LooseCrew-JeffO: Mt. Wilson


Ramblings of an adventurous guy living in Denver and playing in the mountains.
For my trail adventures, visit my Trail Bum blog

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Mt. Wilson

About 8 years ago, when I was climbing San Luis Peak (near Gunnison, CO), I was in top form. I could climb with crampons and a pack like a nuclear-powered robot. My climbing partner, Phil, was getting wheezy from asthma, so we stopped our climb of San Luis. He said I should climb Baldy Alto right next to us. I didn't like separating in winter with him wheezing, but Phil insisted. So I charged up the little 13er, with waste-deep powder on the summit.
Later, back at camp, our stoves wouldn't work. What's the likelihood that both stoves would fail at the same time? We didn't have water filters because they tend to be a one-use thing, in winter (they freeze solid). We chopped holes in the ice on the creek and grabbed some water. His stove would light, but it wouldn't flame up, so we barely got the water heated - but not boiled.
Phil was fine, but I got "The Revenge".
Back in Denver, just as soon as I was getting over it, I was back to burning my candle at both ends. Then I got sick again. Should've let myself mend all the way. Then I got better. Then I went full-speed again and got sick again. (Does bull-headed come to mind?) But then I got better. Finally.
Or almost.
The virus had mutated through each recovery. It was no longer like the original. I contracted Guillaine-Barre. My own immune system was eating away my nerve tissue. I lost strength in my hands and feet. I went to the doctor, they took samples, they didn't call me back. It got worse. Soon I was paralyzed in the hands and feet and my arms and legs were waning.
I took my son on one last walk. He asked me if we could go on a bike ride (I always ran beside him). I told him we couldn't. He asked why. I said he new why - this was our last walk. At the rate I was dieing, I'd be bed-ridden in a day and dead in 2 or 3.
The doctors weren't going to do anything because they found nothing wrong. That's the thing about when your own immune system attacks - there's no foreign thing left to find. Your immune system is producing white blood cells tailored to kill a virus that has proteins too similar to some part of your own body. So as it killed the virus, it eats away your body.
Finally a neurosurgeon rushed me into the hospital cardiac floor (24-hr watch) and gave me three servings of immuno-globulin over three days.
I liked my stay there. So did the nurses. I was the only guy there not dieing (not anymore, I wasn't). When I found out I wasn't going to die, I felt great! So what if I was partially paralyzed or weak the rest of my life! Cool!
I kept joking with the nurses, "Ya wanna arm wrestle? You'll win!"
They had to check my strength, heart rate, breathing three times a day. So all these nurses would come in and grab both my hands and tell me to squeeze. I'd smile and bat my eyes. I've never had so many women wanting to hold my hand! They had me breathing so hard I almost broke their lung-meter. They thought I was a hero for having such a positive attitude during adversity, but my perspective was how lucky I was to be able to recover from the brink of death.

A week later, I was up in the snow in a zero-degree blizzard with two brothers. With paralyzed hands, it took me an hour to set up my tent. A sailor would've blushed listening to me cuss, and my brothers probably hated listening to me, but I wouldn't ask for help.

A few months later, I climbed Mount Wilson solo, @ about 80% strength. What would've been a quick overnighter had me struggling to a low camp, then finally my high camp. I even took a day off at my high camp to recover. I had 30lbs of climbing equipment, in addition to my other gear. I used my day off to climb
Rock of Ages Pass (13,002') and cache my heaviest gear.
The "Big Day", I climbing up over the pass with my down sleeping bag in an otherwise empty toboggan, then descending to the base @ 12,400', riding the toboggan like a horse. If I fell on Mt. Wilson, hopefully I'd be able to climb into my down sleeping bag and survive.
The snow was great, that morning. It was a steep climb and my crampons and ice ax had great grip with no clumping. Near the summit, I jammed my long ax into the snow and hooked my rope in with a 'biner. I used slings, 'biners, and an ascender to keep myself anchored as I traversed with one BD ice tool and one hand on the rocks. Testing each step, one of my steps totally broke away and snow/rocks plummeted a thousand feet straight down and then continued cascading down the steep snow below the cliff.
But I summited. One other guy summited that day. He climbed from the Telluride side. We had a conversation near the summit and then we went our ways.
By then the snow was shit. It was close to a wet avalanche. I kept going straight down and then over. Down and over. If anything broke loose, maybe there wouldn't be enough above me. Most accidents happen when going down. I kept telling myself 'the climb ain't over 'til you're down. Pay attention and work hard.' Man, my feeble arms were wasted, but my legs didn't seem to mind.

I had to climb Wilson solo in late winter. I had to prove that I was stronger than the disease. It was my way of proclaiming, "Fuck you!"
Without accepting therapy, I've been charging hard and getting stronger. My hands will never be as strong as they were. I used to be able to do 40 or more one-handed pushups, but now I'm lucky if I can do 10. That's a lot luckier than if I'd died, huh?


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