Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mountains to Climb

We each have our own 'mountains to climb'
These 'mountains' are the challenging personal barriers that we must break through, to live a better life. They are difficult because we must overcome our own fears or limitations, adapt to uncomfortable circumstances, and find an inner-strength we didn't know we had. 
Certainly an ostomy (and all that lead to the decision to have an ostomy) is a formidable challenge shared by many of us. After-ostomy, many will strive to return to a new-normal which may include goals like ... driving a car, living a normal family life, returning to play a favourite sport, playing with granchildren, travelling, or helping others with similar challenges.
My 'mountains to climb' were actual mountains.
Prior to surgery, I promised myself that 

'Anything I could do before-ostomy, I will be able to do after-ostomy'

After a few years of living my bucket-list, rather than just dreaming my bucket list, I upped my target to
'I can do more with my ostomy, than I did before my ostomy'
Climbing 3 mountains in Nepal was the target I set for myself. I dreamed, planned, commited to physical conditioning, then embarked on a 36 day adventure. I trekked with people half my age, hurt like everyone else on our team, but stretched my persistence, adaptability, and grit beyond any prior experiences. This adventure is shared in 54 stories at Hogus&Paul in Nepal

I carried Hogus (an ostomate puppet) for this entire adventure to:
  • bring awareness to the false stigma of ostomies 
  • to show both child and adult ostomates that they are not alone 
  • and that we can live ordinary lives - even extraordinary lives
At each summit, Hogus and I proudly showed our ostomy gear, then quickly zipped up to protect sensitive body parts from the biting cold wind. While this exposure may shock some people, it was intended to discredit the unfair and inaccurate TV-image portrayal of ostomates.


Summit Gokyo Ri
The climb from Gokyo to Goyko Ri is a consistent slope of 39%. It is not a technical climb, but it does require persistence and a gritty mental attitude. 

After many hours of methodical 'mountain slow' climbing, we reached the summit of Gokyo Ri, where prayer flags snapped in the wind, wafting prayers to the gods.

There is a feeling of elation when reaching a summit ... after meeting the challenges and overcoming the apprehensions. Gokyo Ri tested our conditioning and acclimatization for higher summits to climb over the next few days.
But we quietly contemplated what it took to reach that summit:

> Power in legs to climb a vertical of 570m (1,871ft) ... with 50% oxygen to our bodies.

> Mental grit to force the body to keep moving, while suppressing doubts on personal abilities

> Overcoming Altitude Sickness symptoms of screamer headaches, lethargy, nausia
> That aggressive competitive spirit that will not tolerate a retreat or a quit 

Summit Kala Patthur
We would climb a vertical of 419m (1,376ft) with slopes as steep as 50%.  Kala Patthur is not a technical climb, but requires agility, power, and persistence to scramble through the massive rocks to the summit.  We were conscious of our Nepal2011 experience where only 5 of 20 climbers summitted.
A harsh wind blew over the Kala Patthur summit, and the prayer flags flew horizontally. We carefully climbed the small steep peak.
Mount Everest (Sagarmatha to the Nepalese) is always a special view, as she is the highest point on our planet.
At Kala Patthur, we were not at the top of the world,
but we could see it from there.
We were pleased with the ascent.  We had now climbed higher than previous summits and passes, and forced our bodies to acclimatize to the 50% oxygen levels.  And we had done this without Altitude Sickness symptoms and without anti-AMS medications. Kala Patthur was our last conditioning-climb, and we were as prepared as we could be for our climbing goal of Island Peak.

Summit Island Peak
The summit of Island Peak demanded a technical climb of 1124m (3690ft), with slopes at 64%, to an elevation of 6189m (20,306ft). A challenging climb, made much more extreme with only 50% oxygen levels.
Breathing at 50% oxygen levels? Think about running till you are falling-down-exhausted and gasping to breath, then immediately start breathing through a narrow straw and run the same distance again. Now think about climbing, sleeping, and living for days with that constant oxygen deprivation.

Climbing with technical gear?  If you've ever walked in ski boots, then add crampons with a dozen 5cm (2inch) spikes on each foot, then climb on a 45-60 degree slope ... well, you get the idea. 

We started at midnight, picking our steps carefully, lit only by our headlamps. The terrain was mixed - steep inclines, crevasses, sheer drops, rocks, ice, and sharp rocky ridges with fall-to-death edges on both sides.
Each pitch was progressively steeper than the last pitch, and fatigue and altitude started to take their toll. Earlier in the day, legs screamed tired ... later they just felt dead and would only move slowly and reluctantly when overpowered by the brain. One step, rest for minutes, try to breath, force another step. Redo. Again and again.

The last pitch looked steep and harsh, but suprisingly I felt strong, fluid, and energized. It was as if 
the mountain gave back some of the energy I had imparted with her that day.
We summitted Island Peak and attached our safety ropes. 
Of the 39 climbers attempting Island Peak that day, only 11 summitted. Our group of 3 old climbers, totaling 190 years of age, all summited. This was a hard-earned Bucket-List accomplishment. But the challenge was not over. Summitting was the goal, but getting down safely was what really mattered. It was a grueling trip down ...  exhausted from the physical exertion, wasted by the lack of oxygen, and without energy because our water and food was gone. Legs were unresponsive, and there was a raging contest between the legs saying 'no', and the brain saying 'go'. As if the physical challenges were not enough, I adapted to a grim 5 hours on the mountain without ostomy gear (see Skipping Stones).
Those of us who have experienced cancer or other life threats are familiar with "one day at a time". Descending Island Peak was a familiar "one step at a time". After 16 hours on the mountain, hungry, dehydrated, starved for oxygen, physically fatigued, and mentally drained, we stumbled into BaseCamp. We felt relief rather than jubilation after climbing Island Peak. Sleep came quickly.

We each have our own 'mountains to climb'

If these 2 ostomates can climb actual mountains ... 
Other ostomates can find that inner strength
to overcome their own mountains
Yes we can.  Ostomates can live ordinary, even extraordinary, lives.

 You can read the full stories at:

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