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Washington Column


Yosemite Valley, California USA


Trip Report
"Disabled" Is a Stupid Word: Up and Down The Prow, Slowly
Sunday November 13, 2016 11:10am
I’m a flatlander and a vegetable farmer, and for years life had been moving away from climbing. My wife and I have a farm in Nebraska, we’ve got three young daughters, and we don’t have a lot of disposable income so regular climbing trips haven’t been in the money or energy budget. Since leaving the mountain west in 2010, I got my vertical kicks as an arborist, but even that was tapering.

Then I got rear-ended on January 7th, 2014 and found myself in a Lincoln, NE rehabilitation hospital paralyzed from the waist down. “Time to start climbing again,” I figured…well, not quite. But after a therapist heard I was a climber she gave me Mark Wellman’s book “Climbing Back,” about the first paraplegic ascent of El Cap in 1989, I started thinking a lot more about climbing.

Fast-forward 3 years and I’ve been to the Valley 4 times and finally got a wall done last month.

I am fortunate to have an “incomplete” spinal cord injury, and more fortunate still to have significant recovery of leg function, so I differ from other adaptive climbers like Mark Wellman and Sean O’Neill. While I have the same level of spinal cord injury as those two beasts, my less-severe injury allows me to stand and walk with crutches. Unfortunately, I’m not terribly time or energy efficient on my feet so use a wheelchair most of the time. I feel like walking for me would be like able-bodied folks jogging backwards all the time – you could probably do it, but what’s the point?

On the other hand, my limited leg function has allowed me to really push the limits of adaptive climbing and on this recent trip I led and hauled three pitches on The Prow, as well as cleaning the remaining 8 pitches that I seconded. I was stoked to be able to contribute as a nearly full partner, and glad I didn’t have to carry the haul bags on the approach or descent! Best of both worlds ;-)

Monday, October 17th, 2016
Big rains the previous night brought over 3” of precip to the Valley and cleared the walls for us, so my partner Todd and his fiancé Kat brought our water to the base of The Prow on Monday afternoon, and fixed the 1st pitch before returning to Camp 4 that evening. We ate a late dinner and then they dropped me, my wheelchair, crutches, helmet, harness and sleeping bag at North Pines and I poached a little rest at the backpacker’s camp that night. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling it. I hadn’t been sleeping well, wasn’t going to sleep much that night, and the approach is really hard on me. Stoke was low indeed and I had to force myself to follow through.

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016 – Approach and Pitches 1-3
My alarm had me up around 4:15am and I slowly got moving east along the paved trail. My wheelchair creaked, and my headlamp lit the surrounding trees. I was alone.

How my wheelchair is usually discovered by my climbing partners.
How my wheelchair is usually discovered by my climbing partners.
Credit: notdisabled

I ditched the path – and my wheelchair -- earlier than most folks and opted for the switchbacks that head straight north and up towards the wall. My walking is slow and cumbersome and I try to avoid rock-hopping, which for me is more like rock-crawling. I swing my legs from the hip and my toes scrape the ground with each step. The scratch of my toes through the duff and the click of my crutches hitting the ground marked my slow progress.
I reached the wall between Royal Arches and the Column around 5:30am and sat to rest on one of the many friendly trees that always seemed to appear just as I needed a hand.

I killed my headlamp and enjoyed the darkness until sweat started to cultivate a chill. This was my third approach to Washington Column and it hasn’t gotten easier. I muttered to myself “walking sucks…where’s my f*#king wheelchair,” and although I don’t really feel that way, walking is really hard for me and that’s where I struggle to maintain the stoke. I have to be very present both physically and mentally, so a relaxing stroll in the woods it ain’t.

The toll these approaches, climbs and descents take on my body is hard to rationalize against the gains. Last year I needed wrist surgery after attempting The Prow, and I assume there will be more. If I break an arm or wear out a shoulder or wrist, then I can’t get around. Regarding adventure in advancing age, Steinbeck wrote “My wife married a man, I saw no reason she should inherit a child,” and sometimes these climbs make me worry there won’t be much of anything – man or child – left if I keep punishing my body with big walls.

A cozy breakfast nook.  Along the wall between Royal Arches and Washin...
A cozy breakfast nook. Along the wall between Royal Arches and Washington Column.
Credit: notdisabled

I sat and rested again at the base of the blocky gully below the east face of the Column, just as dawn was opening up. I heard a group coming up below me and I waited for them to pass. It was still dark enough that they stopped right in front of me without noticing my presence and were debating whether to drop gear here and start Astroman when I said, “Don’t leave it here. Follow the gully up a 100 yards and then cut left.” I spooked them, but they thanked me and moved on, eyeing my crutches as they passed. Some people ask; some people don’t, but I love wondering what’s going through their heads when they see a crippled guy alone in the hills with a helmet and backpack.

Some Perspective on My Injury
Since I can walk with crutches, I don’t call myself a paraplegic, but I’m certainly not able-bodied (AB), either. In the spinal cord injury world, all you AB readers are “ASIA-E.” A person with no sensory or motor function below their injury (like Sean O’Neill) is ASIA-A, and then there’s B, C and D in between. I started as ASIA-B (sensory, but no motor function), and now I’m ASIA-D, and I’ll likely always be that way.

Although I’m not “normal,” I’m lucky that nothing below my injury is totally shot: I have okay sensation, all my muscles partially work, bowel and bladder are close to normal, and my bones and joints haven’t deteriorated much. These are HUGE advantages over guys like Mark Wellman, Sean O’Neill and Enock Glidden, and it goes far beyond just standing. Perhaps the biggest thing is skin integrity – because I can feel and have meat on my legs, I don’t have to worry about sores and wounds, which is a massive problem for most wheelchair users. And guess what?: harnesses f*#k up your skin. Who knew?

The bone/joint thing is big for climbing because it’s an open question whether Mark, Sean or Enock would be seriously injured in a lead fall. Their femurs and hips may not enjoy the catch, or a knee might not endure swinging back into the wall. To complicate matters, they might not even know if they do fracture or dislocate something – imagine that, Mr. AB Climber: you’re 12 pitches up a big wall with an unnoticed femur fracture! Oops. For them, a short fall could become a life-threatening injury and a serious rescue. Falling is a little uncertain for me, but for different reasons that I’ll get into later.
And then there’s simply time: how many of you have bailed because you’re moving too slow?...I’ll assume everyone raised their hand.

Sean O’Neill has led on aid by “sit-aiding,” which in addition to being totally f*#king badass, is extremely slow. He can’t top-step to reach high so I imagine his gear placements end up well under 3 feet apart, which means a lot more gear and much more time on lead. The system I created is based on wanting to lead and realizing that standing is key to moving quickly on aid. It’s a little complicated, heavy, gear-intensive, and it wrecks my body, but so far it seems to be working.

4th Class to the Base
It was about 8:30am by the time I reached the flat area below the East Face of Washington Column, and I sat and rested again. My fingers hurt from gripping my crutches and my palms were sore from all those dips up big steps that I can’t push through with my legs. Kat and Todd showed up shortly thereafter and they carried the haul bags up the 4th class to the base of The Prow, where our fixed line hung off the 1st anchor.

In April 2015 I jugged this 70 foot section of 4th class; in October of 2015 I “soloed it,” and this year I climbed it again. Jugging slabs, corners and blocky sections is a total bitch for me, so if my hands are bomber, then I can get around okay, albeit slowly. I made my way up the scramble and only really paused when our gas canister went flying past me after being dropped from above. It ricocheted down the 4th class and turned right down the gully. I anticipated a loud “HSSSSSSSSSSSSSS” with every bounce, but Kat scrambled down quickly, and somehow found the canister intact. Damn thing bounced down the gully for 300’ and survived!

The author "free soloing" the 4th class approach to the Column in 2015...
The author "free soloing" the 4th class approach to the Column in 2015.
Credit: notdisabled

To “climb” the 4th class, I used my hands to lift my left leg (the strong one) up to good footholds, then pulled on juggy hands or tree branches until my legs were closer to straight where they have more strength. Think about how many moves in the mountains require high-stepping, stemming or smearing and then try not using those and you’ll get a sense of the time and effort involved. Kind of like being stuck in an endless offwidth – moving is awkward and exhausting.

Pitch 1
This pitch is really pretty straightforward, but it’s long and the mid-pitch belay atop JoJo can, depending on your perspective, provide confusion or opportunities for creative divvy of pitches and hauling. Lots of easy gear on the first half of the pitch, and the second half is only a bit harder. Very straightforward C1.

