Regaining confidence after an injury: one climber’s story (Guest post)

I’ve had some degree of pain almost every day for the past 9 months.

For the first few weeks after I injured my back, I could barely stand, sit or walk. I couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t take care of anything at home.

Before this, I had only experienced minor athletic injuries. A sore knee from hiking too far. An aching finger tendon from pulling too hard on small climbing holds. These all resolved quickly with a little rest.

This time was different. I was warming up doing an unweighted squat in the gym. Then out of nowhere, I felt the spasms of pain shoot through my back. This exercise was usually easy for me. I had learned how to do it safely with a trainer.

I used to hesitate to tell people how my back injury happened. I was embarrassed that I did this to myself in a part of the gym where I often felt like I didn’t belong. I had worked so hard to convince myself that I could take up space among the muscular men, bench pressing and deadlifting what seemed like so much more weight than me.

And it made no sense how such an easy movement could have caused so much destruction.

I now know that I was overtraining. That one squat probably wasn’t to blame. I was exercising too hard, too often and my body had broken down.

My goal had been to get stronger to keep up with others on climbing and mountaineering trips.

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Me climbing in the North Cascades before my injury. Photo: Tony Lu

My favourite sports involve carrying a lot of stuff uphill for long distances. This poses some unique challenges for petite people, such as myself.

All the gear all adds up quickly: a warm sleeping bag, a down jacket and rain coat, food, water, climbing harness, crampons, ice axe.

On one long trip, my backpack weighed just over 40 pounds. At 35% of my body weight, I was carrying what many consider the upper limit for a well-conditioned hiker. This meant I relied on other people to carry all the gear shared by our group, like a tent and climbing rope.

Distributing gear proportionally according to a person’s size is fair and a widely accepted practice.

However, it always bothered me to be the smallest person who carried the least. I also often worried that I’d be the slowest person who held everyone back. Being one of the only women on some trips meant I felt even more sensitive to any physical differences.

After several months of treatment and physical therapy, my back pain began to decrease.

I slowly began to take up the things I loved again in new and different ways.

Instead of an all-day hike, I went on a short walk to the beach with a friend. Instead of trying to climb the hardest routes, I meandered up some of the easiest walls I could find.

Returning to the backcountry was harder.

Despite training and testing my limits close to home,  I was still so afraid of re-injuring myself in the middle of nowhere.

My first trip into the wilderness was on a multi-day canoe trip with my sister. An hour into paddling, I broke down into tears. I was so afraid. We stopped and set up camp at the first spot we found. We carried on that way all week: paddling short distances with long rests. It was not the trip we had planned, but I was grateful just to be out there and for my sister’s patience.

A canoe on a calm river surrounded by trees.

My view from our canoe in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota.

The following month, I spent time in the wilderness again on a week-long trip in the mountains. While my friends hiked and climbed, I earned the nickname “Base Camp Babe.” I spent a lot of time reading books, swimming, napping and enjoying the beautiful alpine views. As the week went on, I ventured out on increasingly more adventerous hikes and climbs too.

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One hour of scrambling equals one hour of resting. Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

This injury has forced me to deal with my fear of being the slowest and smallest person in the group.

This year, I’ve had to turn around before reaching the summit far more times than I’ve made it to any desired destination. My friends carry even more of the gear than before. I often have had to lay down for long rests in inconvenient (but beautiful) spaces.

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The view from a rest spot on one of the many mountains I did not get to the top of this year. Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

What’s surprised me the most is that despite being up front about my limitations, people still want to climb and hike with me. People whose company I enjoy and judgement I trust. My climbing network has continued to expand and become more diverse, especially in terms of gender and age.

While I am never going to carry a 70-pound pack up a mountain, I have other things going for me. Things like an eagerness to explore new areas, technical climbing skills and knowledge of local areas. I need to work on my limitations while focusing on my strengths.

For the most part, we are roughly stuck with the bodies we are born with. I’ve learned that trying to overcome my fears and challenges by trying to change my body is not going to work.

 Jes loves rock climbing, hiking and outdoor photography. Ten years ago, she moved from a big east coast city to Vancouver Island, Canada. She writes about her outdoor adventures at jescott.ca.

 

Don’t step in the moose poop

These adventures take place in McAdam, New Brunswick, Canada which is the traditional lands of the Passamaquoddy a First Nation people who are recognized by the State of Maine but do not have status in New Brunswick. 

