It was four weeks ago to the minute that a wind gust tossed me around like a piece of paper on Twin Sisters Peak. A heroic effort by my climbing partner, Jim Davidson, SAR teams plus Rangers from RMNP got me to hospitals where after two surgeries, I am now recovering at home.
Wow, what a journey.
I have had plenty of time to reflect on the experience but I’m not finished processing the event. I still have trouble sleeping and hear the phrase “I don’t want to be in the rocks.” in my mind at random times. And I am grateful.
My leg is healing nicely. I have become acquainted with terms like “fracture blisters”. I started physical therapy and they seemed pleased when they measured my swelling and evaluated my ankle mobility and knee compression. I still have no feeling around my right cheek from hitting the rocks and breaking my nose. All I know is that I will need my boot and crutches for another month or so and that I have made a permanent dent on the couch with my butt.
When I look at my leg, I see scars, blisters, incisions and swelling. I also see a leg that while damaged, didn’t give up on me. I see injuries so severe that without help, I would have laid in those rocks until I died. When I look in the mirror, I no longer see black eyes or a bent nose. I look like I always did, but deep in my eyes there is a difference.
I see that my trauma was the manifestation of what love, friendship, unselfish aid and true generosity embodies.
Today I can move my toes, my ankle, my knee at will. I can ride the stationary bike for a few minutes at a time and walk with my ‘boot’ around the block. I am on the red resistance band moving to green soon. However, I am finding that I am pushing myself too fast and need to demonstrate the same patience I learned while climbing 8000 meter mountains.
Missing the Mountains
And there is loss.
I mourn that I am home, sleeping in late in my comfortable bed instead of pushing my training to get ready to climb Dhaulagiri, the 26,795 foot peak in Nepal. I miss packing my gear, finalizing details and closing my eyes to see myself high on the flanks of the peak.
Next month I will miss being in my -20 sleeping bag with the winds howling outside my tent. I will miss the struggle to breathe at 18,000 feet then 22,000 feet and above. I will miss the gentle consonance of Kami by my side as I have for the past four years. I will miss Nepal. I will miss my mountains.
And I am grateful, a phrase I continue to repeat.
I don’t believe things happen for a reason. I believe things happen. And I believe it is up to the individual to choose how they respond.
They can be a victim, a martyr or bury themselves in self pity.
I choose to see the positive.
I choose to celebrate my incisions as evidence of what doctors can do. I choose to feel my aches and pain as my body telling me it will be OK and that I will heal and climb again. I choose to share my experience, not for sympathy or publicity, but to offer anyone interested, lessons that they may choose to glean.
I have not thought a lot about when or what I will climb, but I will climb again. I have been incredibly fortunate to have been on over 35 major expeditions, including three summits 8000 meter mountains (Everest, K2 and Manaslu) and attempts on four other 8000ers.
Living in Colorado, climbing our 14,000 foot peaks aka 14ers, has been my training and playground. I have almost 200 summits of 14ers. Plus climbing peaks on all 7 continents has been an amazing experience.
However, right along side with my passion for climbing has been my purpose, Alzheimer’s. And that is my true summit – to find a cure and support caregivers until that time. I will continue my work to raise awareness and funds for research.
So, what’s next? First there is time to heal, at least six months taking me into late summer before I can even begin to do anything serious. Then there is time to get back into shape. At 60, I know I will not bounce back like a 30 year-old but I have been pleased with how my old bones are responding.
But, Alan, will you climb another 8000 peak? What about Project 8000? I hope to return to Nepal, Tibet or Pakistan to attempt at least one more 8000er but I have no plans today, only hopes and dreams. If I do, it will be in 2018 or later, and I am fine with that. And if all my future climbs are here in Colorado, including going back to Twin Sisters, I’m fine with that too.
Yes, I would rather be training for Dhaulagiri, but I celebrate the opportunities to learn, share and grow that this incident has opened for me.
Memories are Everything