Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Morton's Neuroma Surgery

This past Friday, January 8, 2015, I had surgery on my right foot to remove a Morton's Neuroma that has plagued me for nearly a decade. At first, for many years, the neuroma discomfort was gradual and infrequent but as time went on, it got more painful at more frequent intervals. For many years I didn't know what the cause of the pain was and figured I just had less "padding" (skin and fat) on the ball of my right foot so I avoided walking barefoot because it was uncomfortable. 

Every now and then, typically while on trail runs on slickrock or really rocky trails, the neuroma would flare up and I'd be forced to stop every few miles, take my shoe off and massage my foot and toes for about five minutes at a time to get feeling back in my toes and clear the pain for bit. It worked but was annoying to have to stop frequently to take care of the issue. Then, while running the Mogollon Monster 100 mile race (MOG100) in September 2015, the pain came on around mile 14 making for a VERY long 100 mile race with frequent shoe changes (that didn't really help) and many stops to massage my foot. My guess is because the MOG100 course is so rocky, the rocks beat my feet up quite a bit. That was the final straw...I had to figure out what was going on. 

A few weeks later I went to see a local podiatrist, Dr. Sauer, that had surgically shortened a toe on the same foot way back in April 2004. By the time I went into see Dr. Sauer, I had self-diagnosed myself with Morton's Neuroma after my friend Andy had suggested that may be what I had. Dr. Sauer was quick to come to the same conclusion and had me try three cortisone shots over about six weeks. The shots didn't really bring any serious relief and I was fed up with the pain so I opted for surgery. 

Too sexy
It's been five days since the surgery now and I wanted to document the surgery and my recovery a bit. 

On Friday morning, the surgery went very well and took about an hour. The neuroma was "quite sizable". The surgery took place in the morning and I was out of the hospital by noon and back home on the couch for the rest of the day. I kept my foot elevated and enjoyed some solid couch time.  
Sayonara, sucker!
Dr. Sauer placed a "suction drain" in the incision area to help drain excess fluid and keep swelling to a minimum. I had done a good bit of internet research about this surgery and the experiences of others. I hadn't read about anyone else getting a suction drain but considering I felt no post-op pain at all, I'm pretty sold on the idea of the drain.
Foot in boot with suction drain (two hours post-op)
The afternoon and night of the surgery I took two Percocet pills thinking my foot should start hurting and I wanted to "stay ahead of the pain." As it would turn out, I never felt any post-op pain at all and that would be the only pain pills I took. The rest of the weekend I spent chilling out on the couch watching NFL playoff football with my foot elevated. My foot was in a velcro boot so I could hobble around quite well. 

Monday morning I went to see Dr. Sauer to have the suction drain removed. It was painless and quick...just a quick snip of the suture holding it in and a fast pull of the drain tube from the incision. 
About to remove the drain tube 72 hours post-op
As soon as the drain tube was out, I was able to ditch the boot and slip my foot into my Altra Olympus shoes. The wide forefoot and maximum cushion of the Altra shoes worked well for my beat up foot. It was nice to only be in the boot a few days. 
Four days post-op
Now five days post-op I'm walking around pretty well but with a small "hitch in my giddy-up." But really I'm very pleased with the recovery thus far. Having no pain post-op and being able to get around with only a small limp is encouraging. The stitches will be removed eleven days from now and I'm hopeful by then I'll be walking normally and able to hike trails a bit. 
Five days post-op
One week after surgery I was able to walk pretty normally in my wide, maximally cushioned Altra shoes but still used hiking poles for added stability on trails. My wife and I even did a little rock climbing and climbed one easy route, on top rope, without any major discomfort.
Easy toproping with mis-matched shoes one week post-op

Seven days post-op (first shower)
On the eighth day I was able to stop dressing the stitches and drain incision with gauze because it finally healed up enough. 

Nine days post-op
Eight days post-op I began walking without thinking about my foot and didn't feel the need to modify my stride to avoid rocking up on the ball of my foot. Other than some slight discomfort the first few steps out of bed in the morning, walking was quite comfortable with a slight "bruised" feeling in the ball of my foot when I walked. 

Ten days post-op I went rock climbing again, using bigger, more comfortable climbing shoes and this felt very reasonable. I was able to lead climb and not worry about my foot much. In fact, I think climbing is good therapy because the weight is mostly on my big toe and each step is very calculated. 

Eleven days post-op I did a short run of about a half mile en route to the gym to do some spinning on a stationary bike. I did the spinning with the pedal placed in the arch of my foot to avoid putting too much pressure on the ball of my foot. It felt great to work up a sweat again! 

The Plot Thickens - Two Weeks Post-op

Right at two weeks post-op my right ankle started feeling super painful and was swollen a good bit. It was bad enough I couldn't walk stairs normally at all and had to limp around everywhere. I saw another local foot/ankle doctor and we came to the conclusion that I had incurred a small bit of Achilles tedonitis most likely from wearing zero drop shoes while modifying my gait to avoid putting pressure on the surgical area.  I moved out of the zero drop shoes into more normal shoes and forced myself to walk normally as much as possible in addition to doing some PT exercises to stretch and work the tendons in my ankle. I found good relief in the ankle about three weeks post-op and neared about 80 percent normal feeling in my ankle (it hurt a bit still on deep steps down, etc.) 

February 10, 2016 - Well, four weeks post surgery (February 8th), I decided to try a short run to see how it felt. My short run turned into about four miles because it felt pretty good. Unfortunately, a day after that run my forefoot was swollen, painful and, apparently, infected. I'm not sure the running had anything to do with the infection but the timing seems awfully coincidental. Also, though, I'm sure I had gotten the incision site dirty a couple weeks post-op by wearing sandals so the combo of all of this sure spells disaster.
Nasty staph infection 4.5 weeks post-op

So after a week or so of walking quite normally without pain, I'm back to swollen foot with pain and limping around. I'm doing a few epsom salt bath soaks on my foot daily and started on antibiotics (Cephalexin) yesterday to help clear the infection. Lesson learned: Even though my foot was feeling quite good, four weeks post-op isn't enough recovery time for me to start running again. Also, I should have been better about keeping the incision clean. Drats. My theory now is that I contracted the staph infection by showering in the public shower at work after my run four weeks post-op.

February 22, 2016 - After the ten day course of Keflex (Cephalexin) my foot was feeling better and less swollen. I thought the antibiotics may had done the trick. I finished the antibiotics on Tuesday morning, 2/16. But by Thursday night, the incision area was red and swollen a bit again. I went back in to the doctor on Friday morning where he took a culture of the fluid (there was a still a small slit in the incision that had been draining fluid a bit.) I went back on Keflex starting that morning, 2/19, and back to the Epsom salt foot baths a few times a day. The Keflex made a difference and the area felt better through the weekend but now, Monday morning, it's feeling pretty tender and a bit swollen. I go into a follow-up appointment in a couple hours to hopefully find out the results of the culture. For the first time since the surgery, I'm starting to feel bouts of anxiety and worry--feelings I don't generally ever experience. I'm starting to worry things are really not good and I don't know what that means for my foot and long-term foot health. In a word, I'm scared. 