During my latest summer vacation I got to spend some time with my dad on the 100 acre wood lot my family has logged for over 100 years. 

It was a humbling experience as I don’t hike in the bush much these days. My feet clomped along instead of the soft tread of someone able to stalk a deer. 

Dad was drawn for a moose license for the first time in his life so everywhere we went we kept an eye out for moose signs. That’s prints and poop mostly as well as tender shoots grazed off trees. 

moose track after the rain


The boreal forest is dense, scrubby and smells amazing. Any place the soil is disturbed sprouts raspberries and blackberries. 

This giant pine is too large to harvest and serves as a seed tree


I’ve spent a lot of time on this wood lot helping my grandfather on my Christmas and March breaks in my adolescence. My dad continues to log this to heat homes and for lumber. There are lots of signs of bear, deer, rabbit and especially moose. 

don’t step in the moose poop!


It was great to see how this land has so much bounty after being used for human purposes for so long. 

I had a great visit back home. Now I’m focusing on my new job, another university course and writing my sci-fi book so I’m reducing the frequency of my posts here to the first Saturday of every month. 

I hope this affords opportunity for new voices and perspectives to join the Fit is a Feminist Issue community. 

Hiking Bob LeBoeuf in Edmundston NB

I would like to acknowledge that Edmundston is situated along the Madawaska and Saint John rivers, the traditional territory of the Wolastoqiyik First Nation (sometimes called the Maliseet First Nation by settlers).

My partner has regaled me with his trips as a kid on the mountain on the edge of Edmundston, New Brunswick, Canada searching for Bob LeBoeuf’s gold mine. So when we had a chance to go see “La mine d’or” (the gold mine) I felt I had to say “oui” to the hike. 

We grabbed a tourist map and he sighed “it looks like they’ve tamed the mountain.”


Later he made a more accurate map:


It was a beautiful day but the first part of the trail “des cascades” was a steep climb right up the mountain. That’s where “Nat questions life choices.”


We then toodled along to the branch for the gold mine path. 


That section was rated difficult and I ended up doing a crab walk/scuttle down the shale and a few bum scoots on the descent. 

Bob’s gold mine was a scam, he had to give investors’ money back, the scamp. It is a story retold many times since my father-in-law was a young lad. 

Bob never struck gold but he did get a beer named after him. It’s a tasty treat from Les Brasseurs du Petit Sault. 

The mine is really a fissure where a spring weeps out of the shale. At one point there was a hole but it is long gone. 
The view of the Madawaska Valley was worth it. 


The climb back up to the main path was a scramble and I was on all fours a few times and often pulled myself up with trees. 


Apparently other people stop and take breaks on the benches. 


It was a great trail and we had the mountain to ourselves on a glorious Saturday in August. 


The path is clear yet wild and just perfect. Thank you Michel for taking me through part of your personal mythology. 

 

Photography, philosophy and friends while hiking solo

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This week I was in Tucson, AZ for a conference on information ethics  (see here for program).  Tucson is great.  It’s surrounded by mountainous desert beauty, and in town are lots of cafes and good Mexican food everywhere.  I got to meet some cool people, hear about current work, present some thoughts of my own, and hang out with friends.
We were all pretty well occupied through Friday night, but I reserved Saturday morning for a solo hike in Sabino canyon.  Now I’m not a mountaineering type by any means; for me, it’s sufficient to walk around in nature, looking at naturey things.
Today I was by myself, stopping on my way to the airport.  I love the freedom that solo hikes bring– I can choose to go fast, slow, take pictures, listen to music, dawdle at the visitors center, whatever I want.  And I don’t even have to choose– I can meander and let the adventure unfold of its own accord.
So I did.  And the nature was stunning; the ocotillos were in bloom, along with cactus and other bushes whose names I don’t know.  Photography felt like fun, so I took pictures as I made my way up the main trail.
Here’s a desert scene from the canyon.
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Here’s some flowering ocotillo.
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As I noticed it was time to turn back, I saw four women setting up for some group shots.  I offered to take pictures of the group, and they immediately commenced questioning– who was I? What did I do? Why was I in Tucson?
For many people this would be most unwelcome, an intrusion into one’s tranquil hiking experience.  I’m not one of those people.
As soon as they heard I was a philosopher, one of them said, “oh good.  We were just talking about Kant’s Categorical imperative yesterday.”  Hmmm.  That doesn’t usually happen in these sorts of trail side chats with strangers.  But I went with it, and we had a fun philosophical conversation on the way back to the visitors center.  They’re not philosophers, but one of them reads theology, and moral philosophy was on their minds.  Well okay then.
I veered off to take another trail, saying farewell to my new friends.  I saw a sign up the path, explaining that baby saguaro cacti are often surrounded by “nurse” trees (often palo verde or mesquite) that help protect the cactus until it can stand on its own, in solitary splendor.
Here’s a nursery of baby saguaros with their protector trees.
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Here’s a full grown saguaro cactus, standing on its own.
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And here are my nurse hikers, accompanying and amusing me until I was ready to go back off on my solo way again.
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What a great time that was.  Thanks nature!  Thanks, phone camera!  Thanks, new hiking friends!