After a quick haul bag re-org, Todd jugged the line he fixed on Monday and I slowly organized my rig to follow. My system has a lot of moving pieces and it can be a real cluster if I don’t pay attention, but I can actually jug pretty quickly – especially when free hanging. I used to love big alpine slabs but they are now my enemy because I jug sidewise with one side of my body dragging along the wall. The shallower the angle, the more I drag and the more blood and elbow skin I leave along the way. I jugged the pitch and hauled because I wanted Todd fresh for the 2nd pitch, which is tricky but likely not as hard as I remember from last year when I bonked leading it.

On lead on Pitch 1, October of 2015.
On lead on Pitch 1, October of 2015.
Credit: notdisabled

The 2nd half of the 1st pitch.
The 2nd half of the 1st pitch.
Credit: notdisabled


My Gear
I had to create gear that lets my upper body assist my lower body. The omnipresent aider is a non-starter because I can neither lift my legs the height between rungs, stand up on that “big” a step, nor keep my feet in each rung. I called Yates and they modified their speed stirrup with a terminal loop, which allowed me to lock my foot into something. Those were functional but painful, they didn’t support my ankles enough and slipped off as my heels dropped while standing. Next I speedy-stitched webbing onto some hiking boots (a trick I stole from the tree climbing world), which was better but also painful and ultimately unsupportive to my weak feet and ankles. I finally sprung for ArbPro boots, which are pretty stiff and incorporate a clip-in point along the laces. I also added carbon fiber “AFOs” (ankle-foot orthotics) that I got early in my rehab for helping me walk. I may get even stiffer boots in the future as my ankles just can’t hold up, but this system is pretty well developed.

My twins modeling the evolution of my footwear.  Modified Yates speed ...
My twins modeling the evolution of my footwear. Modified Yates speed stirrups at left, speedy-stitched boots center, and current ArbPro boots at right.
Credit: notdisabled

Next came the aiders themselves, which had to be adjustable so that I could pull my legs up. What I came up with is really pretty simple and is now key to everything I do on a climb. Clipped to each ArbPro boot is a 10’ piece of old climbing rope that runs through a Petzl micro traxion on a biner. Boom: adjustable traxion aider.

My right micro traxion adjustable aider clipped to my ArbPro boot.  My...
My right micro traxion adjustable aider clipped to my ArbPro boot. My left leg has an identical aider with yellow rope.
Credit: notdisabled

I can’t jug in the normal way, so I use a modified frog style to incorporate my legs. I’ve got the standard pull-up-bar-on-ascender for us cripples, plus a Croll for capturing progress, but I added a Trango Cinch below the Croll for security and “easy” lower-outs, and, because I can use my legs, a pantin on my left foot to pull slack through the system for greater efficiency. My traxion aiders attach to the pull-up bar ascender via a Petzl Ring Open. As I slide the ascender up the rope it helps pull my legs up, then I stand and pull-up at the same time. I can get about 18” with each throw, which isn’t bad, and in gym practice (https://www.instagram.com/p/BKRh_WcgJ7J/?taken-by=not_disabled) I could keep up with decent AB climbers jugging the standard way. All the ropes and pieces make changeovers slow, but it’s a very secure and functional system once I learned the proper etiquette.

From top: 1993 Petzl ascender with Ring Open slung through handle to w...
From top: 1993 Petzl ascender with Ring Open slung through handle to which each traxion aider is clipped. I'm also girth hitched to the ascender via a Petzl Connect Adjust. Then I have a Croll ascender followed by a Trango Cinch for lowerouts and securi
Credit: notdisabled

If you understand my traxion aiders then leading is pretty straightforward. The only other piece of gear is the Petzl Evolv Adjust, which subs for two standard daisy chains. Instead of clipping that with a biner, I use 2 more Petzl Ring Opens which then clip to Rock Exotica RockO autolockers with lanyard pins. On each of these RockO’s I have two yellow cam loops to which my traxion aiders can be clipped.

Read it weep bitches: cripple on lead!
Read it weep bitches: cripple on lead!
Credit: notdisabled

I place a piece of gear, clip one end of the Evolv to it, bounce it, stand on one aider and disengage the micro traxion on the opposite aider to remove it from the “old” piece and clip it to the new piece. Next I lock down that aider’s micro traxion and stand on it, then move the other aider to the new piece. Now I’m hanging/standing on the new piece, so I clip the lead rope into the old piece, remove the lower leg of the Evolv and alternately pull each leg up 2-6” at a time until I’m “top stepping,” place a new piece and repeat. Clear as mud? The system is slow, cumbersome, hard on my body, and it lets a cripple like me lead pitches on a bigwall. Here’s a short video from practice on the LeConte Boulder in 2015 https://www.instagram.com/p/8yzadFJHnd/?taken-by=not_disabled.

Pitch 2
This is solid C2F, but it’s not terribly long. I led it in 2015 but my partner had to cross the slabby ledge to put the first piece in because I can’t free climb! If there’s no aid, I’m hosed. These pin scars seemed particularly shallow and I had a hard time getting offset cams to stick, so I used a lot of DMM offset brass nuts. Todd cruised up this section with far less complaining than I offered last year, and after transitioning left via two old heads he was through the 15’ of C1 to the bolts and hauling. I think some beaks are nice here but not required.

Todd leading the 2nd pitch, which ends at the roof up to his left.
Todd leading the 2nd pitch, which ends at the roof up to his left.
Credit: notdisabled

Pitch 3
My lead! This is a really nice pitch, but it reminded me how hard and slow leads are for me. I probably took 3 hours or more on this gorgeous stretch of C1. It’s pretty vertical for the bottom 75%, which is ideal for me and I moved relatively quickly through that. But near the top it traverses left and over a few little ledges that are mostly 5.6 moves, a.k.a. ridiculously hard. Again, I can’t free climb and I’m not much of an aid climber, so if there aren’t decent aid placements then I’m all kindsa strugglebear. And when I’m moving over little slabby ledges – like the last few moves on countless Yosemite pitches – my system gets all bound up in cracks or below the lips of ledges, my feet snag on everything and the friction skyrockets as I try to drag myself around corners. Rope drag gets awful if the placements don’t lead right to the anchors – which they don’t because the last moves are meant to be free. Bottomline: it’s a wrestling-match-sh#t-show, not to mention exhausting.

I dropped a brand new #2 Camalot here so I was pissed. And when I finally got to the anchor above Anchorage Ledge, I couldn’t reach the damn bolts! At this point my traxion aiders were useless because I wasn’t into anything so I’m on my knees on the sloping ledge reaching and I’m still 6 inches shy. Going from kneeling to standing is a total bitch for me on flat ground, and here I was exhausted, demoralized, hungry, dehydrated and my system was snagging on anything and everything.

Cleaning Pitch 3 in April 2015 on my first Prow attempt.
Cleaning Pitch 3 in April 2015 on my first Prow attempt.
Credit: notdisabled

With a lot of help from the wall and an endless mantle, I finally made it close to standing, clipped the bolts, and hung on my daisy for a few moments to catch my breath. “TODD! I’M OFF BELAY!” I shouted at the ledge and dragged my legs to standing. I fixed the lead line, got the haul ready and tried to hit it hard with a 1:1 system, but my legs were absolutely shot from the hike, the first haul and my lead. I pounded a little snack but I was out of water – a common theme for the trip because I wasn’t in good enough shape for the amount of work I was doing, but how do you train for wrestling an alligator? I ended up making a 3:1 on the haul and doing it all with my upper body to save my quads, which were now wracked by spasms, a result of my injury and extreme fatigue. I popped a muscle relaxant as Todd finished cleaning and we immediately re-racked for his lead, but the day was coming to an end.

Anchorage Ledge, April 2015 with my good friends Isaac and Michael, wh...
Anchorage Ledge, April 2015 with my good friends Isaac and Michael, whom I climbed with in college. This was 15 months after my car crash and during my first attempt, which was aimed mainly at just trying out my early systems and being on the wall.
Credit: notdisabled

Pitch 4
This is where the climb really gets exciting and the exposure starts to take over. The wall here is dead vertical to slightly overhung, and virtually blank so the 4th and 5th pitches have a lot of bolts. The shallow corners that do take gear are exciting placements that were challenging for us. It was moving towards sunset, which is only judged from watching the light change on Half Dome because “sunset” for The Prow occurred around 2:30pm. Todd led quickly up the bolt ladder that begins the pitch, then slowed as he reached the shallow flaring corner that makes up the rest of it. Near the top I watched him move right and then left and up to the anchor, using a hook move or two along the way. Maybe someday I’ll learn to judge the foreshortening, but although the anchors seem so close, the pitches never seem to go as quickly as I assume.