February 24, 2016 - It turns out the culture of the fluid showed a staph infection. On 2/22/2016 the podiatrist removed the scab from the incision and we found it wasn't very well healed deep down. He did a little bit of cleaning and now we're treating it as an open wound. It's possible the stitches were removed a bit too early to allow it ample healing time but I'm guessing I got the incision dirty (bad patient!) so it's my fault. For now I'm applying Silvadene ointment  twice daily and keeping it covered with a breathable gauze pad. I'll also continue on the second round of Keflex until it's done. In the past two days I haven't really noticed an improvement but it hasn't gotten worse. There's still mild swelling in the forefoot and the area around the incision is red and tender. The area isn't shrinking but not enlarging either. At this point I'm beginning to regret having the surgery. It's been nearly seven weeks and the healing has been poor. I'm wondering if I'll be able to run this spring, or summer, and with Hardrock and PTL on my schedule, it's rather depressing to think about. 

February 26, 2016 - Seven weeks post-op. The Silvadene ointment and bandage treatment seemed to help. The healing is coming along and the soreness in adjacent toes and tendons running the length of my foot is decreasing. Keeping the faith (and keeping it clean!) 
Seven weeks post-op using Silvadene ointment
March 10, 2016 - Right about eight weeks post-op I felt a noticeable change in the healing and, finally, felt encouraged that the worst was behind me. The swelling in the foot was all but gone in the morning, right out of bed, and minimal by the end of the day. My podiatrist concurred that the healing was looking very encouraging and gave me the go-ahead to start running again. I still gave it another five days before going for my first trail run since the surgery on January 8. 
Eight weeks post-op (four weeks post-infection.) Side by side comparison. Note the reduced redness around the healing incision site and the definition in the top of the foot again. I can actually see the tendons!

March 16, 2016 - Hopefully the last update to this continuing saga and blog post! I've run the past three days in a row with no foot pain at all. I can tell it's feeling good because I don't think about it or notice it while running. I'm claiming victory at this point even though there's still some healing taking place at the incision and a scab persists. The swelling and redness are all but gone now. I really do think I would have been at this point by week five post-op had I not incurred the staph infection. That set my healing back by three weeks and was pretty scary. I haven't run long enough yet, nor on technical enough trails, to know if the neuroma pain is completely gone but I'm hopeful it will be. Once I go for my first long, tough trail run, I'll update this blog post once more.  
Thanks to everyone, especially Fritz, who has kept a positive attitude throughout this saga and did their best to keep me positive when I was feeling pretty down. The human body is a pretty amazing thing (as are antibiotics!) 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Nolan's 14 Attempt 2015 (South to North)

Sept. 4-6, 2015
71 miles, 36,000' climbing
57 hours, 7 minutes

It sounds overly dramatic, but in a way I’ve been training and preparing for the challenge of Nolan’s 14 (N14) for over a decade now. The notion of enchaining fourteen 14ers in a single continuous push of nearly 100 miles over much no-trail terrain embodies what I love most about mountains and long distance running combined. I’ve never been a fast runner nor a super talented mountaineer but I feel I’m pretty good at both disciplines so combining the two really appeals to me.

I first had done some long, multi-peak Sawatch 14er linkups in the mid-2000s with a few friends and friends-of-friends. At that time a few of them encouraged me to look into this route called “Nolan’s 14”. Being a neophyte mountain runner at that time, it sounded pretty impossible but certainly captured my interest. For the next many years, I did a few more linkups of Sawatch 14ers and crewed friends Bill, Tom and Homie in a north to south Nolan’s attempt in August 2009. Since then, I’ve had many a great day scouting more of the Nolan’s route and figuring what routes I prefer. By the time I gave my first attempt at the Nolan’s 14 route on Labor Day weekend 2014, I had been on all of the route except the north side of Mount Princeton. But that 2014 attempt was from north to south and I didn’t get over Mount Yale so I still hadn’t seen the north side of Princeton. I spent a weekend scouting it out and felt good about the entire route going into my 2015 south to north attempt with five other friends on Labor Day Weekend again.

But first, back to my 2014 attempt…Going north to south starting with eight or so other friends and I had a pretty solid first go and exceeded my expectations getting nine summits (Massive through Columbia) in 33.5 hours but as I ascended the tenth peak, Mount Yale, at the sunset on the second day, a short but intense rain storm blasted me above treeline and got so cold I couldn’t warm up. My attempt was done as continuing higher as the night came on was not a smart idea. I turned back and hiked out North Cottonwood Creek and called it good at about 60 miles and 29,000 feet of vertical ascent. I was super pleased with that outing and my effort and learned a good bit about what it takes to complete this route. The biggest lesson I learned during that effort is to dress super warm for the nights. Insulated jackets, mittens and heavy duty rain gear. None of that light duty rain gear. So for 2015 I purchased cheap but warm and dry (read: not very breathable) Frog Toggs rain gear. I was ready for the 2015 attempt.