Greetings from Mallory’s Great Walk! (Guest Post)

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by Mallory Brennan

So before I started traveling around New Zealand, I knew I wanted to do many (possibly all) of NZ’s Great Walks. (There are 9 of them although one is a canoe/kayak trip not a walk.) This is a short blog post about tramping (hiking if you’re not a kiwi) the Abel Tasman Coast Track.

Why this one? First off, it’s gorgeous. Secondly, it’s easily accessible- water taxis will drop you off at various points and you can walk back, plus my bus picked me up from a campground 100 m from the end of the trail. Thirdly, last time I was there it was June and cold and wet and I wanted to see it in nicer weather. This time I was there in the summer which had much better weather!

So, I planned on it being a five-day trip. However, my watch didn’t realize it’s was a leap year and skipped Feb 29. So I woke up on my “planning day”, saw the date, panicked, packed in twenty minutes and rushed to the water taxi only to be told I was a day early. Oops. (I’d already separated from technology and turned my phone off for the week) Luckily the water taxi people let me go a day early so my five-day trip turned into a six-day trip.

To be honest, this was not one of my better planned trips. I had planned on a day to plan/pack before I left but instead packed in twenty minutes. Mostly this was fine, I’ve done enough tramping that I know what to pack pretty quickly/easily. And the Abel Tasman track is very accessible, water taxis are coming/going regularly from most of the beaches. And the track is clearly marked and I wasn’t walking huge distances. Where my quick packing was an issue was food.

Normally when tramping I carry a small backpacking stove (if anyone is buying one I love my MSR Whisperlite). And in fact, I brought mine with me. However, I didn’t bring a fuel bottle (airline travel restrictions) and they are almost as expensive as the stove itself (once you buy them the fuel is cheap though). Plus I didn’t have a pot, utensils, lighter, any of the usual cooking gear I have at home. So I had decided to not cook any food on this trip and to cook food in advance. However, when I “lost” my planning day, I simply shoved any food I had that didn’t need cooking into my pack: bread, a jar of peanut butter, OSM bars, carrots, chocolate, dates, nuts. Not bad food but I ended up eating some strange meals.

Over six days, I traveled around 80 km. The track itself is only about 60 km but I did one section twice plus detoured to a few lookouts and waterfalls. I carried all my own gear- tent, mattress, sleeping bag, food, clothes. The weather was gorgeous and I was able to swim everyday. I was surprised both at how many people I saw and how empty it was- water taxis come/go regularly to many of the beaches but once you leave the main beaches it gets empty fast. I was also surprised by the range of experiences of the people I met camping overnight in the park- some people had all the gear, were cooking fancy meals over their stoves, were clearly prepared. Others were traveling without proper gear- a guy with a hammock (with no covering) instead of a tent and hoping it wouldn’t rain, a girl carrying a bag of (uncooked) pasta but no stove, pot, dishes or even a fork to eat it with hoping someone would have pity on her. But again, this trail is clearly marked and if you get into too much trouble, you can just wait on a beach until a water taxi shows up.

The first 4 nights I tented in the designated campgrounds along the trail. I say campgrounds but all they had was a sign, drinking water and a toilet. Nothing else. I bought a tent here in NZ which I’ve fallen in love with, it will likely come home with me and join my collection. (It’s a Kathmandu Mono tent if anyone is interested). I brought a small sleeping bag and my mattress with me from home since I knew I’d be camping. Camping gear is one of the hardest parts about backpacking since anything I buy has to either get left behind or carried with me for the next six months. At home I have a growing collection of gear to choose from depending on the trip whereas here I really have to limit myself.