Evening of Tuesday as Todd led, then cleaned, the 4th pitch.
Evening of Tuesday as Todd led, then cleaned, the 4th pitch.
Credit: notdisabled

It was getting dark and I was working to have our Metolius Bombshelter set up for Todd’s return, but I was struggling far more than I had in the past. After several failed attempts I decided that I would no longer hang it from a tree on our farm for use as a 5-kid swing. It seems torqued and hour-glassed, and no matter what I did it wouldn’t stay together as I worked end-to-end. When Todd went off-belay I finally had all my attention for it and it came together. Todd finished cleaning the pitch on rappel and we started settling in, but it was about 9pm before our day finally came to a quiet close. My belly was full of dinner, but we never had lunch. I popped a sleep aid to ensure some rest and fought hard to take in the stars, but the warmth of my bag soon settled my eyelids shut and it was dawn before I knew it.

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016 – Pitches 4-7
The morning before, as we stared up from the base of the wall, it was easy to criticize the pair ahead of us bivied where we now hung. “Those guys are getting a late start,” I remember saying. But now it was our turn to feel rushed as the sun was moving down the wall and we struggled to get organized. Tuesday was a long day, and we never sorted the rack so this took some time, but eventually Todd was jugging the fixed line to the 4th anchor, after which he started hauling.

Wednesday morning as Todd jugs the line he fixed the night before and ...
Wednesday morning as Todd jugs the line he fixed the night before and the sun hits the Prow.
Credit: notdisabled

The 5th pitch was my lead so I had the rack on while leaving Anchorage Ledge and I started jugging the lead line, bouncing like crazy. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to jugging a dynamic line after years of climbing trees on far more static ropes, but I bobbed slowly up and the line felt more and more static.

Pitch 5
From the hanging belay at the fourth anchor, the Pitch 5 moves just left and then up through another shallow corner of flaring crack and piton scar fame. I was beat. I knew my body was capable, but I honestly just wasn’t very fit, and even early in the day I was digging deep to find the physical and mental reserve for the work ahead.

Mark Wellman had warned me about falling, and although my body is likely more able to absorb a lead fall than him, I had decided I didn’t want to try it in the gym. I told myself that if I didn’t climb above C2, if I bounced the hell out of every piece, then I’d be golden. You don’t have to worry about falling if you never fall, and I didn’t worry. Other than the physical difficulty, the few leads I’d done felt good. My head was in it.

Unfortunately, the complexity of my system raises some questions about safety. In my case, my feet don’t separate from my aiders unless I unclip them, which is relatively challenging to do while falling. There’s no problem if both feet are into the piece that blows – that would look just like an AB lead fall. But if it pops while I’m midway through transferring my feet from the piece below, then I could have one leg attached to blown piece, and the other leg still into the old piece, which I’m counting on to hold my fall. If I fell in this situation, there’s a really good chance that I’d twist hell out of one knee, hip or ankle, and if there’s one thing a cripple hates, it’s becoming more crippled.

As I led out from the anchor, my fatigue was making top-stepping really difficult, but I was pushing myself to reach as high as possible. When the placements were bomber, this was no problem, but right off the bat I struggled to sink a little cam and it popped twice while I bounced it. This, fatigue and the now-hot sun did a number on my confidence.

I moved very slowly up the corner, both relieved and terrified by each fixed piece along the way: so glad to have an easy clip, but convinced that this body-weight placement would be the head’s last. “I know I don’t need to apologize, but I wish I could move faster,” I said to Todd more than once. My feet tangled on each other and got stuck; my knuckles bled; my calves twitched in spasms that took effort to control.

Now 25 feet above the belay, I’m thinking through my final two placements to reach the security of the long bolt ladder angling right over the final 2/3 of the pitch. I sunk a bomber #1 Camalot into a big pod and hardly bounced it – I could tell it wasn’t going anywhere. I top-stepped on that and had a choice: clip the last copperhead on the pitch and reach for the bolt, or place an offset cam below it for backup. I didn’t trust the head, so I opted for the latter.

A foot below the old head, I placed a small offset cam and bounced it hard. It was solid so I hung there while I transferred my left leg from the piece below, then stood up on my left as I pulled my right leg off the lower piece. With a sigh of relief, I clipped my right into the new piece, clipped the lead rope into the bomber #1, unclipped my lower daisy and started pulling my legs up.

All the pulling, clipping, shifting of weight and general clumsiness in my system means I’m not very smooth, but I try hard to ease my way through placements. Here, where the wall bulged slightly to guard the blankness above, I pulled my legs quietly towards the cam, eyeing the questionable head that I could now reach.

A moment later, in free fall, “Oh!” was I could muster before a soft catch and a flip nearly upside down had me staring directly at Todd, now just 12 feet below me. The offset had blown! With some healthy slack in line I had fallen about 15 feet.

Me on lead.  Taken by Todd after I reached the bolt ladder after my fa...
Me on lead. Taken by Todd after I reached the bolt ladder after my fall.
Credit: notdisabled

I don’t remember the slightest look of excitement in Todd’s face as he said, “How ya doin’ bro?”

As I fought to get myself upright, I managed “I’m good, how are you bro?” in a fake-it-till-you-make-it attempt at calming down, but my head was just then catching up to my body, and the realization that I now had to trust the old copperhead and keep leading was sinking in. My harness wasn’t very tight and I wondered about falling out of it. Had that happened, I would have hit Todd, then Anchorage Ledge, then bounced once or twice before hitting the ground 400+ feet below.

Visions of disaster spiraled in my mind and as doubt swelled in my gut I considered asking Todd to takeover. “I can’t do this,” I thought, “I’m exhausted, slow and clearly don’t have the skill for even C2 leads – and it’s only the 5th pitch. We’ll never make it.” Luckily, years of habitual arrogance and pride won the day and I consciously worked to shake off the doubt. “Tomorrow morning I’ll start the day with a tighter harness, but today I’m leading this goddamn pitch,” I thought to myself.

“Do I have to f*#king re-aid it?” I asked the wall, feeling confused and indecisive. My head wanted to lead, but my heart wasn’t in it.

“If you trust the piece you’re hanging on, you can pull up,” Todd said, nodding towards the bomber #1 that just caught my fall.

Trust? Sheeeeeit – I LOVED that piece! So I put my pull-up bar ascender on the belay side of the rope and started pulling as Todd locked off the incoming slack. On the way up I thought through all the climbers that had likely clipped that old head and knew I had caused all this trouble – never should have placed the damn offset to begin with!

Before long I was clipping the head and moving onto the bolt ladder, with the blank face absolutely soaring above. I was exhausted clipping these very reachy bolts, but I felt unbelievably free. I’m slow even on a bolt ladder, but finally, after what seemed an eternity, I went off belay around noon and began tending the bonk with a caffeinated stinger honey and the last of my water. The topo says there’s a hook or micronut placement just before the anchor, but I clipped bolts the whole way in.

Looking down the 5th after hauling.
Looking down the 5th after hauling.
Credit: notdisabled

I was struggling for energy on the haul and Todd nearly beat the bag to the anchor. We chatted briefly about the group below us, now starting the 4th pitch off Anchorage Ledge. Todd seemed concerned about when they’d pass, but as I triaged current life stressors, I had no room in my head for that. “We’ll worry about that when it happens,” I said, “I can’t lead anymore today, can you lead the 6th and 7th?”

“I’m good,” he said, quickly sorting the rack.

Pitch 6
Todd starting the lead on the 6th pitch.
Todd starting the lead on the 6th pitch.
Credit: notdisabled

Todd cruised this pitch. I was a bit fried, mentally and physically, so perhaps that cultured my perception of time, but he was fast enough to make up some of the time I’d lost struggling through the 5th, and before I knew it he was off-belay and 130’ above me. He started the trip with a cold and the shouting wasn’t doing him any favors, so the croaky commands were difficult to discern. The bag came tight and soon I was lowering it out and breaking down the anchor.