Leading up to the 2015 attempt I spent a weekend scouting both sides of Mount Princeton and the east side of Mount Huron. These two segments are, in my opinion, the cruxes of the route so it was great to go into it knowing these well. I also spent two weekends doing long, high altitude mountain traverses in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. These two traverses were two outings I’d long wanted to do but never made the time. Both traverses were very rewarding in their own right and, as a bonus, made for great N14 training. The first traverse was the Northern Sangres Traverse in the northern-most portion of the Sangres in southern Colorado. The second traverse, a month later, was a classic traverse in the heart of the Sangres of New Mexico, the New Mexico Sangres Traverse. Both traverses served up roughly 30 miles of rugged mountain ridge running in 12 to 14 hours at a time.
When it came time to go for the 2015 attempt my goal was to better my summit count of 2014 so anything beyond nine summits would mean a successful outing for me. I still harbored no illusions of actually finishing the entire route under 60 hours…it’s just too daunting to imagine completing the entire route. So when we set off early on Friday morning I had my sights set on Clohesy Lake between Missouri Mountain and Huron Peak as that would mean I had passed over the tenth summit, Missouri Mountain. If I managed to get that far, anything beyond that would be icing on the cake and would exceed my expectations. My friend Julian had done a great job of setting up generous people giving up their holiday weekend to help support the six of us attempting N14 by establishing aid stations along the route. Additionally, my Mom and stepfather, Matt, along with friends Bill, Rebecca, Katrina and Tom, crewed for me meeting me at trailheads along the way with my supplies, food and gear. I cannot express my gratitude for volunteers, family and friends that gave up their holiday weekend to help support me in this endeavor. It’s really very touching and I hope I can return the favor for others in their endeavors in the future.
The 2015 crew. Will, Logan, Adam, Julian, John and me (L to R).
When the six of us set off from the Blank Cabin trailhead for Mt. Shavano on Friday morning at 5:04am I had only met one of the six, Julian. I would quickly get to know the four others; Adam, John, Logan and Will and we would spend the next many hours and miles together. It was really very nice to have the company of like-minded folks for much of the route. Our ascent of Mount Shavano went quickly and smooth with Julian setting a great pace the entire way and we reached the summit of Shavano at 7:10am. We made quick work of the jaunt over to Tabeguache Peak in 40 minutes, arriving at 7:50am. Some of the talus between the summits was frosted over making for slippery footing but otherwise it was a clear, calm day.
Sunrise while heading up Shavano
From the summit of Tabeguache the only descent route I had scouted was a talus ridge from near the saddle between Tabeguache and Shavano that leads down to Brown’s Creek but Julian and Will had a different idea that piqued my interest; the so-called “Hamilton route” down Tabeguache into upper Brown’s Creek basin. The Hamilton route is named after Andrew Hamilton, the current Colorado 14er speed record holder. It sounded legitimate and would likely beat a couple thousand feet of talus descending so I hitched my wagon to the gang and we all descended this route. While longer in distance, it saved some elevation loss and was really quite pleasant. I’d certainly do it again. Minimal willow bushwacking was encountered in Brown’s Creek basin and we were soon making great time to the summit of Mount Antero at 10:50am.
Heading up out of Brown's Creek Basin towards Antero with Tabeguache in the background. Julian Smith photo.
Clouds were building all morning and it started to look a little dark as we hung out on the summit of Antero for a bit. I could see a rain cell to the north near Mount Yale but not eminent for the Antero area. The clouds were actually quite nice all day keeping things cool but never really opening up with rain. All six of us were still together here and instead of taking the standard ascent/descent route off Antero as I had planned I stuck with the gang to check out a new-to-me line off Antero. We descended about five hundred feet to the north off Antero to a small saddle before going due west down steep talus and scree eventually leading to a very steep treed slope going straight down to the Baldwin Gulch road at about 10,900’.  While this was very direct and short in distance, it was a pretty leg-intensive, steep descent. I’m not sure I’d do it again but it was fun to see a new line on Antero and I’m glad I did it. 

At this point, Julian, Logan and I were a bit ahead of Adam, Will and John so we mostly walked the Baldwin Gulch road to give the others time to catch up and we all more or less rolled into the Alpine aid station at the old cemetery at the same time around 1:15pm. The Alpine aid station was extremely well setup complete with a pop-up canopy—Chris has outdone herself. We restocked with food and water. My fueling for the weekend was mostly comprised of Tailwind powdered drink and cold Dominos pizza. I supplemented the pizza with energy bars, Powerbar gummy chews and bacon, mostly. My stomach would never be a problem all weekend and I was stoked about that.

I was also excited to see the next section…the mysterious but well-defined ascending traverse trail from the cemetery up to 10,700’ in Grouse Gulch on the southwest side of Mount Princeton. I had tried to find this trail from the top down earlier in the summer and failed miserably. It’s quite easy to find and follow from down in Alpine, it turns out. 
Sweet single track up into Grouse Gulch
All six of us more or less stuck together for the ascent of Mount Princeton as well. In upper Grouse Gulch we opted to ascend a direct scree/talus slope just south of “Blake’s Fast Scree Gully” which got us to nearly 13,900’ on Princeton’s southwest ridge. Once on the ridge it was nice talus hopping to the summit of Mount Princeton at 4:40pm. Much to my great surprise, my friend Walt from Los Alamos had been waiting on the summit for nearly an hour for us bearing freshly-cooked bacon! Yeah! It was quite an uplift to run into Walt up there after a tough ascent of Mount Princeton.
Princeton summit bacon!
From the summit of Mount Princeton, our merry band of six really split up. Logan was super keen to take a descent route he had scoped earlier in the summer that went northwest over to near Cottonwood Lake before descending down to the Colorado Trail and over to the Avalanche Gulch TH for Yale. Julian and Adam both wanted to join Logan.  It sounded a bit complicated to me and I was really keen to try a descent into Maxwell Gulch that I had scoped earlier in the summer but hadn’t actually taken. John and Will opted for the more “standard” Nolan’s route down the NE ridge to the Colorado Trail. At about 5pm we all went our separate ways off Princeton. The evening turned out quite nice with sporadic sunbeam bursts and my descent into Maxwell Gulch turned out very good and I’d certainly do it again. Once in Maxwell Gulch I filled up with water again (I carried a Sawyer squeeze filter but never ended up filtering water, opting instead to just drink the water directly.)  I had heard of an old mining road in lower Maxwell Gulch and managed to lock onto that for an easy and smooth descent down to the CO trail just before 7pm. It rained briefly, but not very hard, as I descended to the CO trail but once on the trail it dried up again.
Will and John descend Princeton
I was feeling quite good and it was really very nice to finally open up my legs and turn my brain off after so much tedious talus hopping for the past few hours. The running along the CO trail was glorious as the sun set. Cellular service is really good along this stretch of the CO trail so I was able to catch up a bit on text messages and even called Allison to chat with her for about 10 minutes as I trotted along the trail. I made good time running the trail and got to the Cottonwood Lake road before having to stop and bust out my headlamp. Just a couple more miles and I’d be at Avalanche.

I got into the Avalanche trailhead aid, manned by Rita and Gina, around 8:30pm and I was feeling great. All systems were “Go” and I was ready to take on the night and the trek over Mount Yale. Bill would accompany me for this section as he was looking to spend some night time on the trail with me. Since I’ve never been up Denny Creek and have enjoyed the east ridge of Yale the couple times I’ve been on it, it was route of choice for the ascent. After about 30 minutes at the aid station, I left as Julian and Logan came in. They both suggested I go for Denny Creek but I had my mind made up so Bill and I headed up.
Suited up in the light rain to head up Yale through the night. Patty Simi photo.
The ascent up to the east ridge proper went pretty well but as soon as we started up the ridge proper, leaving the trees behind, the wind and cold air really made itself known. However, I had learned from last year to “overdress” at night so I donned my heavy mittens, insulated jacket and warm beanie and I was in good shape. The East Ridge is steep and loose at times and I was feeling the accumulated elevation gain of the four 14ers I’d already ascended so I began to fade a bit. A number of times I chose to sit down and close my eyes for just a moment or two.  Clouds rolled in giving the already cold and dark night an ominous feel for the last few hundred feet. We saw a headlamp up on top and assumed it was Logan. Turned out we were correct. Logan had reached the summit about 10 minutes before we had. On the summit I sat down only for a few minutes before getting cold again and quickly motivated for the descent. Just a few paces on the descent and we ran into Julian and his friend Steve(?) as they neared the summit.