My last night I stayed at a floating backpackers, Aquapackers, in Anchorage. BBQ dinner and a night onboard the boat before my last day of hiking.

The weather was fantastic, the views were unparalleled, everybody I met was friendly. The trail was easy to follow, and relatively flat (for NZ which means it really wasn’t flat!).

Would I do this trip again? Absolutely! But first I’m already planning which of the other Great Walks I can do while I’m here in New Zealand.

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Happy National Forest Week!

National Forest Week

September 21st to 27th is national forest week, http://canadianforestry.com/wp/national-forest-week/

In honour of forests, I’m sharing some past posts on reasons to spend more time outside. I’m hoping to get at least one hike in the woods in this week. It’s so beautiful this time of year.

Here’s our past posts:

I love that my hiking gear needs are few: a sturdy pair of rubber boots (I like to go where there’s water, and I hate wet feet), and a sturdy pair of pants are all I need (I’ve been known to go off trail – shh! – and sweats or yoga pants can’t take the assault of grabby undergrowth or thorns). Layers on top, that peel on and off quickly, keep me warm or cool enough. I’m also usually never without a camera or few (including a waterproof point-and-shoot for rainy days or river wading), because I love photographing what I see.

I hike in nature because it’s the one place where I feel most like myself. I hike because it’s never boring. I hike because it gets me away from city life and my daily worries. I hike because I’m addicted to the smells and the sounds and the exquisite beauty I see everywhere. I hike because when I leave the woods, I feel better than when I entered. I feel, dare I say, like I’ve been home… and leave regenerated enough to bear the “real world” once again.

Me, I love the outdoors and for almost all activities prefer the outside version. I much prefer biking outside to either spin classes or the velodrome, though I loved the outdoor track in New Zealand. I love cross country skiing. I love trail walking and running with my dog. But I struggle with Canadian winters. These days I’m doing most of my exercise indoors: Aikido in the dojo, CrossFit in the gym, rowing indoors at the rowing club, and indoor soccer even. By this point in the winter I’m suffering from cabin fever and can’t wait to get back outside.

Ideally I’d live somewhere with a climate a bit better suited to spending more time outside–Arizona, New Zealand, Australia–but for now I’m anxiously awaiting Canadian spring. Soon, I hope.

And from Huffington Post,

Autumn is the best season for exploring the outdoors — hands down. With oppressive summer heat and humidity behind us, we’re delighting in only semi-drenching our workout gear on these cooler mornings and crisp evenings.

But apparently some people remain unconvinced. Whether you’re devoted to your Spinning class, yoga studio or favorite treadmill, humor us and let us try to change your mind with these tk reasons to start working out outside.

6 Steps to Overcoming Hiking Phobia—A Trip to Mt. Katahdin

I am, by nature and personal history, most definitely NOT a hiker. As a child growing up near the coast of South Carolina—an area not known for being mountainous—my outdoorsy activities centered around this:

The Beach

 

However, since moving to New England, it has come to my attention that many people this to be pleasurable:

scary hike

 

A host of hiker-friends have made efforts to induct me into the hike-o-philia club, but so far in vain. What has gone wrong?

First of all, I was psychologically unprepared for the experience—rocks, relentless climbing, steepness, duration, the whole bit. Basically, I had this idea that hiking meant walking on dirt through the woods, preferably near a lake, for about 1—2 hours, followed by a picnic. Second, every time someone took me on a hike, the pace was faster than I could handle comfortably—in other words, it was a complete misery. Finally, the gap between my experience (out of breath and vaguely fearful) and everyone else’s (happy, energetic and accomplished) made me feel very alienated, both from the activity and the other people in my group.

Despite a dark history of failed or unpleasant hikes, I have resolved to conquer hiking, or at least make my peace with it. Why? Well, in part because my boyfriend Dan is an inveterate hiker. He’s hiked the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, climbed Mt. Whitney in California in summer and Mt. Washington in New Hampshire in winter. We cycle, cross country ski, kayak and play squash together, and I would like to add the occasional hiking trip to that list. Also, lots of my friends hike often, and in the name of being social I’d like to be able to join in.

Most importantly though, the fact that hiking has been so hard and unpleasant irks me, so I want to overcome this problem by learning to love (or at least not hate) hiking.