Now recharged and enjoying the thought of seconding the rest of the day, I jugged quickly, passing more fixed gear than I expected. I was stoked to reach the most classic of belays at the base of the Strange Dihedral. Here's a video that Todd shot of me jugging to the 6th anchor: https://www.instagram.com/p/BMM7JLwAYcl/?taken-by=not_disabled

Looking down the route from the airy 6th anchor.
Looking down the route from the airy 6th anchor.
Credit: notdisabled

Pitch 7
Without a lead changeover, Todd was back on-belay with a quickness and headed up the slabby start of the 7th. It was well-after lunch, so I dug into the bag and started chomping on a summer sausage and a block of cheddar cheese like they were candy bars. With a wandering lead and some real exposure near the top, the Strange Dihedral is perhaps the crux of the route, but yet again, Todd moved quickly and efficiently. The topo shows a pendulum about 2/3 of the way up, but this turned out to be more of a tension traverse, which he seemed to navigate easily – something I could never do! If there’s no aid, I can’t lead it.

Todd finishing the 7th Pitch above the Strange Dihedral as the last of...
Todd finishing the 7th Pitch above the Strange Dihedral as the last of the sun hits the prow above us.
Credit: notdisabled

As I left this glorious little ledge, the party below us finally caught up. I’d heard the name “Lauren” over and over, as her partner shouted encouragements, but I finally met Madison as he finished his lead on the 6th.

“Where are you from bro?” I asked.

“We’re from here, man…I work in Salt Lake and Lauren’s from Colorado.” Although I failed to see how they were “from here,” I liked Madison instantly. He struck me as a total dudebro, an energy I find endlessly buoyant and we fueled each other’s stoke over the next 24 hours.

The day was coming to an end and Todd and I would bivy atop the 7th at Tapir Terrace, while Madison and Lauren were setting their ledge at the 6th anchor. They cruised those six pitches in one day, which impressed me.

Todd did a great job of selectively clipping pro while leading the 7th, and that was particularly important for me. I can lower out quite well, but my cumbersome system means it takes awhile and turns into a cluster if one of the several steps happens out of order. But Todd set me up perfectly, and if I hadn’t spent 30 minutes trying to rescue an offset X4 from near the top of the Strange Dihedral, I would have topped out well before sunset. That shiny piece of booty will tempt many a passing climber, but I honestly don’t think it’ll ever come out of there intact. Sometimes I think those offset cams are TOO good!

The exposure atop the Strange Dihedral and into the tension traverse was amazing and I congratulated Todd over and over on the lead. Topping out on the sprawling but awkward Tapir Terrace was nice, but we seemed to botch the ledge placement and had a helluva time making it comfy. I suggest staying left with the ledge and have the bag to the right, even though it may complicate releasing the bags a bit for the 8th pitch.

Another long day ended in the dark, and Thursday we planned to top out, but first I had to survive leading the 8th pitch.

Tapir Terrace at the end of Wednesday.  I'm showing off my Sherrill Tr...
Tapir Terrace at the end of Wednesday. I'm showing off my Sherrill Tree rope gear that was never intended for big walls but did the job great!
Credit: notdisabled

Thursday, October 20th, 2016 – Pitches 8 – 11
We had sorted gear the night before, so breakfast and breaking down the bivy went quickly. I had tried to prep myself for the lead, but I just couldn’t build the stoke – the fall on the 5th was still with me. Once you doubt, everything becomes questionable and once again I struggled slowly and mightily up this C1 lead.

A photo Todd took while hauling on Wednesday night.  The 8th pitch goe...
A photo Todd took while hauling on Wednesday night. The 8th pitch goes up at the left edge of the photo, passing the prow feature now so close by!
Credit: notdisabled

I left the belay and began singing to build a rhythm, but I chose poorly: “Someday, Some Morning, Sometime” from Billy Bragg and Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue, which is the lullaby I sing my daughters – is NOT the song to focus myself on the task at hand. I love my girls deeply, but visions of them doesn’t help me climb. I then tried The Replacements “If Only You Were Lonely,” but it wasn’t working so I shut up and just got to work.

I had some real concerns about falling because here there were countless little ledges to hit and the placements didn’t feel good enough, but mostly I was out of my head. This should be one of the easiest pitches for AB climbers, but for me, the slabby ledges, tight corner and wide top out before reaching the shite anchor made it really difficult.

The day was hot and I took FOREVER to finish this out. The top and bottom 15 feet took 45 minutes or more each, and the intervening 70’ was far from fast, so it was after lunch before I finally reached the anchor – spent, dehydrated and bonking.

An AB climber would reach the belay ledge and easily step up and clip the bolt, but I can no more “step up” than I can fly the entire pitch, plus the wide crack here sucked up my gear and legs such that I couldn’t manage the whole cluster. I struggled to reach and isolate each aider in order to pull my feet as high as possible, and then reached as far as possible to blindly sink a cam at the back of the ledge. My left leg was free, but my right knee was now stuck in the big crack under the #3 camalot I had placed. No idea how I got it free, but I eventually found myself standing, legs in full spasm, below the clustered anchor consisting of two ancient pins, my cam, and a lot of tat. It was then I realized that next time I’m bringing a goddamn cheater stick.

I redirected the haul through a seemingly random bolt placed far left ...
I redirected the haul through a seemingly random bolt placed far left of the two pin anchor in the crack. The redirect was meant to keep Todd clear while he cleaned. The 8th anchor was the only non-bolted anchor that I recall.
Credit: notdisabled

Todd cleaning the 8th pitch as I haul.
Todd cleaning the 8th pitch as I haul.
Credit: notdisabled

I hauled, desperately in need of water, and Todd quickly reached me. I told him he’d have to lead the rest of the day, which I suspect he already knew. Above Tapir Terrace the climb really eases, so I don’t think he was too worried.

Pitch 9
In the SuperTopo guide, this pitch is linked together creating a 170’ pitch that is pretty easy, but beware the haulbag eating flake! We tried to manage it one way, Madison and Lauren tried another and everybody struggled.
As Todd set off after a quick lead change, I opened the top of the bag, and, not finding the water I needed, asked him where it was.

“I thought we were leaving it in the bottom of the bag,” he said.

This was a bummer because I was bonking fast and really needed a drink. I drank almost all the water we found along the route and I was still struggling to hydrate because the work was so overwhelming for me. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much choice in the matter, so as Todd led away from the anchor I began unpacking the bag and clipping all our gear to something – me, the anchor, the rope bags, anything to get to the damn water!

Madison joined me atop the 8th shortly after the bag was repacked and we proceeded to apologize to each other over and over for being in the way. “Sorry doesn’t take away the pain, Madison,” I finally said dryly, ending the loop of crowded belay stance apologies.

As Lauren and their haulbag approached the belay, Todd began hauling our bag. Our plan was to keep me clipped to it and control it’s swing toward the flake as I jugged. I lowered it out a bit and then slowly got my jugging rig dialed and I was off. I would jug as long as I could keep up with the haul, and yell for Todd to stop if he was getting ahead. Right away we had problems because the bag was pulling hard right while I needed to stay left for cleaning gear.

We passed above the flake and I lowered the bag out the rest of the way only to discover that it was now in a haulbag eating GULLY, which we hadn’t considered. I cleaned a piece on the far left, after which the line swung far right across a slab I couldn’t traverse. Madison was now getting ready to pass me, so I needed to move out of the way. I stared at the upcoming swing that would end at the bag and frowned. I had to slide across a slab about twenty feet and then drop down into the gully, with the last drop ending quickly against the rock. It looked like it would hurt, and that turned out to be the case.

Luckily, now I was right at the bag and could get it free after untangling the lead, haul and lower out lines. Big exposure here as the wall rolling down over Ten Days After.

Mitigating the haul and passing cluster on the 9th.
Mitigating the haul and passing cluster on the 9th.
Credit: notdisabled

Jugging the 9th with our ever-present muse, Half Dome.
Jugging the 9th with our ever-present muse, Half Dome.
Credit: notdisabled

The 9th belay.  Trees on big walls are a wonderful reminder that life ...
The 9th belay. Trees on big walls are a wonderful reminder that life always finds a way.
Credit: notdisabled

Madison topped out the 9th and had clipped the haul line through a few pieces as he went. This may be a better strategy than holding onto the bag, but only if you’re careful to unclip the bag before it gets tangled in a piece, which they weren’t. The whole scene was comical: me far right tangled up with the bag, Madison climbing past and above me, then Lauren struggling with their bag to the left and me relaying commands between them. The long pitch made for a lot of shouting back and forth, and hopefully we all learned a few things. It took me awhile to jug because the top of the pitch is essentially 4th class, but you ABs will cruise it.

