Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Journey To Lamarck Col

Evolution (/ˌevəˈlo͞oSHən/): 1) the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form, 2) a stunning basin in the Sierra Nevada Range of California, 3) the story of my life since February 23, 2013.

Revenge of the Body... and Mind

Close your eyes for a second. What do you see? I'll tell you what I see. I see myself sliding off an icy ski lift chair, unable to stop. I see myself laying in the snow, unable to move. I see it over and over again. My mind likes to remind me of it all the time. I want it to stop, but it won't go away. It might for a few days or a week, but then it's back. It's a nightmare that I'm stuck with. I only hope that it will go away as I continue to heal and work through this mess that is my new life.

Since my last post, things continue to be up and down. The CA disability office is still a clusterf*ck and I can't do anything about it. The disability stuff through work is becoming a clusterf*ck as well. <rant> It's really funny when you're told that your healing/recovery has gone well past the maximum expected time. How the f*ck do you even put a maximum on recovering from a broken back and severe nerve damage?! HOW?! I'd really like to put these people in my shoes and see how they feel about a maximum on recovery. It hurts to reach, I don't lift more than a half gallon of milk at a time, my balance is messed up, my feet feel like they are constantly being stabbed... it's not easy. Try it. </rant> All I can do is my part to keep my ducks in a row and keep my fingers crossed that things will work themselves out. It's really hard and ridiculously frustrating, but I'm trying. 

One thing that I have definitely learned over the past several weeks and months, is to listen to my body. The day before we were going to hike to Duck Pass near Mammoth Lakes, PT was interesting. I jumped for the first time in months. It was the most foreign and bizarre feeling thing ever. It didn't hurt, I was scared that it would, but it was just odd and I was shocked I could do it. Well, little did I know how much jumping would affect hiking the next day. Our goal for the day was to get to Duck Pass. By normal standards, it wasn't a difficult hike. Well, by my bionic-day-after-jumping-in-PT body standards, it was not fun. When we got to Skelton Lake, not even 2.5 miles into the hike, I knew I wasn't going to make it any farther. My knees and back weren't all that happy. Dave tried bribing me with Ben & Jerry's to get me to go farther, but I just didn't want to push myself. I learned the last time I was in Mammoth that if I'm not feeling it, I need to stop. The same applied here. As a result, we've decided that we are making sure I have rest days after PT. Most days I feel okay after, but just to be safe, rest is good. It's all about adapting.

The Battle of Lamarck Col

After a week of my body cooperating and feeling pretty good (for someone with fresh titanium in their back), I felt it was time to try *the* goal hike to Lamarck Col. I'd done the first half of the hike, to near Upper Lamarck Lake, and survived it without too much trouble (it's all about being cautious). The week after that hike, I'd shockingly done 10 miles - I don't know where that came from, but it happened. The next step was to combine the length with the quad burning use trail that leads to Lamarck Col. I figured that it wouldn't hurt to try it and if I needed to stop, we would. 

Lamarck Col: 6 miles one way, +3500 ft elevation gain. Ready? GO!

I felt petty good as we drove to the North Lake trailhead outside Bishop. I slept well the night before (We got a hotel! Yes, Dave knew how big of a deal this hike was, that he wanted to make sure I slept well!), but I had a few butterflies in my stomach about the hike. I knew that I could do it, but what if I didn't make it or something happened on the trail?! Even with that, I was still stoked because I was sure I'd be seeing EVO in several hours! 

The skies were blue and there were no signs of the storms that had been plaguing the Sierra the past week. The trail was damp which made the switchbacks a lot easier for my feet on the way up. I was feeling good and were making great time (by my recovery standards). The rough parts of the trail for me started when we hit the water crossings. With all the rain over the past week, the water was higher at all the crossings. One of the logs at the Lower Lamarck outlet was wet, so I had to balance on the smaller one. I made it, but shifting my weight between the logs made me hold my breath a little. I'm not even going to discuss the higher crossing because it frustrated me that I just couldn't jump it like I use to. I was very thankful to have Dave grab my hand, because I couldn't push off the rock with my leg to get across (damn muscles!). The final crossing ended up being a piece of cake once I started it - plenty of large, stable rocks spanning the 20 foot wide crossing. Now the real adventure was about to begin. 

The switchbacks to gain the canyon to Lamarck Col weren't the friendliest to us. My quads loved them, but I got a little freaked out when I started to feel myself falling backwards when I stepped up on one of the 'stairs'. I didn't fall, but that feeling of moving backwards made my heart jump into my throat. Thank goodness Dave was behind me. Poor Dave was starting to not feel so good as we gained altitude. He said he was fine and that he'd need to take little breaks more often, but that he could keep going. On we went. Switchbacks were done. The "exposed" section was done. Time for the vast expanse of granite and ridges. 

Lamarckian desolation. Lamarck Col is finally in sight.

