As someone who contracted Paralytic Polio at nine months of age, has been dealing with Post Polio Syndrome since before I was a teenager, and has had decades of major additional physical challenges to contend with, life has been quite interesting. Had I listened to the Post Polio Specialist that I went to in ’91, I would have been riding around in a motorized scooter for the last quarter of a century. The passing of the legendary Jazz bassist Charlie Haden on July 11th who struggled with Post Polio Syndrome was a reminder to me how very serious a condition this sequela is. In spite of that, the morning of July 12th found me meeting up in a parking lot just below The Chief, a 2,000 ft. tall granite monolith in British Columbia with two of the best partners anyone could hope to climb with: my friends Mike Cowper and Heather Fulcher, both from Whistler. Mike chose to link up the route Rock On with The Squamish Buttress, and we made our way up the trail to the start of Rock On with a huge amount of psych and enthusiasm.
Mike took a horrendous fall snowboarding about 18 months ago that put him in a rehab hospital with a spinal cord injury. He had no movement from the waist down after his initial injury. Though he is an incomplete paraplegic and still has serious physical issues to deal with, he is making a miraculous recovery, as a result of his indomitable spirit and the hard work he puts in. He continues to improve dramatically by the month, and is a huge inspiration to anyone facing major adversity as an example of what one can achieve with unrelenting dedication.
We made our way up the series of corners, cracks, and laybacks that make up Rock On with Mike and Heather alternately leading and cleaning, and me jugging. In spite of a near record setting heat wave, we switched between laughing and having philosophical discussions at belays the entire way, enjoying the dazzling vistas that only get more spectacular the higher you get up the face. The Squamish Buttress held the crux pitch, a superb finger crack layback corner (5.10c) that Heather led in great style.
Despite careful rope management and lots of restacking of my line below me, the very tail of my line managed to get stuck on two of the higher pitches, consecutively. Down jugging is far more difficult for me than gaining vertical progress, and necessitates the use of my quite weak and atrophied right leg to a greater degree than going up does. These time consuming pitches, combined with fatigue from an 8 mile hike a few days before and too little water on a very hot day by Northwest standards was adding up. I maxed out my right leg’s potential on the down jugging, as I fully weighted it again and again, after having jugged through a lot of trees and bushes. I fell 10 ft. on my static line, into the unforgiving granite below. It all caught up to me at the top. I wretched, made my down the trail a bit, and wretched some more. Heather called her friend Gretchen in Squamish who selflessly brought 3 liters of water up for us, and eventually we made our way across the Chief’s second and first summits, and back down the steep trail to the parking lot below, much, much more slowly than any of us would have preferred. Had I tried to go down more quickly, I could have easily taken a bad fall, leading to a serious injury.
As I write this, no worse off than before we started the climb, I can only feel good about that. Once I drank some recovery drink, got my electrolyte level back up, and ate some food, I feel blessed to be able to say that I recovered quickly. I’ll be back training for future ascents after a few rest days, more determined than ever. Though I will take it a bit easier in the days before those ascents to come.