Pitch 10
Madison and Lauren passed us here, as Madison quickly freed this pitch. Todd got organized and I sat eating and drinking – apparently my M.O. for the trip. His lead took a little while, and my jug was slow because it just kept getting slabbier and slabbier.

Me finishing the jug on the 10th pitch.
Me finishing the jug on the 10th pitch.
Credit: notdisabled

By the time I reached the anchor situated a bit awkwardly on a slab above a big phatty ledge, the sun was setting, but spirits were high because we’d known for awhile now that the climb was in the bag. Kat was waiting for us at the top, with more water. We were stoked. My mind was a million miles away from my lead on the 5th pitch and I was ready to be out of my harness, now chafing hard on my hips because I tightened it so much!

Pitch 11
There are maybe 30 feet of actual moves up and right around a corner, and then it’s essentially 4th class to the top.

Todd leading away from the 10th anchor as the sun sets on Half Dome.
Todd leading away from the 10th anchor as the sun sets on Half Dome.
Credit: notdisabled

Credit: notdisabled

But the haul is awkward if you’re going to haul it all the way up like we had to. The lead and haul line got tangled, it was dark, and we were a long way from each other, so I resorted to texting Kat commands regarding the haul. Once it was free, all that remained was a painful and punchy jug to the top as I dragged myself across the gritty, low angle slab and past trees and bushes. The bag snagged one last time at the final top out lip, and everything Todd and Kat did resulted in a rain of sand onto my head. It was dark, and we were alone atop the Column. Everything hurt, but I didn't care.

Punch drunk, battered.  My old friends at Organic Climbing, Josh and L...
Punch drunk, battered. My old friends at Organic Climbing, Josh and Liz, bought my plane ticket for Yosemite because they were stoked I was climbing again after my crash. I can't boulder, but they don't care. They just love climbing!
Credit: notdisabled

Although Washington Column is my only big wall top out, it’s got to be one of the best. You have a nearly full view of the entire Valley floor, but the camping area is a comfy and small area complete with a fire ring. It’s got the feel of a castle turret and I wish we had more time to enjoy it, but after a quick dinner, lots of water and a little whiskey, we slept.

Friday, October 21st, 2016 – The Descent
North Dome Gully is notorious for epic descents and the plan was always to avoid such an experience by keeping a full day available for my slow and deliberate walk down. After the late night on Thursday we weren’t off to a quick start and as I left the Column at 7:30am I called back to Todd and Kat, “Everybody got a headlamp?” This was partially in jest, as I hoped to be down by dark, but everyday so far had ended after sunset, so why not this one?

A year to the day before their wedding, Kat and Todd atop Washington C...
A year to the day before their wedding, Kat and Todd atop Washington Column before we descended.
Credit: notdisabled

Todd and I before descending.  North Dome in the background.
Todd and I before descending. North Dome in the background.
Credit: notdisabled

I’m not sure how to describe the difficulty I face in Yosemite descents, so suffice it to say it was the hardest day of 4 hardest days. I wasn’t very fit to begin with, and had been at max output for three days in a row, and then came the 13 hour descent. It was grueling.

We spent 6 hours just crossing below North Dome to the Gully because: 1) we avoided the standard exposed traverse by opting to cross closer to the base of North Dome, 2) duff, lichen and scree covered slab traverses are about as hard as it gets for me. I can’t smear, I can’t edge and it takes time for people to learn how to scout the best route for me.

Todd and Kat were extremely patient with my constant questioning of “How does the path look if we go up from here?...Describe the traverse – how wide are the feet?…Are the hands juggy?” I’m very independent and becoming disabled is a massive, unwanted education in relinquishing control and building trust. I wanted desperately to trust Todd and Kat’s judgment, but ultimately, I’m responsible for my own safety and it’s hard to explain what is easiest and safest for me to cross. On top of this, backtracking burns a lot of energy and time, so I wanted to avoid this whenever possible.

Regardless of your exact route, North Dome Gully provides ample opportunity for dangerous misstep, something I’m already quite prone to. My family knew I had safely topped out, but I had not communicated that the descent was perhaps the most dangerous day for me and I was feeling the stress. I remember only one moment during our whole trip where I felt friction between Todd and I, and it was during the crossing from the Column to the Gully. We were again running out of water, the bags were heavy, I was exhausted from excessive crawling and sliding, and I was regularly crossing duff-covered slabs that felt unsafe.
Todd had begun spotting my foot placements by putting his hands or feet under my boots, which was an immense improvement to my feeling of security, and one that we continued for the rest of the descent. We built a lot of trust in those six hours and by the time another friend, Christina, met us near the Gully, morale was on the upswing.

Todd holding my feet as I crossed one of many slick slabs between the ...
Todd holding my feet as I crossed one of many slick slabs between the Column and North Dome Gully.
Credit: notdisabled

When I dropped into the Gully it was time to move. Todd, Kat and Christina redistributed weight in the bags and I started sliding down and across the sandy upper section. 150 yards later I tucked in behind a large boulder to wait for the group. When they arrived we split into two pairs, with Todd and Kat carrying the haul bags down ahead and Christina and I waiting until they exited the Gully as I was prone to dislodge loose rocks.

Washington Column from North Dome Gully.
Washington Column from North Dome Gully.
Credit: notdisabled

At the base of the Gully, as we prepared to exit to our left, another friend, Graham, showed up to help – and he brought badly needed water. I moved more quickly once we hit the switchbacks, but still very slowly relative to AB folks.

Descending is both physically and mentally demanding for me, and I have to be very present to avoid mistakes. First off, my hands and wrists absorb most of the impact in descent – not my knees. I reach forward and make one crutch placement, then the other, then move my feet and basically lower down like I’m doing dips. I grip the crutches very tightly during these moves and my fingers were now cramping. My palms throbbed with the ache of repeated impacts from crutch placements and the weight of my body lowering over them.

Christina and Graham had time for a photo but I had places to be.
Christina and Graham had time for a photo but I had places to be.
Credit: notdisabled

I was very focused mentally because I now had 4 placements to keep track of: both feet were important, but both crutches were now absolutely key to keeping me safe. The danger of relying on the crutches is that to do so you must move your weight over them – downhill – a cardinal sin is steep mountain descent. An AB hiker will just lean back into the hill and fall on their butt if a foot slips, but I could only hope to be so lucky. If a crutch placement failed, I was taking a header down the steep and rock descent, which is why I wear a helmet and backpack during approach and descent.

Credit: notdisabled

It was dark well before we reached the base of the Column again, and we rappelled and traversed more than I’d like under the glow of headlamps. Many times I relied heavily on Todd and Graham to hold my feet in place so that my muscle spasms and weak ankles wouldn’t fail me. Just above the East Face, we rested in the dark that was deepened by the forest we sat within. We were off the slabs and I knew the decent well from here on.

Todd, Kat and Graham continued ahead quickly with the hope of buying food before the Pizza Deck closed and Christina and I stuck together for the rest of the way down. Knowing the descent from here, my energy left me, and I worked hard to stay engaged mentally, but my focus was often drawn to the pain in my hands and wrists. I moved very slowly.

“Is this boring for you?” I asked Christina. “I mean, my mind is very occupied, but you must be bored.”

After a moment she said, “Well, I’ve been many places in my mind, so no, I’m not bored.”

“Where have you been?” I asked.

“I’m not telling you that!” She said quickly. People often open up to me, but I don’t know Christina well and she clearly keeps her cards close to her chest, so I laughed and let it go.

We were again out of water and my body was not happy after 4 days of tending the bonk and dehydration. After rounding the corner below the East Face, we took a different path than I was used to, which meant that I no longer had a mental picture of the descent ahead and North Pines seemed farther and farther away. Plus this path, although more well-traveled than “my” route, was mostly scrambling down boulders, which is hard for me and my hands and wrists screamed with each crutch placement.

We finally passed the Climbers sign and were onto the paved trail. It was nearly 10pm and the temperature was in the low 40s but I was sweating profusely through my t-shirt as I walked as fast I could towards water in North Pines. At the backpacker’s camp Christina picked up the pace more than I could match and our gap widened. After crossing Tenaya Creek I remember doing everything I could to not trip on the tree roots criss-crossing the trail. I reached the first bathroom, quickly filled a Nalgene, chugged it, filled it again and then walked across the road to sit by a tree and wait for our ride to Camp 4. As I moved to sit, I botched the dismount and fell into a mud puddle. I slumped against the tree and immediately started shivering, so I stripped off my shirt and buried myself in my belay jacket. I felt awful and never wanted to do this again.