I had done this Mount Yale descent before but in the daylight. For the most part it was easy to follow the line I had previously taken but damn did it feel much longer than it had in the past. We could see Logan’s headlamp ahead of us and behind us we saw the headlamps of Julian and Steve. Bill and I finally reached the saddle between Point 13,105’ and Point 12,619’ and it was time to descend the “airplane gully” down to North Cottonwood Creek. The airplane gully is steep, bushy and full of vegetation. There’s not really a trail either. The grass and vegetation was wet making for treacherous footing and a soaking experience. By the time we got to near the bottom of the airplane gully I was pretty frustrated, wet and super tired. Then we had to deal with the tree deadfall. That was horrendous. In the daylight it’s a bit easier to navigate the tree deadfall because you can see a good distance ahead and pick a decent line that minimizes tree hopping and ducking-under. No such luxury in the dark. I was pissed. I really felt bad for Bill because he hadn’t been through here before and I was leading him on the worst tree hopping/crawling/ducking expedition possible. Somehow I feel I managed to lead us over every single possible dead tree in this section. My CPM (curses per minute) was at an all-time high and while it embarrassed me to be blurting out so many expletives, I couldn’t stop. That deadfall brought out the worst of me. By the time we hit the North Cottonwood aid station at 4:30am where my Mom, Matt and Tom were waiting, I was a full-on asshole. I apologized for my attitude but still I shouldn’t have let it get that out of line. This was the lowest moment of the weekend for me and I had to work hard to turn my frown upside down. As it turned out, Julian and Logan also both had a devil of a time with this descent so we were all happy to spend a solid hour at the aid station to regain our composure and steel our nerves to head up into the now windy conditions above treeline.

The highlight of the night, however, had to be the awesome remote aid station that Shelby and Martin had put together in North Cottonwood. Shelby was quick to hand me a warm bowl of Deb Pero’s famous potato and bacon soup which really hit the spot. Any thoughts of calling it quits at this point slowly faded as each spoonful of soup hit my lips. However, an unfortunate mix-up meant that my cold pizza had been left back at the car, two miles away. The thought of taking on Columbia, Harvard, Oxford, Belford and Missouri without my favorite food was hard to swallow. Thankfully, the valiant Tom came to the rescue running two miles back down to the car, grabbing my pizza and running back to the aid station in short order. Julian and I had decided to wait until the sun started to come up before heading up so the wait was not a problem. In the meantime, Martin was kind enough to allow me to lay down in his tent to get out of the drizzling rain and stay a bit warmer as we waited.
Around 6am, Julian and I motivated to head up Columbia. Logan had headed out about half an hour ahead of us. As I plodded up the trail behind Julian, the wind was whipping up above us and the whistling noise was not at all motivating. We pressed on and it wasn’t long before we broke out above treeline and up what I feel is the worst route on a Colorado 14er, the west slope of Columbia. Steep, loose, braided and just not at all fun. It was made even less fun with the wind, especially once on the ridge heading north to the summit. We reached the summit around 9:30am and sat down for a snack. At this point I still hadn’t found my mojo again and mentioned to Julian I may head back down the way we came and call it a day. He gave me a puzzled look and I don’t recall if he said anything but it was clear what I said was ridiculous. I’m glad he reacted the way he did and set me straight. I was thinking nonsense and he called me on it. It was great. After a short break we got up and continued on our way towards Harvard.
Heading up out of Frenchman Creek basin
I’m accustomed to staying a good bit higher in elevation in upper Frenchman Creek basin but it’s a ton of talus hopping and not always much fun so when Julian headed further down in elevation to avoid the talus and stay more on grass, I was intrigued and followed along. It worked out pretty well and is certainly easier on the mind versus the talus hopping. Getting lower in elevation got us out of the wind a bit more and I finally felt like I was warming up. The warmth was nice to enjoy for a bit before we headed back up the ridge and back into the strong winds en route to Harvard’s summit at 12:40pm. I found a little nook in some boulders just below the summit to enjoy some pizza. I was able to get text messages on my phone here and received a few encouraging messages from friends which helped boost my increasingly better mood.

Julian and I made decent time on the descent of Harvard’s north ridge and slope down to Pine Creek by around 2:45pm. It was awesome to see an aid station down in Pine Creek. I believe his name was Richard and his wife’s name I have unfortunately forgotten. We enjoyed some soup, chocolate teddy grahams and pleasant conversation with Richard and his wife. Moments later, Logan and his friend Cordis came back down to the aid station after a brief false start up Oxford. At this point it started raining and there was some decent thunder further up the valley so we all opted to wait it out under the cover the trees next to the small campfire at the aid station. We ended up hanging out for about 90 minutes, all told, before motivating to head up and out around 4:45pm.

The ascent up Oxford went quite smooth. We all knew the route pretty well and despite wet grass resulting in wet feet, we enjoyed having a group of four for conversation. But again, as we got above 13,000’ the wind was pretty strong and quite cold. All four of us got pretty chilled as we reached the summit of Oxford just before 7pm. In fact, Cordis was cold enough to skip the summit of Oxford and stayed lower going directly down to the saddle between Oxford and Belford. Meanwhile, Julian, Logan and I all hunkered down in the small summit wind block area on top of Oxford. I even took my shoes and socks off to put them in the wind and hopefully dry out a bit.  I’m not sure things dried out much, or at all, unfortunately. 
Julian and Logan take a load off on the summit of Oxford
After a short bit of summit time, we headed over to Belford via the connecting ridge. I caught up to Cordis just after the low point on the saddle and he said he was quite cold. The air temperature had dropped just after the sun set and with the wind on the ridge, it was pretty frigid. I had an extra Frog Toggs rain shell jacket and pants in my pack so Cordis put the kit on. It was pretty hilarious because the rain kit was too large on me and extremely large on Cordis. But the kit did a great job of keeping the warmth in so he wasn’t complaining. All of us headed to the summit of Belford in the brutal wind and tagged the summit around 8:20pm just before it got dark enough to mandate a headlamp. Cordis continued over the summit and down to the Missouri Gulch trailhead while Julian, Logan and I headed down to Elkhead Pass. I scampered down pretty quickly to the pass and was able to lay down for a bit, maybe five minutes, and close my eyes and rest some before Julian and Logan reached the pass. The brief “doze-off” felt great.