Gentle incline. Switchbacks. Gentle incline. Switchbacks. I was sensing a theme as we hiked toward Lamarck Col. The environment was stunning. It was like a moonscape - magnificent desolation. Seeing the area that is behind Upper Lamarck Lake from a different perspective was amazing. It was almost like I could touch it, it felt so close. I was feeling really good. Dave was not. We stopped for lunch and so he could rest and see if that helped him. From where we stopped, you could start to see Lamarck Col peeking out from behind the next ridge. I was excited. We were so close and I was feeling strong (I was shocked with how good I was feeing). As time passed, it started to sink in that Dave was starting to show signs of AMS. This was not good. He offered to let me go on and make the Col, but I didn't want to do it without him. What if something happened to either of us as we were separated? Luckily for him, the weather was starting to turn grim, so we didn't have to even think about this option once it started turning dark over the Col. The last thing either of us wanted to do was risk being stuck in a bad storm as we approached 13,000 feet. I was bummed that I wouldn't make my goal, but this was the right choice.

As we headed back down the use trail, I was upset, but at the same time I was okay with it. As I heard thunder crackling behind us and drops of rain plopped on my head, I knew it was the right decision. Yes, I had "failed" at my goal of Lamarck Col, but dammit, it's a tough hike and I'm recovering from a broken back. Seriously, a broken back and nerve damage and I was hiking to Lamarck Col. I was thrilled that I made it 5 miles and +3000 feet of elevation gain. That in itself is freaking amazing all things considered. The trek down the switchbacks was a little rough at times, but I made it. The water crossings were still not my friends, in fact, they were downright evil. I actually cringed in pain at the middle crossing (the one Dave had to grab my had for on the way up) because the amount of pressure on the ball of my foot as I crossed was horrifying (the joys of nerve regeneration). As we filled up our water at Lower Lamarck, it started pouring. We saw patches of blue sky, but it was also very dark over Mt Lamarck. Yep, we had made the right decision. The hike down from Lower Lamarck was long and wet. At one point I slipped on a rock and almost fell, but my body caught itself before I went back too far. After catching my breath, the trek back to the car continued. My feet weren't happy and my left knee was a little tight, but the rest of my body felt fairly good considering how intense the trail is. The irony of the whole situation, was as we approached the car, the sky over Mt Lamarck was blue again. Damn summer thunderstorms. 

Lamarck Col is a place not to be at the moment.

While I wanted to reach Lamarck Col on the first attempt, I knew it would be there for me next time. Dave kept encouraging me that I would have made it had it not been for the storms and his signs of AMS. I knew that I would have, we were less than a mile away (that's right, less than a mile!!), but I didn't want to do it without him and didn't want to do it under dangerous conditions. One thing that I've learned over the past several weeks and months is that it will happen when it's time. It's all about being patient and waiting for that moment. This was another one of those lessons and I'm okay with that. 

It's All About Evolution!

After our adventure last weekend, I decided that it might be time to modify my goal. Some could take it to mean that I'm giving up, but I think of it more as  evolving my goal to fit my recovery. (See? It's all about evolution!) While I still would love to do Lamarck Col as a dayhike, it's a beast for me to try and tackle right now. As I mentioned, it's not the uphill part that is hard for me, it's the beating that my body takes on the way down. I know that I could do it right now, but I'm trying to be more in tune with my body and its needs. Why risk possibly spending days recovering from the hike, when I could savor the views when we start backpacking again?! Having said that, my modified goal is to backpack into Darwin Canyon/EVO via Lamarck Col.

My recovery has been up and down on so many levels, but one thing that has been noticeable throughout is how quickly my recovery is progressing along (physically... emotionally is a whole different story). They said it'd be six months before I was walking unassisted; it was three. They said it'd be a long time before I was hiking again; it was 3.5 months. I've been tearing up steep trails and my quads haven't complained one bit. I've had to be more aware of and pay attention to my body than ever before, but I was in nature again! If you ask Dave, he can tell you that I've been extra cautious about all aspect of hiking. Water crossings scare me because of the balance issues and I still struggle with other aspects of hiking too, but Dave is always right beside me helping and encouraging me through it all. The one area of hiking that I'm still missing though is backpacking.

I've decided to stop putting importance on meeting a goal by a certain date. Sure it would have been awesome to have done Lamarck Col on the five month ouchiversary, but why push myself to get there on a certain date rather than do it when I can enjoy it more? That's one reason why I decided to modify *the* goal hike a bit. Backpacking into EVO via Lamarck Col would allow me to not only savor the Evolution Basin more, but I'd be doing it the way we were planning to before the accident happened - by backpacking. As much as I want to do this ASAP, especially since we were planning on spending a week in EVO this summer, I want to do it when my body is ready for it. 

EVO is calling my name. It's been too long... and I want another piece of my life back. Evolution. It's almost time to go back.

The Darwin-Mendel Massif from Sapphire Lake

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