Leg’s snapped, winter’s over…then I met Trevor.
This blog explains the gap between my first “proper” blog – “my journey into climbing, what I get out of it and opinions on Everest” and the next “proper” blog on “the thought processes leading up to climbing my first alpine north face”.
It may only be interesting to friends, if at all!
The view from my van – Living at the foot of Mont Blanc
I had cocked up the winter.
Or at least I’d started on the back foot, or so I thought. I hadn’t learnt to climb until I was 36. Time was running out! I would be 46 in ten years! I had loads to get done, I was playing catch-up…. Catch-up with the professional mountaineers of all the books that I had swallowed. The professionals (as well as my climbing mates) had started earlier on in life. I’d spent my whole life too busy doing stuff (work) that I didn’t want to do, meaning that I had been too busy to do the stuff that I did want to do. Or to realise what I might enjoy doing. Now, with no job, living the dream in my camper van in the Alps, I finally had time on my hands. I had no idea how much experience I needed before I could go on an independent expedition to the greater ranges, but, with my puppy dog keenness, I knew I needed to bound forward and accelerate.
I had just found this sport. Sport? This wasn’t a sport, this was a lifestyle. My whole mindset was focused on climbing now: where I worked; where I lived; where I holidayed (if I was to ever “holiday”), it would all revolve around climbing from now on. Anyway, I had just found it, but I was onto it. I was on a roll. I was even cleaning my teeth with the wrong hand to increase dexterity.
Lunch with Pirate Jenny B at the Les Houches end of the valley, feeling good after a ski lesson.
At the end of January, I had just arrived in Chamonix, flying high off the excitement and endorphins of 9 days climbing shit ice in La Grave (conditions I would later be really thankful to have learnt in). Now it was time to sort out my skiing. I had only skied for 2 weeks as a kid and then 2 weeks in the past few years. As an aspiring alpinist, my capabilities were rubbish. A good friend of mine, Jenny Brydon, met me in “Cham” and we started testing out Whitedot skis with a view to getting a great deal direct from the manufacturer. It was all too good. On the 3rd day the adventure crossed a border into Italy where Jen, my super fat, too fat, skis and I, all bizarrely saw deer in the middle of the piste. An omen?
Yes. CRASH. SNAP. My leg was bust.
My nemesis. Great skis but possibly too big too early for me.
Even that roadblock didn’t make me pull myself over and have a chat with myself. My foot had been pressed firmly to the floor and if I actually paused for a second and dampened my enthusiasm with some rational thinking, I knew that on this particular occasion my bindings were too tight, my boots too big and my skis too fat for my legs/capabilities. Nevertheless, before finding an opportunity to reflect on anything that I’d achieved so far, I went to see a French mountain guiding orthopedic crackpot and we developed a plan to build up my ski boots to protect the fracture. 10 days after the Italian deer, I was back on the slopes. For 2 turns.
Before, during and after. A hairline fracture with 4 weeks total recovery (including muscles, tissue etc) turned into a full on break with 12 weeks plus total recovery.
You know when you are on the bus and you are sick? Do you also look at other “well” people and think, “you don’t know how good you’ve got it?”. Well, I should have done that to myself. I should have realized all that I had and how good I had it – Cham was new; Jen & Clare Newman were there to hang out with; I could use all the machines in the gym; I was nearly half way to recovery.
I ask myself!!……it’s now that I can “ask myself”. Back then it was different.
So, this big break did finally allow time for (forced) reflection. Time alone, in a tin can, incapacitated with -18degrees C at night, getting sick with the flu for 4 days at one point; I suppose that would allow for some reflection. However, once I had got over myself I also started to study, a lot.
A line that I came across back then, has also very recently popped up on the introductory page of Andy Kirkpatrick’s excellent new book – “1000+ Tips for Climbers”
The over enthusiasm for the “experience” part had played a part in snapping my leg, so now I felt that it was time to load up on the “knowledge” bit.
By the 5 week point since the big break I was the world’s leading authority on mountaineering literature, climbing blogs and avalanche risk without actually going anywhere near a snow slope (thanks very much to Stuart McDonald of Avalanche Academy for lending me his entire library). I had also started to write my own blog, as you can see.
My home during leg rehab.
I lived alone in Cham, a recluse in my van, stepping out twice a day to train/re-hab my leg. The variation in my training was a revelation. Gone were the days of “maintenance running”. As well as learning to squat & cross train, I also took up the campest thing I have ever done but without a doubt the best thing for rehab, all round fitness and the thing I that I miss the most – a kettlercise class consisting of me and 7 women. This was at the Clinique du Sport with Hannah from www.progressionfit.com. If you haven’t ever done kettle bell stuff before then I highly recommend it – my core strength improved dramatically and I actually found out how to use my glute/arse muscles for the first time. I also found the class environment really focused my training and I achieved a lot more than 40 mins of faffing in the gym.
6 weeks post big break I was screaming to get on my skis again. Soon it was my knee on the other leg (as well as the still bruised fracture area) that was the thing screaming. Surviving each day on the slope was also quite mentally tiring. Why was I doing this to myself?
“And out of the murky white mountain came… Sheepish Ski Wako!”
7 weeks: with a small amount of anxiety post living as a hermit at the non-fun end of the valley for so long, I decided I needed to get out, get amongst it and I moved into an apartment with Trevor Thompson. Inspiration was no longer in the form of late night dwindling on the web. This bloke was there, stood right in front of me: an extreme skier, climber & filmmaker from Truckee, California. Things had to be on the up.
Euro, 70s ski-school Trevor.
9 weeks: I could run, sort of. I also went to the top of the Grand Montets cable car for the 1st time post 3 months in Cham. Stopped at the top of the cut up black run, alone, scared stiff, side slipped for about 50m, had a word with myself and then nailed it. I COULD SKI! I was smiling, a lot.
Trevor, walking from home to the car to go out for the day with the iconic Montenvers station behind.
Trevor, now a solid friend, mentioned that he wanted to climb “something” before he left.
Before we could climb, my 10th week since the leg break had to be spent in Las Vegas. I might have been a van-dwelling climbing bum but I still needed cash and I had been offered a week’s consulting work for a EVS, a major broadcast equipment manufacturer. IN VEGAS!!! Was I seriously going to go to Vegas, not drink, eat healthily, train daily and plan this climb? Yes.
When I shut the door on Chamonix at 530am, I mouthed to myself “Stay safe Trevor”. A message really meant for all of my new mountain friends. This was a new concept that friends – people that meant a lot to me and that I was close to – were making risk assessments for their own personal safety on a daily basis and could get in trouble. Particularly skiers! My friends HAD TO stay safe.
Journey to Vegas – Mont Blanc Massif, Paris, Ireland, Nova Scotia, New Jersey, Utah, Hoover Dam, Vegas Suburbs, The Strip.
I switched my mind from mountaineer to media consultant; the desert filled my lungs with dust; I kept my head down and trained; I loved seeing my good old friends from work; I had only one alcohol fueled night during which I was apparently climbing trees in the atrium of the Wynn casino; I read more; I planned; I came back to Chamonix; jet lag was cured with a Remote Emergency Care 2 First Aid Course (knowledge right?!?).
SWISS ROUTE was on!
If you would like to read about it then please click here