So to forward my goal—induct Catherine into the hike-o-philia club—I decided to go on a group hiking trip. Dan proposed going to Mt Katahdin in Baxter State Park in Maine. This area is very rugged. The park limits visitors and has no potable water or electricity in its campgrounds. It is beautiful, with dozens of trails, ponds with canoe rentals and swimming. It is also the northern end of the Appalachian Trail, so many through-hikers end their journey there.

Dan sent email to a bunch of folks that he was reserving a bunkhouse for 10 people for the 3-night trip, and within 3 hours we were at capacity. Each one of these folks—ranging in age from 29 to 65—was a very experienced and adept hiker, and most of them had serious backpacking experience. All were excited about their proposed hike: summit Baxter Peak and then Pamola via the Knife Edge Trail. Knife Edge is famous in New England for its steepness and sheer drop-offs, as well as the frequent high winds along this very narrow trail.

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There was absolutely no way I was going to do this hike. It was way above my skill level, my fitness level and my comfort level. But could I go on this serious hiking trip and still make progress on my hike-o-philia goal? Yes! How did this happen? I’ve outlined 6 steps below.

Step 1: Don’t think too much; just go on the trip

I just decided to go with Dan and other friends, even though I wouldn’t be doing the Knife Edge route. I knew that I could swim, canoe, read a book, stroll somewhere, or even go on a hike of my own, all of which I could decide on later.

Step 2: Get active before the trip

I had been cycling a lot this summer, so was in decent cardio shape. I did some exercises for quad strengthening and did a little hill climbing as well. This helped me build confidence.

Step 3: Enjoy and appreciate the non-hiking features of the trip

We were at Baxter for 3 nights, so we had lots of time for other really fun outdoorsy activities—swimming, canoeing, cooking outside, picnicking on rocks near a waterfall, and strolling to a nearby pond to see moose. We saw this mother and baby.

moose in water at forest's edge

Step 4: Decide on a hike that suits your attitude that day

The night before my friends’ epic 10-hour hike, everyone was packing gear and making food, getting ready for the big day. I got caught up in their excitement, and with encouragement, decided to do my own hike. I chose the Chimney Pond trail, a 6.6 mile (about 10 km) out-and-back hike, with a 1425-foot (438 meter) elevation gain. That seemed like a lot to me, but I knew I could turn back at any time, and since I was hiking alone, I could go at my own pace. This trail is also one of the most heavily-trafficked in the park, so I wouldn’t really be alone. Everyone was encouraging, and their enthusiasm was infectious. So off I went.

Step 5: Learn to let go and let hike…

Starting off, I was nervous but excited. I knew I was going the same way Dan and my friends had, and it felt good to be a part of that scene. I had left around 9:30am, which is apparently way after the hiking rush hour (most groups left by 7am). So I was alone on the trail. Soon enough, the trail became rocky, and parts were (in my view) quite steep. It took a while for me to settle into a rhythm and accept the fact that I would be, well, hiking for much of the day. After about 45 minutes, I found a scenic area and took some pictures. It was just beautiful. Also, soon I started running into folks on the trail, which is especially fun for a chatty person like me.

I made it to Chimney Pond and was rewarded by a beautiful view of Mt. Katahdin, which consists of the peaks my friends were climbing. Lunching at the edge of the pond, squinting to try to make out some signs of hikers along the summit trail, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Of course, there was still the hike down to go. It was slower, and near the end I was tiring. Although I appreciated the freedom to set my own pace, I missed having company. I plan to go on some hikes with faster friends soon, learn how to pace myself, get a little faster, and in service of becoming a happy part of a mixed-abilities group.

chimney hike

Step 6: Don’t forget your hiking boots

The whole trip might have been less stressful if I hadn’t left my hiking boots behind in my living room. Oops. Dan and I realized that my boots were not in the car when we were about 2 hours away—far too late to do anything about it. I did have teva sandals with me, which were fine for the easy strolls and short hikes. With everyone’s encouragement, though, I decided to embark on the long hike in sandals and socks (with hiking poles to help me), and it went fine.

Already plans are underway for more hiking trips, including a fall 2015 New Zealand trek during my sabbatical. My hiking phobia is definitely on the wane. However, I’m hoping that I don’t have to repeat the no-hiking-boots experience anytime soon.

hike with pools in teva sandals