When Julian and Logan arrived at the pass we had to decide how we wanted to tackle Missouri. Logan and I were keen to skirt around the southeast face of Missouri and Julian humored us. I’d been on this south face traverse coming down from Missouri and over to Elkhead twice in the past but both times during the day. Logan had recently scouted it too so we felt good about it. Turns out it’s pretty difficult in the dark! We ended up farting around a bit trying to decide when to head up. I think, in the end, we did not traverse far enough southwest before heading up. Eventually I found a fourth-class gully that looked good enough to me so I went for it. It worked out well and I hit the south ridge at 13,700’ around 10:40pm. I called down to Julian and Logan that the line went and they opted to follow me up. I had another chance to sit and “rest my eyes” for a bit while they two of them ascended the gully. Once we were all together we headed up the final bit to the summit and sat on top at 11:30pm. It was breezy and a bit foggy on the summit so we didn’t stay long. Julian and Logan were able to use the FRS radio to chat with crew down at Clohesy Lake. The crew had been able to see our headlamp light reflect in the clouds and it was a boost knowing they were all down there. The three of us had a short discussion about where the route down to Clohesy was from where we were at so I used my phone and Locus Pro app with a GPS track showing my route from last summer to get us set straight. We headed northwest, then west, on the ridge before dropping down to the lake.
Back when I head left the summit of Harvard, I had sent a text message to Tom and my crew suggesting I’d called it quits at Clohesy Lake. That would have gotten me through 10 summits and I would be very pleased with that. Apparently my crew was prepared to give me a pep talk and get me to continue beyond Clohesy Lake but as I rolled into Clohesy around 1:00am, I had already decided I’d continue on through at least Huron Peak and over to Winfield. I had a second wind come through and was feeling good mentally and physically. No reason to stop!

The aid station crew at Clohesy Lake was chock full of experienced ultrarunners and crew folks and the vibe was fun and very supportive. They had a massive campfire going which helped warm us all up and get us excited to press on into the overnight. I think I downed some Muscle Milk protein drink, some coffee and snacked on various foods before getting ready to head out. Julian, Logan and I spent probably close to 30 minutes around the fire enjoying its warmth and chatting with the large crew.

We chatted about our route up Huron and I was quite keen to take the route I’ve done a couple times up Huron—ascending the basin to the north of the Lois Lake Basin despite the Lois Lake basin being the more common Nolan’s route up/down Huron on the Clohesy side. Julian and Logan were both interested to see this route so we headed out from the aid station around 1:30am. A small log bridge across the outlet stream of Clohesy Lake allowed us to keep our feet dry on the crossing. After a short bit of bushwacking the route into this basin goes straight up a gully full of giant, stable blocks for about 300 vertical feet. It’s pretty engaging scrambling so it kept me mentally focused and warded off any thoughts of sleep. We did a good job of navigating and were soon bouncing across the talus of the upper basin before the steep climb to the ridge. The clouds came in and gave an eerie feel to the night as well as obscure the route for a few moments every now and then. Going through the wee hours of our second night, the three of us started to drag. At about 4:30am the three of all sat down and, without discussion, just nodded off for about 15 minutes. We all snapped awake when a short bit of drizzle passed over us. It was another few hundred feet to the 13,400’ ridge north of Huron. Right around this time, unbeknownst to me, my Delorme InReach battery died.

On the ridge a little after 5:00am we could see the headlamps of a couple of other hikers coming up the standard route from Winfield. The next bit of talus traversing from our ridge to the standard route trail is normally fun talus hopping but after the freezing cold, damp night the talus was covered in verglass and was extremely treacherous and slow-going. I found myself often using both hands for stability along this traverse. I felt pretty bad about this because I know Julian and Logan weren’t psyched on this route in these conditions and it was me who had led them this way. They were troopers to push through the conditions with no complaining. We were all pretty chilled being up in the clouds and as we got higher we encountered a bit of snow covering the last couple hundred feet to the summit of Huron. We reached Huron’s summit around 6:30am and didn’t linger in the chilly conditions. The descent was a bit slippery on the upper few hundred feet but quickly dried up and got warmer as we got lower.
Sunrise from near the summit of Huron
The rising sun really gave me a boost and that, along with passing by a large number of hikers heading up the trail as I descended, I was amped up. I was 49 hours into the outing and suddenly feeling the best I’d felt the entire time. It was a wild feeling but I was ready to open it up and run it into Winfield and cruise over the next 14er, La Plata. I stripped some layers as I got down to the dirt road that leads into Winfield. Coming up the road from Winfield was Steve Bremner and he was kind enough to turn around and run with me for about 10 minutes giving me some company into Winfield at around 8:20am.

My Mom, Matt, Tom, Bill, Rebecca, Katrina and a host of others were waiting at Winfield with freshly cooked bacon and breakfast burritos! I was keen to eat a bit of food, drink up a bit and get out towards La Plata summit’s as soon as possible so I made it a quick turnover of about 15 minutes in Winfield changing socks and shoes quickly. A fellow ultrarunner runner from Kansas, Sophia, had put together an amazing aid station at Winfield and I felt bad for blowing in and out of there given just how awesome it was but I did manage to enjoy some of her freshly-cooked bacon before hitting the road. Since it would be dirt road and trail from here on out, I grabbed my ultra poles for the next bit.
Leaving Winfield amped up. Tom Stockton photo.
Leaving Winfield by 8:45am or so, I fired up some tunes from my phone and managed to do a good bit of running up the road up the North Fork of Clear Creek and La Plata’s southwest side. My good friend Bill quickly caught up to me from Winfield to give me some company over La Plata. It was great to be back in the mountains with Bill and especially great at this point in the outing. We motivated and pushed pretty swiftly to reach the summit of La Plata at noon making it a 5.5 hour split from the summit of Huron to the summit of La Plata—something I was super, super pleased about that pace at this stage of the adventure. 
From the summit of La Plata, looking north to the remaining two 14ers, Elbert and Massive, I did not make it to.
The day was beautiful and I was feeling great. With the InReach dead, I was still able to send a text status update to Facebook to keep friends and family updated on my progress and the comments and replies were very uplifting. I was utterly stoked!

Bill and I munched on some snacks on the summit for about ten minutes before beginning the descent down the standard route to highway 82 at La Plata gulch. It was an uneventful and enjoyable scamper down the trail and to the trailhead at 2:07pm…a total of 57:07 for 12 peaks trailhead to trailhead. I was so stoked with this effort!

