that ) I lean towards the other direction. When I asked my physiatrist about scubadiving, he pulled a number for maximum depth out of his butt. He's a good doctor, but not a diver, so he just picked a number that sounded deep to him. He said "You should be able to dive to 40 feet or so." I said "Uh, I usually call that snorkeling!"

    Sometimes you know more than they do. Use good judgment, be conservative, and do what you know is possible! As a quad, you might consider supplemental oxygen, it seems to me. Since our breathing is compromised? I know when I went up the mountain in Santa Fe, I was gasping for air.

  10. #10
    Here are some more pics from Lassen

    Imight - I still say you should change your username to IWill !

    I've been trying to get in touch with people with SCI who have returned to climbing in one way or another - they are not common, but the ones I have communicated with give me a lot of hope.

    Saturday I did the Crescent Moon Couloir on an outing with some friends - about 500' of 40 to 50-ish degree snow, to a short class 3 finish on Round Top (10281') in the south Tahoe area. I'd done a variation of it pre-injury, but this time felt a lot scarier - left leg balance is still a little iffy. Chemical heat packs in my gloves helped a lot (my left hand apparently doesn't thermoregulate as well as it used to).

    Generally I've also noticed that I tire more easily, and am slower. I'm definitely going to have to re-acclimate myself to exposure once I start technical climbing again.

    It's nice to be able to get into National Parks for free now, especially since they raised the cost of annual passes to $80

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