Todd pulled up a minute later and the adventure was over. The love-hate relationship with my wheelchair was back to love, and although the Pizza Deck was closed, whatever we ate at Camp 4 was amazing. My body warmed and hydrated, and the memory of pain slowly faded as the glow of Type II fun kindled deep within.

  Trip Report Views: 4,723
notdisabled
About the Author
Alex McKiernan lives in Martell, Nebraska. You can follow his climbing adventures on Instagram @not_disabled.

Comments
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Comment on this Trip Report
Kalimon

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
  Nov 13, 2016 - 11:27am PT
Awesome Alex!
locker

climber
  Nov 13, 2016 - 11:46am PT


That was a good read...

THANKS!!!...

Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
  Nov 13, 2016 - 11:47am PT
Standing ovation for you, my man

NDG?? Yer fukkin not right
c wilmot

climber
  Nov 13, 2016 - 11:46am PT
Very impressive. It's not often I read something that makes me question my own life. Thanks for such an inspirational write up. A good reminder to not let the downside of life get the best of you. well done.
Studly

Trad climber
WA
  Nov 13, 2016 - 11:53am PT
Dude, YOU ROCK! That's more badass then Ondra onsiteing the Nose!
T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
  Nov 13, 2016 - 11:54am PT
Proud effort Alex and crew!
TFPU,
Tad
Studly

Trad climber
WA
  Nov 13, 2016 - 11:54am PT
Dude, YOU ROCK! That's more badass then Ondra onsiteing the Nose! and major kudos to your partners for being there for you!
thebravecowboy

climber
The Good Places
  Nov 13, 2016 - 12:06pm PT
hard as nails. super super inspiring.
Reeotch

climber
4 Corners Area
  Nov 13, 2016 - 12:15pm PT
Hardcore! Kudos to you!
Prow was my first wall.

Much respect for your self reliance and inventiveness!
kaholatingtong

Trad climber
The real McCoy from the inside of my van.
  Nov 13, 2016 - 12:33pm PT
Oh hell yes!! Well done sir. Salute!
Timid TopRope

Social climber
the land of Pale Ale
  Nov 13, 2016 - 12:51pm PT
Dude, YOU ROCK! That's more badass then Ondra onsiteing the Nose!
+ 1000
Rexi

climber
  Nov 13, 2016 - 01:12pm PT
awesome, badass, well done! congratulations on your climb!
NutAgain!

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
  Nov 13, 2016 - 01:26pm PT
Dude, that definitely qualifies for badass.

I like your writing too, which had me right there with you living the anxiety of placements and the sketch of what happens when your foot is stuck to one piece and a higher piece blows during the transition. Overall great job of helping us see it from your perspective. It would be so easy to say F it and give up, but you know better than anyone what you gain by not doing that.

I'm happy for you that you have friends who would be supportive to help make it happen too.

One suggestion for the elbows: I know some offwidth climbers who have rubberized elbow/arm pads, which might relieve you from the scraping and provide some bit of extra friction to help maneuver when jugging up slabs. Or maybe something like a smooth Kevlar pad to just reduce friction would help more?

Pretty awesome way to connect with adventure on your terms, and inspiring for us all to find our adventure at whatever level fits us or is just enough beyond to keep it as spicy as desired.

Thanks for the report and pics.

Jon Beck

Trad climber
Oceanside
  Nov 13, 2016 - 02:01pm PT
A great read! While reading about the climb I was curious about the descent and I had to fast forward to it before I finished reading about the climb. It had me gripped, like I was there. Thanks for doing a great job conveying your obstacles to us ABs. Great to read about bad azzes getting it done. Hats off to your crew, a real team effort.
jgill

Boulder climber
The high prairie of southern Colorado
  Nov 13, 2016 - 02:13pm PT
This is an astounding testament to perseverance and ingenuity. Kudos, young man!
wayne w

Trad climber
the nw
  Nov 13, 2016 - 02:42pm PT
Way to persevere, Alex!!

Big congratulations on a very proud ascent!!
i-b-goB

Social climber
Wise Acres
  Nov 13, 2016 - 03:59pm PT
Luv your setups brilliant and inspirational Alex, Cheers!
Prod

Trad climber
  Nov 13, 2016 - 04:50pm PT
Well done!

Prod.
neebee

Social climber
calif/texas
  Nov 13, 2016 - 04:55pm PT
hey there say, ... wow, very nice report and great job, well done...
fun with friends, fun with challenges, and fun with yourself and-- being you...


:)


love hearing about the twins, and trying the shoes, :))


thanks for sharing... :)
Edge

Trad climber
  Nov 13, 2016 - 05:04pm PT
I am humbled. The Prow was my first attempt at a wall, and I backed off early.

You sir, have something special. Thank you for sharing.
notdisabled

Big Wall climber
Martell, NE
Author's Reply  Nov 13, 2016 - 05:26pm PT
Dude, YOU ROCK! That's more badass then Ondra onsiteing the Nose! and major kudos to your partners for being there for you!

Ha! Dunno about that, but I felt pretty accomplished. And you're absolutely right about my partners -- I don't think I really hit that well in the story. I absolutely could not have done it without a lot of time, energy and patience from them.
SammyHammy

Social climber
Anti-
  Nov 13, 2016 - 05:29pm PT
Fvck yeah I want some cheesy poofs! Super brave and inspirational. Some folks have enough positive energy that the rest of us mere mortals are lucky enough to be buoyed by the strength of their incredible presence.

Thanks for doing that...
notdisabled

Big Wall climber
Martell, NE
Author's Reply  Nov 13, 2016 - 06:57pm PT
You know it Wayne W! You're a man who can define "persevere" so I'll take it bro!
ontheedgeandscaredtodeath

Social climber
Wilds of New Mexico
  Nov 13, 2016 - 07:50pm PT
Awesome job on the climb!! Great TR too.
enock_glidden

climber
  Nov 14, 2016 - 03:44am PT
Awesome write up alex. I really learned a lot and you are amazing. I love all your ideas for gear very smart stuff. I hope we can finally meet sometime and climb together. Maybe we should do the an all disabled ascent of something.
Gunkie

Trad climber
Valles Marineris
  Nov 14, 2016 - 05:06am PT
Nicely done!
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
  Nov 14, 2016 - 06:01am PT
Wow. Super effort. I was impressed by that octopus of rigging you used to help you up the wall. Thanks for showing us how to overcome our limitations.

BAd
Mike.

climber
  Nov 14, 2016 - 06:12am PT
Way more badass than an AB ascent. I'd call it grade 6.

Hat's off to your fortitude and skill, brother. An inspiring report. Cheers...
Jaybro

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  Nov 14, 2016 - 06:16am PT
Wow! fantastic! No that, is an adventure!
Perseverance and the will to keep going on!
And a testament to friendship and camaraderie.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Nov 14, 2016 - 06:25am PT
I was stoked to be able to contribute as a nearly full partner, and glad I didn’t have to carry the haul bags on the approach or descent! Best of both worlds ;-)

A note of humor to lighten the load...what a sandbagger-type sentence!

I appreciate the effort all this took on your part, on the parts of those who partook in this wonderful adventure.

That includes doing the TR too.

Thanks over and over for this really, really, really special one.
Double D

climber
  Nov 14, 2016 - 07:36am PT
Excellent and inspiring TR. You do an awesome job of relating your efforts to the AB's. When I did the Prow in the Plasticine era the top-steps were way reachy. "but how do you train for wrestling an alligator?" Classic! All the best to you and your family.
Dave Diegelman
The Lisa

Trad climber
Da Bronx, NY
  Nov 14, 2016 - 07:46am PT
Dude, I am exhausted just from reading this TR. You did it all and got through it, yay for perseverance/orneriness/stubborness!
notdisabled

Big Wall climber
Martell, NE
Author's Reply  Nov 14, 2016 - 08:05am PT
Thank you so much for all the love! I really enjoyed putting the trip and story together so I'm glad folks dig the read. I wish it was easier to comment and tag people -- what am I missing?