I had given a good amount of thought about going on to Elbert and perhaps Massive if I could have kept feeling good even though it would easily be another 14+ hours but many factors made me decide to call it good at this point. It was a beautiful afternoon and this adventure had only been possible thanks to the support of my Mom, Matt and friends that had come up to the area for the weekend. I really wanted to enjoy the rest of the beautiful afternoon with them instead of just seeing them for brief spurts of time at various meeting points along the route. It would have been very selfish to ask for more support after everyone had given up nearly 60 hours of non-stop time to help me in my adventure. It was awesome to stop, sit in a chair and enjoy a beer with my family and friends on this gorgeous summer afternoon. Life was great and I wanted to soak it up.

Thank you
I cannot adequately express how grateful I am for everyone that helped make this attempt so successful. Many people, from family to friends to people I hadn't ever met, gave up their weekend to give me the best chance at success possible. If you were one of those people please know that your help means the world to me and accept my heartfelt gratitude for what you've done. Thank you!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Freestanding Campus Board/Hang Board Setup for Climbing Training

We live in a small town home sans garage but wanted a decent campus board and hang board setup. A friend came up with a relatively easy (few cuts) 4'x8', 15-degree campus board setup.  It's indoors (in a bedroom) so I wanted a decent paint job instead of just unpainted plywood. I tinkered with the design a bit and am really pleased with what resulted (especially the zia paint job!) Here's what I ended up with. It's super functional and I'm really proud of the end result. Allison and I (and a friend or two) have had some great training sessions on it so far...
I'm not great with construction, or math, so it ended up at 12 degrees at first and then an easy modification got it to 16 degrees. Still have room for another set of campus rungs on the left side. Metolius wooden "medium rungs" on the right side. 

Initially, the foot board was two feet tall and on the same plane as the upper board. That didn't allow room for my knees (I'm 6'5") and was awkward for foot placements. I trimmed it down to 20" tall and set it vertical and it's way,way better now.

If the hangboard were up all the time, it would severely impact the campus board's usability so I found some "bunk bed brackets" online, mounted them to a 2x8 and that board hangs on two beefy hooks at the top of the campus board. Two wooden stops on the top inside of the frame support the hangboard board and keep it solid. The pulley system connects to eyebolts in the top of the campus board frame so the weight is on the frame, not on the removable board.

Using the excellent plans from this blog post at Rock Climber's Training Manual, we've got an adjustable/removable hangboard setup. It's easy to slide the grips wider or narrower depending on who's doing a workout or take them off completely so make putting up/taking down the hangboard board easier. I found some perfect "bar holder open" brackets from the local Do It Best store that fit perfectly over the 2x8. 

Then the Rock Prodigy Training Center (RPTC) board slides onto the removable board. This allows for adjustability and a lighter setup so it's easier to put up/remove the removable board.

We recently added four hand-made sloper rungs using 4" PVC pipe cut in half, lengthwise, and glueing on 80 grit sandpaper for the surface. A trimmed 2x4 behind the PVC pipe sloper rung adds stability to the rungs. And because summer is upon us, we got two 5" O2 Cool battery operated clip-on fans. The fans clip onto the RPTC holds and add much-appreciated cooling airflow during hangboard workouts:

Hand drawn specs after completion

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dolomiti Extreme 53k 2013 Race Report

Dolomiti Extreme 53k
June 8, 2013
GPS data
8:44:31, 68th overall of 316
Full results
My photos from the race

My left foot was throbbing and radiating pain. I couldn’t even weight it without grimacing. And I was feeling quite depressed. I was in Italy and in three days I was supposed to meet up with Bill and run the first annual Dolomiti Extreme 53 kilometer trail race in the majestic Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy. The way my foot was feeling, though, there wasn’t a chance I’d be able to run, or even walk, 53 kilometers of rugged trail. I’d spent a good deal of time and money to get here and now, just days before the race, I felt I’d be sitting in the hotel room during the race instead of enjoying the company of 350 other runners in the scenic Dolomites.

Earlier in the afternoon, Nat and I had gone for a hike up Cima Capi (900m) outside of the town of Torbole near Lake Garda to consume the views of Lake Garda from the summit. The day had been excellent. Our group of four--Allison, Stephanie, Nat and me--had done some rock climbing at a nice, newer crag called Bassilandia and then explored a unique via ferrata through a slot canyon-like gorge below the Drea Castle. Our hike up 2700’ vertical of Cima Capi had been enjoyable and swift. However, as we reached the top, my left foot began aching. I had banged it a little bit earlier in the day while climbing and thought that was the cause of the discomfort. So I just gritted it out. But as we descended, the pain got increasingly worse until I was obviously limping and favoring my other foot. By the time we got back to our rented apartment, I couldn’t even weight the foot. What was going on? I’d never felt this much pain in my foot. Thoughts of writing off the rest of the trip went through my mind as my attitude soured. I went to bed thinking I had done something serious to my foot and that perhaps much of my summer would be impacted, not just the race in a few days, by this injury. I nodded off to a fitful night’s sleep as my foot throbbed.

When I awoke my foot was tender to the touch but feeling quite a bit better. Still, as bad as it had hurt, I planned to do nothing for the next two days to give me a shot at running at least half of the race on Saturday. Thursday morning the four of us went rock climbing at one of the more famous and historic crags in the Arco area, Massone. My plan was to just belay all day and take it easy. But I’m not very good at taking it easy and the temptation to climb was too great. I hopped on a climb and found my foot didn’t hurt while climbing. This was good news…at least I could climb for the rest of the trip. We enjoyed a great day of climbing before heading north to the Dolomites to meet with Bill and Rebecca. As the day went on, my foot felt better and better. I was even walking without a limp now. How could this be? I couldn’t even stand on it the night prior.

We met with Bill and Rebecca that evening at our hotel in the Cibana di Cadore and had a scrumptious dinner cooked by the Romano the chef at the hotel’s restaurant. Over dinner Bill had mentioned that he had once over-tightened his shoes resulting in some significant, but temporary, pain that disappeared quickly after he loosened his laces. When I thought about it, I _had_ really cranked down the laces on my Brooks Cascadia shoes because they were wet from the afternoon’s gorge exploration and I didn’t want my toes sliding down into the front of the shoes. Hmm…could that really be the explanation? It seemed way to painful for something as simple as that but, as it turned out, that must have been this issue because my foot “healed” up just fine and I got to enjoy an awesome day of running in the Dolomites on June 8th, 2013…

Lining up deep in the crowd at the start

This was my first non-American ultra race and I was super excited about it. The Europeans have a reputation for being strong ultrarunners. Also, they have a reputation for running in lycra capris and using poles liberally. All of these reputations are spot on. Bill and I stuck out like, well, Americans, at the start line in our short-sleeved shirts and non-skin-tight running shorts. We did look like everyone else in that we both had running backpacks on. The race organizers require each participant to carry a few mandatory items including a whistle, a cell phone, a flexible bandage, a space blanket, long pants, long-sleeved shirt and a rain jacket. Also, the race was advertised as being “cupless” so I carried a hand bottle in addition to the hydration water bladder in my pack. All of this mandatory equipment was much more than I would normally carry in a 53 kilometer race. And I really don’t like running with a pack. But alas, it worked out well and my old school Ultimate Direction Wasp pack served me well in yet another race.

The race is a 53 kilometer loop starting and ending in the town of Forno di Zoldo in the heart of the Dolomites. The course climbs 11,500’ and descends about the same amount (the finish is uphill from the start so it’s not quite 11,500’ of descent.) At 5:30am we started from the main street in Forno di Zoldo. It starts getting light around 4:15am in the summer in the Dolomites so no headlamp was required. Bill and I were quite a ways back in the pack at the start and the race quickly funnels into some narrow streets before entering even more narrow trails. So we resigned ourselves to sticking together for a while and just enjoying the easy pace behind roughly a hundred runners in front of us. From the start the race more or less just climbs and climbs to Passo Duran, a pass with a paved highway crossing it. Rebecca met us there to take some photos and give encouragement. After Passo Duran we climbed even more towards the base of Monte Moiazza as we ran towards Monte Civetta. The course was extremely muddy through some lush meadows as we ascended. At one point my left shoe got stuck in the mud, mid-stride, leaving my shoe in the mud as my foot continued forward. I was able to stop before plunging my socked-foot into the mud, though. More steep climbing awaited us and the queue slowed to a very easy pace as we all just grunted up towards a small water stop at about mile 11.

Scenic running early in the race

After the water stop we descended on some steep, slick trail for about a mile before entering the top of a really steep, loose gorge/couloir. A volunteer at the top cautioned us to take it slow. I peered into this couloir and was a bit surprised the course actually went through it--it looked pretty sketchy. I worked my way down into it slowly and was being very deliberate so as to not kick rocks down on the others below. But some overly-motivated runner above me decided to be extremely disrespectful and dangerous and tred to move quickly through here. He quickly yelled, "rock!" and I looked up to see a rock the size of my torso coming down. I sucked up against the wall as the rock tumbled by and, thankfully, stopped before endangering anyone else. He apologized profusely (at least I think he was apologizing--I couldn't understand the language) and we all carried on to the more firm trail below.

The gnarly descent chute

The spacing between runners was opening up and I felt happy to be able to actually run and power hike quickly up the ascents for a few more miles. Because Bill and I had gone out so slowly, my energy level was high and I was feeling great as the scenic miles ticked off and I passed a number of other runners. We traversed for quite a while well below the huge faces of Monte Civetta (the banner image for this blog post) and I watched and heard numerous avalanches tear down the rock faces above. I was thankful the course had been re-routed to this lower elevation!

Looking up at Monte Civetta from the ski area.

We dropped down to the mountain town of Mareson-Pecol before heading up a ski area outside of the town. Here the air was still and the sun hot so it became a bit of a grind up the mountain. But I was still feeling pretty strong and able to pass by a number of runners before reaching the top of the ski area and heading towards the mile 23 aid station at the crossing of the major highway 251. I was looking forward to this aid station because it was the one spot on the course where I'd see Allison. Her, Rebecca and Stephanie had driven up there to cheer us on as we passed through. I could hear the cars and stepped up my pace on the easy downhill single track. I rounded a corner and there they were cheering and clapping. It was a very nice boost!

Running down into the mile 23 aid station

From the aid station we climbed up a bit before running some really nice single track at treeline traversing along the base of the impressive Monte Pelmo. The huge limestone walls of the west and south faces had me dreaming up coming back to climb up there. And then I began to notice the clouds. The afternoon storms were starting to roll in but it looked clear where we were headed so I figured I had some more time before I'd get wet.

Monte Pelmo as we ran by

Nice, enjoyable running on undulating terrain kept me rolling for the next few miles before a relatively short but very steep and slick grassy descent got my attention. This section had a number of climbing ropes strung up between trees with volunteers standing by each rope to warn and assist runners. I'm pretty comfortable on steep terrain but was quite happy to have the ropes there. A very impressive descent option!

The steep, rope-protected descent

Run, run and run some more and then finally I was on top of the last climb and peak of the run, Monte Pointe, with only 8km of descent back down into town and the finish line.

At the top of Monte Pointe with the end, Forno di Zoldo, in sight

I ran pretty well on this last, long descent but had to make an extended pit stop in the trees to see a man about a horse. As I ran into town and hit pavement, I thought, "alright, the homestretch, I'm gonna hammer it home." I picked up the pace and started running hard and letting it all out but, wait, we're leaving the pavement and going back up again? Damn! So it was, we did another short ascent and hit some more really muddy trail for half a mile. I could hear footsteps coming up from behind me so I kept on running as hard as could splashing through the sticky mud. And then we were back on pavement again and people were cheering from houses along the road. The energy was contagious and my legs kept spinning fast as I gained on the person behind me and could no longer hear the steps. It was really cool flying through the narrow streets lined with houses and small cafes! I managed to crank by a couple of other runners with about a half mile to go and soaked in the energy of the crowd at the finish line as I crossed it in 8 hours, 44 minutes and 31 seconds. What a grand race experience!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Well, That Was Fast

It seems like just last month I was running 12 miles on New Year's Day with a big group of friends to celebrate the start of 2012. 1171 running miles and 352 days later here it is a week from Christmas 2012 already. 2012 went fast. And it was awesome. I didn't run as many races this year as normal but managed to run a number of new-to-me races including the Moab Red Hot 55k, the Grand Mesa 50 miler, the Mount Taylor 50k and the Deadman Peaks 53 miler. As usual, I didn't crush it in any of the races but ran well (with the exception of Deadmans!) and had a great time seeing new courses and meeting new people.
I also was fortunate enough to make two bigger trips. The first one was to Spain with Allison in April for a couple weeks where we did some sightseeing, hiking and a fair bit of climbing. That trip was a wonderful experience. Then in June I was again fortunate to make a trip to Alaska with five great friends to try to climb and ski Denali (Mount McKinley). The weather didn't treat us well on the trip and our summit attempt was thwarted at the 17,200' camp but with poor climbing weather came great powder and lots of fabulous skiing. I just finished putting together the video from that trip, six months later!

Denali 2012 from Jason Halladay on Vimeo.