NDG?? Yer fukkin not right

Yes, Ledge Rat, I can't argue here. We considered rapping, but that also poses problems for me. Plus I HATE rapping, and although I knew the descent would be hard, I totally underestimated it. One AB descent 8 years ago had me convinced it wasn't as awful as it turned out to be.

One suggestion for the elbow...

Thanks for the ideas and comments NutAgain -- I definitely need to develop some better protection for future climbs, especially if I want to get on anything west of the Nose.

Fvck yeah I want some cheesy poofs!

You win SammyHammy! You got me laughing bro.

Maybe we should do the an all disabled ascent of something.

Enock, my original goal was an all-spinal cord ascent, and I'm still open to it, but this climb really showed me how hard that effort would be! Maybe if I have less Papa duties for my twin 3 1/2 year old girls and could train super hard I'd have the stamina, but the leads are so damn exhausting! On a different note, when's your movie coming out?

You do an awesome job of relating your efforts to the AB's.

That's my goal brother! I really appreciate this comment, Dave, thank you. My wife is a Diegel, I wonder where the Diegel/Diegelman split is?
scooter

climber
fist clamp
  Nov 14, 2016 - 08:15am PT
You are a fighter, climber and an amazing rigger and innovative. Well done.

PW
nita

Social climber
chica de chico, I don't claim to be a daisy.
  Nov 14, 2016 - 08:25am PT
*
*
This is an astounding testament to perseverance and ingenuity. Kudos, young man!

Just Wow!...
Cheers to you and your climbing partners .....................wow.
kingtut

Social climber
carmel, ca
  Nov 14, 2016 - 08:50am PT
Very stoked for you and thank you for sharing your journey.

Climbing is the ultimate subjective experience and I daresay your accomplishment ranks as one of the great examples of the perseverance of the human spirit overcoming physical limitations in our sport.

Ondra on the nose? pfft..... None of us will likely ever face and complete a challenge such as you have.


:D
fear

Ice climber
hartford, ct
  Nov 14, 2016 - 09:02am PT
Alex for president 2020!
Enty

Big Wall climber
  Nov 14, 2016 - 09:12am PT
Inspirational!
the Fet

climber
Tu-Tok-A-Nu-La
  Nov 14, 2016 - 09:31am PT
I can't even begin to describe how badass this is! Great job.

Great job all the way around: setting challenging goals, figuring out a unique system that works for you, persevering through all the difficulties, having tons of fun.

Just getting to the base of that climb would be a challenge that a normal person with your injury would possibly attempt. To lead pitches!? Top out?! And come down the NDG?! Awesome.
patrick compton

Trad climber
van
  Nov 14, 2016 - 10:37am PT
awesome. with all the hate of the minorities and the 'disabled' these days, it is great to read stories like this
guyman

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
  Nov 14, 2016 - 10:43am PT
THE most amazing TR to roll down the pike for years and years.

YOU are my inspiration.

THANK YOU for showing all of us just what guts, determination and sheer will power can overcome.

TFPU.
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Nov 14, 2016 - 10:57am PT
THE most amazing TR to roll down the pike for years and years.
My thoughts, too. What an effort! What a write up! Fabulous pictures.

Thank you very much.

John
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Nov 14, 2016 - 02:23pm PT
Thank you for your detailed report on the epic climb and descent!
There is a wide spectrum of abilities in ASIA-D, as I am in there also.
(Nearly all my muscles are Grade 5 and my only adaptive device is a left ankle brace).
We all find our challenges!
On Saturday I hiked slowly up North Dome Gully, then hiked across the top and rapped down Ahwahnee Buttress.
I had a new and better ankle brace this time (Swede-O Ankle Lok with inserts) and it was a lot less painful and thus faster than my similar trip 3 weeks ago!
canyoncat

Social climber
SoCal
  Nov 14, 2016 - 04:09pm PT
Hell yeah. Much admiration.
Alexey

climber
San Jose, CA
  Nov 14, 2016 - 05:21pm PT
amazing accomplishment, my admirations too, thank for writing this up!
Wade Icey

Trad climber
www.alohashirtrescue.com
  Nov 14, 2016 - 05:22pm PT
fantastic. great job.
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Nov 14, 2016 - 05:26pm PT
Well written and SUPER inspiring account! I needed a little positive affirmation of humans at their best after recent events.
notdisabled

Big Wall climber
Martell, NE
Author's Reply  Nov 14, 2016 - 05:27pm PT
There is a wide spectrum of abilities in ASIA-D, as I am in there also.

Yeah Clint! Thanks for pointing that out, as I don't think I made it clear. I knew nothing about spinal cord injuries before my crash, and now I've learned that if you meet one person with a spinal cord injury, you've met one person with a spinal cord injury. I imagine the same could be said for any disability -- neurologic ones in particular, perhaps.

I'll have to look into rapping the Ahwahnee Buttress -- are the rap anchors right on top of each other? I wouldn't be able to pendulum much at all to reach them if not. And did you improve much after 3 years? It's really hard to tell sometimes if I've made any gains. Thanks for commenting!

Alex for president 2020!

Thanks Fear -- only 55 million more votes to go and...I would never get to climb again.

I appreciate the rigger comment Scooter -- that's how I got this system dialed quickly: from rigging big limbs out of trees over houses. Arborists are badass climbers, riggers, etc. They're basically big wallers and don't know it. Very blue collar climbing. kingtut, Fet, Compton, et al -- thanks a ton!

THE most amazing TR to roll down the pike for years and years.

That's a helluva compliment, Guyman! Thank you!
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Nov 14, 2016 - 05:57pm PT
I knew nothing about spinal cord injuries before my crash, and now I've learned that if you meet one person with a spinal cord injury, you've met one person with a spinal cord injury.
So true - the incomplete injuries vary so much.


I'll have to look into rapping the Ahwahnee Buttress -- are the rap anchors right on top of each other? I wouldn't be able to pendulum much at all to reach them if not.
I don't actually recommend it as a fun adventure.
It was just a convenient way for me to get on top of Sons of Yesterday so I could work on making a better rappel route for it.

And did you improve much after 3 years? It's really hard to tell sometimes if I've made any gains.
I didn't improve much after 6 months, but that is mostly because my injury was not that severe, so I got pretty much back to fully functional quite quickly.
So you could say that recovery varies a lot, as it depends on the injuries which also vary.

Two of my climbing friends have incomplete injuries from climbing falls also:

Wendy Ong (she has been doing some competitive adaptive climbing, where the variance in injuries matters quite a bit)
https://wendyong.org/
http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=1292707&msg=2006748#msg200%206748);

Alina Garbuzov (she is about 1 year into recovery)
http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/2807231/Rock-Climbing-Spinal-Cord-Injury
http://smallrestlesshuman.com/
notdisabled

Big Wall climber
Martell, NE
Author's Reply  Nov 14, 2016 - 06:20pm PT
I didn't improve much after 6 months

I'm with you. I probably made 75% of my total improvement in the first 6 months and I maxed out the tests at 18 months, but then life took over -- who has time for hours and hours of leg lifts and sideplanks? Here's how recovery looked for me:

Berg Balance test (orange) and 6 minute walk test (blue&#4...
Berg Balance test (orange) and 6 minute walk test (blue) results from time of injury through 2015ish.
Credit: notdisabled

I've talked with Wendy but not Alina, so thanks for the contacts Clint!

Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Nov 14, 2016 - 06:35pm PT
It looks like your improvement was dramatic at 9 months.
I agree, at some point the tests/measurements are less appealling,
since you have many other good things to do with your time.
Careful with the wrist injuries - adventures are great, but not so much when likelihood of injury is high, I think.
moosedrool

climber
Andrzej Citkowicz far away from Poland
  Nov 14, 2016 - 06:58pm PT
Wow, what an inspiring story!

Thank you for posting!

Moose
notdisabled

Big Wall climber
Martell, NE
Author's Reply  Nov 14, 2016 - 07:34pm PT
Careful with the wrist injuries - adventures are great, but not so much when likelihood of injury is high, I think.

You said it bro! I had carpal tunnel surgery last year after my 2nd time on The Prow. Now the left wrist is the problem child. The Big Boy decision is probably to find a new hobby, but time will tell.
W.L.

climber
Edge of the Electric Ocean Beneath Red Rock
  Nov 14, 2016 - 09:23pm PT
Tremendously imspiring! Thank you so much for sharing your story
thekidcormier

Gym climber
squamish, b.c.
  Nov 15, 2016 - 08:12am PT
Outstanding work up there Alex and Todd!!!