With a poor start to the winter of 2012-2013, things have been dry and warm around New Mexico allowing Allison and I ample opportunities to rock climb. My last blog post detailed my hardest sport climbing route to date, Meltdown. From that post, and a late-summer story in the Albuquerque Journal about the Los Alamos Mountaineers Club, a writer for the ABQ Journal interviewed me in October for a story in the paper's GO section last month. That was a fun experience and the story turned out well despite a misplaced quote and a small error every now and then. In that story I referred to Allison as my wife. A few friends caught this and asked about that. Well, the story came out a bit sooner than I thought it might as we didn't actually get married until December 12th. But yes, that's right, after being together for 12 years and being engaged for 5.5 years, we are now married. Yahoo! We took advantage of the cool date, 12/12/12, and invited a few friends as witnesses to a brief, easy ceremony at the local courthouse with Magistrate Judge Pat Casados. Andy and Sarah were my witnesses and Allison's friend Stephanie was her witness. And that was it. No photographer, cake, best men, bride's maids or funky chicken dancing. Total wedding cost: $20.00. We saved a bundle that we'll be able to use on a two or three week trip to Europe in 2013.
So yeah, the year started great and ended even greater. Here's to 2013!

Monday, September 24, 2012


With the exception of playing recreational league soccer in my younger years, I grew up avoiding team sports. I was drawn to the more individual sport of skateboarding. For about ten years, skateboarding was my biggest passion. I loved the fact that I could go out, on my own, at anytime and try to perfect a new trick I had learned or even work hard to learn a brand new trick. I was never great but I was pretty good. It's what I did the most and could never imagine not doing in the future. I tried hard and saw results in new tricks landed. And while skating is an individual sport it's also extremely social. We went out with our other skating friends all the while suggesting ideas for tricks to pull off or features around town to skate on, around, up or down. A simple set of four stairs with its handrail could keep us entertained for hours, days even. We'd skate up to the stairs, ollie off, maybe do a kickflip or slide the rail. And then try to land on the board with all four of its wheels landing flat on the ground and ride away. Quite simply that was called, "landing it". Sure, anyone could ollie off the stairs and kick the board around so it flipped and spun but could you land it? That was the ultimate. Land it and ride away. For me, and most skaters in general, landing an advanced trick is few and far between. And if we landed one trick, could we land a second consecutive trick. And a third? That's when a skater is good...when he can string together multiple, difficult tricks and land them all. Most of the time I'd spend all afternoon, hour after hour, attempt after attempt, trying to land a single, more difficult trick. Most of the time I simply wouldn't land it but sometimes it would be worse than that--a slam. Not only not landing the trick but committing to it so hard that when it didn't work out, I'd fall and hit the concrete so hard it would take many minutes to recoup from the fall, the slam. While significant pain was inflicted in those slams it felt, in an odd way, great. I knew I had committed 100 percent to the trick and gave it my all, skin and bones be damned.

One example of this mentality sits in my mind the most. I had just learned to heel flip my skateboard. While moving fast along the street I could pop off a heel flip and land it most of the time. The next logical thing to do was to try to heel flip down a set of three stairs I enjoyed skating at. One afternoon, after watching a particularly exciting new skateboard movie part featuring Gershon Mosley, I headed to the stairs determined to heel flip down them. The first few, or twenty, attempts were weak. Skate up to the stairs fast, crouch, pop off and flip the board with my heel only to let the board fly hopelessly out of control as I did my best to avoid landing on it so I wouldn't slam. As I cycled through more attempts I noticed that each time I got more comfortable with the motion and the idea. Progress was being made and I started to commit to each attempt a little more. A couple more times and I was landing with one foot on the board, one off and then slamming. The slams hurt but not enough to overcome the satisfaction I was feeling knowing that any one of the next few attempts could be it--I could land the trick. All I had to do was commit and try real hard. I skated back up the sidewalk, spun around and starting pushing fast, rolling towards the stairs again. Commit 100 percent. I popped the heel flip, stayed above my board, watching it flip one complete rotation under my feet, waited for the right moment and stopped the flipping rotation with my feet just as the four wheels reconnected with the smooth sidewalk and my knees compressed to absorb the landing. And with that I had landed it.

It's no real wonder that later in life I gravitated towards rock climbing--an individual sport with numerous parallels to skateboarding. Sure, most climbers need a partner to belay them as they climb so it's not technically completely individual but when the climber is climbing, the action is individual. When I'm climbing I'm testing myself, physically and mentally, on the rock. Can I start at the base of the wall, find a route up the wall, moving from hold to hold, commit 100 percent and reach the top without falling off? The comparisons between rock climbing and skateboarding are many. Like my skateboarding, I'm not very good at climbing either. But I try. And as I did on my skateboard 20 years ago on those three stairs and that handrail, I can spend hours, even days, at the same rock wall on the same route trying, over and over, to pull off my trick--to climb from the base of the wall to its top without falling. Trying to climb a new, difficult route I fall many times over. Thankfully, a fall while being belayed rock climbing is so much less painful than a slam on a skateboard. The rope stretches, my belayer gets lifted off the ground and the terrain below me is steep so I often don't even hit the wall.

Climber Jenna Lupia on Meltdown. Photo by Lee Brinckerhoff.

Climbers have a term called "projecting". It's defined as the act of picking a climbing route that's particularly appealing to the climber and that is difficult enough that the climber cannot climb the route, the first time, without falling on the route. More often than not, a "project" is a route that is rated harder than any other route the climber has climbed before. The project is a challenge for the climber and something the climber will come back to for many hours, sometimes even days, to try to climb without falling, much like my afternoon spent trying to land the heel flip down three stairs for many hours straight. Last week I went into full-on projecting mode on a local route called Meltdown at the Dungeon. Rated 5.12c, it's harder than anything I'd ever climbed before. I had tried to climb it a couple times, every now and then, over the past two years but always felt it was too hard for me. But last week I spent an evening trying to climb it with my friend Hagen. Meltdown was hard for us both and we both fell on the route many times. But we were close. We'd fall twice on one attempt and then only fall once on subsequent attempts. Each attempt was better than the previous attempt. We had found a new project. After each attempt we'd swap ideas and then added encouragement. We'd both send it next time for sure. Well, that next time resulted in one fall again. Every time, one fall. Then two nights later Hagen did it. It was awesome and encouraging to see that despite the route feeling nearly impossible the first few times, we could learn the route, climb it smarter and send it. It took me another night's attmepts before I really felt close to sending it. Five attempts in a row, ever two days, had each resulted in one fall on each attempt. Then, last Thursday night I made a change to my foot placements and that made the difference. I climbed up, thought about where my feet and hands needed to be and committed 100 percent. Falling didn't concern me. I didn't even think of it as an option. I grabbed the rock hard, pushed my toes onto the holds even harder, gritted my teeth and popped up. And with that I sent the hardest route I've ever sent. I had landed it.