Very well written and undeniably inspiring to say the least.

Burnin' Oil

Trad climber
CA
  Nov 15, 2016 - 09:43am PT
Dude!!!
OlympicMtnBoy

climber
Seattle
  Nov 15, 2016 - 10:53am PT
Here I thought this was gonna be about your struggles as a Nebraskan farmer trying to get up a wall.

Great effort and great read, thanks for sharing with us! I'm sure I'm not the only one who has thought about "what-if" scenarios and said "oh I'd just figure out how to keep climbing". Not so easy!
micronut

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
  Nov 15, 2016 - 11:42am PT
Burly. Thanks for the great write up and for inspiring us all. Mad props Bruh!
Big Mike

Trad climber
BC
  Nov 15, 2016 - 10:43pm PT
Nice work team!! Thanks for the tr man!

I broke my back a couple years ago and I am Asia D too, but most people would never know it. I have sensation everywhere except for the top of my left foot and my left shin. My left leg is also a bit weaker than my right but only my physio would see it.

I had a lot of trouble walking at first too, but i managed to walk out of rehab on my forearm crutches and i've been working my ass off to get back to where i started ever since.

I admire your perserverance! It's tough to overcome the mental block that comes with not being able to use your body like you used to. I'm very impressed that you are leading!! Well done man and keep at it! The more you push, the better it will get!! I am still seeing some returns in sensation almost 4 years out!

If you really want to have an sci team do a wall i would be keen to participate! I mostly free climb, but i've dabbled in aid enough that i think i would catch on pretty quick!

Good on you man!! Keep pushing!!
Orenczak

Trad climber
Laramie
  Nov 16, 2016 - 05:15am PT
Alex- way to rip it up!! It's been a little while since we last caught up, perhaps it was in the Laramie Range 2006 or so and we completed the FA of Rabbit Ears tower. Your a damn tank, no stopping you. Keep up the sickness and get a hold of me when your passing through Laramie, I know of some steep sh#t tha ist right up your alley. Good to see your report. And one more thing, if anyone hasn't seen the pic of Alex on a the FA of his boulder problem Scared Money Can't Win needs to check it out. This kind of drive is in his DNA. Beast!!! - Zach
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

climber
Out Of Bed
  Nov 16, 2016 - 07:54am PT
1st, I want say *WOW*
Then I'm still like HOW THE . . . WAIT. . . WHAT? . No way!,
Of course laughter and smiles are great medicine, but before that
The pathos that, life, existence can be so un-fair, is driven home
by the stark realities you deal with. These are Beautifully implied by the
evocative pictures of your crutch and chair.

Ok now, I think given the nitty gritty that you have saved us from, but we know
must also be a part of life, I'm gonna have some fun . . . .

Pictures or it never happend !



Huh?



















The damn car accident! <\B^>,

your whole story needs more exposure,

reach out to the likes of Hallmark,

I could even see this could be so big ~ so inspirational as a vehicle

That is able to transcend

From film festival wins with big Names. To the big screen.

( bring this to LARGE-Os attention )

I'm gonna link this Write up to his About Nothing, What is Mind Thread,

http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=1593650&tn=12920#msg2906480

where they contemplate their navels adnasium . . .
Did I say
*WOW!!* *AMAZING!!*
darn it I just saw that Nita & others said wow, so I've added an exclamation
notdisabled

Big Wall climber
Martell, NE
Author's Reply  Nov 16, 2016 - 11:30am PT
Here I thought this was gonna be about your struggles as a Nebraskan farmer trying to get up a wall.

Can't trust those damn Nebraskans, bro.


Outstanding work up there Alex and Todd!!!

Thanks Luke! Great meeting you and the new family in Camp 4.

If you really want to have an sci team do a wall i would be keen to participate!

What up Big Mike? Thanks for posting -- SCIs are so crazy. It never ceases to amaze me how much every recovery is different. What level was your injury? I honestly can't tell if I'm still improving -- it's like watching your kids grow: you don't notice until Auntie Irma shows up and is amazed by the difference. Incomplete spinal cord injuries fvck with you head because you always want to push and the dream of "normal" never really dies...but life's gotta go on.

Stay in touch and who knows if the SCI attempt will ever happen! I was hopeful, but I dunno if my body can take more effort -- gotta love those AB partners ;-)

the pic of Alex on a the FA of his boulder problem Scared Money Can't Win

My one and only FA. Glad someone remembers! I don't have that guide, but what I remember of that problem is steep, highball slab, which used to be my favorite and why I love Vedauwoo so much. Can't enjoy the slab head-game anymore, unfortunately, but maybe someday I'll substitute sketchy aid in its place.

Zach you Beast! I think I last saw you in Keene Valley Grocery in August of 2008 -- right before I got married...or maybe Ricky's funeral in March 2012? I'll definitely hit you up for steep rock if I'm in Laramie and look me up if you're crossing I-80 -- our farm is 15 minutes south of Lincoln.

Pictures or it never happend !

Maybe it never did Gnome...What if it didn't?????????????


Madskates

climber
SLC, UT
  Nov 16, 2016 - 01:31pm PT
Alex, It was awesome meeting on route! You had me and Lauren beyond psyched!!!! A buddy of ours shot some pictures from the minor lake trail and has a bunch of you as well if you want them. Glad to see everything worked out well!!!
Big Mike

Trad climber
BC
  Nov 17, 2016 - 12:27pm PT
What level was your injury?

I burst L2 and dislocated L1, so pretty low. I'm fused from T-12-L4.

I'm supposed to get the metal out soon, but i keep putting it off for work, or snowboarding...




I honestly can't tell if I'm still improving -- it's like watching your kids grow: you don't notice until Auntie Irma shows up and is amazed by the difference.



That's totally it. Others would take note of my improvement but it would seem the same to me because the change is so gradual..

I started noticing the little things, like being able to bend over enough to use the sink properly, or successfully balancing on one leg long enough to put on pants in the morning without falling over.




Incomplete spinal cord injuries fvck with you head because you always want to push and the dream of "normal" never really dies...but life's gotta go on.

I hear you on that bro. It's a bitch to retrain your body, and normal is relative. I just keep redefining normal with each new goal I accomplish.

Life gets in the way, and it's difficult to find the time to do the work, not to mention the energy. I am lucky that I have a very physical trade (window washing) that basically required me to train eight hours a day within 5 months of my injury.

I may never be "Normal" again but I have worked really hard to get as close to it as possible, and it has been continually improving for the last four years.

Never stop pushing man! It will only benefit you!


Stay in touch and who knows if the SCI attempt will ever happen! I was hopeful, but I dunno if my body can take more effort -- gotta love those AB partners ;-)

Lol! My back is aching thinking about humping all those loads! Lol

Maybe we could start with a SCI climbing team with an AB ground support team. ;)
skcreidc

Social climber
SD, CA
  Nov 17, 2016 - 02:42pm PT
A pretty damn cool read! Very inspirational and Good work! Thank you for putting in the time to post that up.
notdisabled

Big Wall climber
Martell, NE
Author's Reply  Nov 18, 2016 - 11:45am PT
You had me and Lauren beyond psyched!!!!

Right back at you Madison! I'll message you and we'll connect for pictures.
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  Nov 18, 2016 - 12:29pm PT
Wow, you made my day! This TR should be made a Sticky. Hard to fathom going
down NDG on crutches, but then I don't have your triceps! :-) Curious about what you
have on the crutch ends. Seems like an inch or so slightly curved plate with many 1/4"
carbide points would be good based on how well my BD hiking poles' carbide tips grip
on rock.
guido

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  Nov 19, 2016 - 12:31pm PT
Wow! What an inspiring read.........
Yury

Mountain climber
T.O.
  Nov 19, 2016 - 07:22pm PT
Thank you for such inspirational report!
notdisabled

Big Wall climber
Martell, NE
Author's Reply  Nov 20, 2016 - 01:13pm PT
Hard to fathom going down NDG on crutches, but then I don't have your triceps! :-)Curious about what you have on the crutch ends.

Hi Reilly! In retrospect, I would have preferred a different way down, but rapping could also be a problem for me, so I was stuck with the Crutching NDG ;-) For now I just have rubber tips on my crutches, but I need to consider something else as these weren't exactly made for the abuse I put them through. When I get rich I'd like to buy some nicer crutches.
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Nov 21, 2016 - 02:54pm PT
Respect goes out to you my friend!!!
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