Dream Thing (21**), Wye Creek.
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Wye Creek – Part 1: Recovery

Two years ago, I was living and working at Sun Peaks Resort in British Columbia as a bike mechanic. I was on a my lunch break, getting in a few training runs for the Canadian nationals when I had a bad crash near the bottom of the park. I dislocated my left elbow and shattered the radial head. So it was off to hospital for the next four days. I needed extensive surgery, which left me with several wires, screws and plates in my elbow.

The story of my injury from dislocation to reduction to fixation.

It was three months before I was back on the bike, and about six months later that I first began to learn how to climb. Albeit with significantly less range of motion in my left arm as I could no longer straighten it or touch my shoulder. Nor could I twist my wrist enough to lay it flat on the table or play a guitar. All things considered I was getting by fine until I experienced some pain around Christmas of 2015. On Christmas Eve I bent my elbow and watched as one of the wires popped loose and almost protruded from my skin. A quick trip to emergency left me feeling quite high and I came home with a little wire in a jar that used to be in my arm.

Christmas Eve 2015. ‘The curse of the migrating wire’

What followed was a serious of X-rays, CT scans and appointments with specialists. It wasn’t all good news. My radial head had successfully become whole again, but somehow it had failed to reattach to my radius. After exploring a lot of options I ended up with my name on the public waiting list, with an expected wait of around 24 months.

In the meantime, I kept on doing what I love, skiing, climbing and bike riding. However biking caused me a fair amount of pain and I was also limited in my climbing moves as I progressed to more challenging rock grades. When I started this blog, and moved to NZ, I had been on the wait list for around 14 months and wasn’t expecting to be called for at least another six months. So it was with great surprise that I got called back only three weeks into my new journey, just before I embarked on The Old Ghost Road (see previous post).

That was four weeks ago. I haven’t posted in a while because nothing exciting was happening, well unless you count the surgery. Now however I am in full recovery mode after a successful surgery and am (mostly) metal free. I still have a fairly limited range of motion, but it has only been three weeks. Without all the metallic obstructions and with diligent exercise, I’m hoping to make a good recovery.

So now I’m back in NZ, settling into my new home in Queenstown and getting ready for the upcoming winter season. This weekend, after a couple of days of snowfall and bad weather, we cracked it for some good conditions. So Jesse and I set out, eager to explore some of Queenstown’s premier climbing crags at Wye Creek.

Jesse keeping warm and nutritious before the approach.

At only 20 minutes from my new home, I think I will be coming here a lot. Hence I have titled post ‘part 1’. My little “4WD” made it an admirable three quarters of the way up the access road, before I decide it was far enough.

Jesse keeping the stoke alive even though my car didn’t quite make it and we still had a bit of an approach to go.

From here it was only another 2o minutes walk up some slippery and snowy trail to reach the main wall.

Approaching the main crags via the snowy, slippery catwalk.

The sun was shining and the aspect of the main wall meant that it was snow free and mostly dry. Warm from our hike up Jesse hopped on the mega classic, ‘The Mission” (16***) and cruised up it nicely.

Jesse shaking it out on the first climb of the day, The Mission (16).

I got on it next, my first climb in over a month, a scar the length of a quickdraw, still fresh on my elbow. I moved slowly but with purpose, making sure every move was was calculated and every hold solid. I felt good. My arm has definitely lost a lot of endurance and I was still wishing for a better range of motion, but it didn’t feel fragile. I ticked off a 30m pitch at grade 16, not even three weeks out from surgery. Recovery had started strong.

Jesse then onsighted “Smelie Crack”  (19**) It was quite funny watching him try and figure out how to thrutch his way up the starting off width.

It almost seems sacrilegious to bolt a crack climb, unfortunately the schist here almost demands it. Jesse clipping like a champ on his first offwidth.

I was up next and decided to step it up a notch and try “Don’t be Deceived” (18**). I moved quickly up to the third bolt feeling good. Then I looked up and thought “surely not”! My next bolt was at least two body lengths away, very run out considering the small ledge I was standing on. I moved up the steepening terrain on good holds and got to about half an arms length away from the next bolt, when I couldn’t see my next move. My last good hold was a two finger pocket on my left hand I pulled on that and searched around, found nothing and backed down. I was still reluctant to test the endurance of my left arm, while I searched for what could be a crux hold. I down climbed to a rest and looked up trying to psych myself up to just send it. I climbed again, and again I couldn’t commit. I kept having visions of my left arm loosing strength, then falling and breaking my ankle on the ledge. Back at the rest, I banged my head against the wall and willed myself to dig deep. I hadn’t pumped out yet and the holds were good, I just needed to hold on long enough to find the next move. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. This was a real set back after an encouraging start. I tried maybe three or four times and each time, I would pull enough to almost reach the bolt, but I just couldn’t will myself into the unknown. Defeated, I asked Jesse to lower me down. I was pretty bummed, this was a major mental battle that I had lost. One that will need to be conquered if I’m to recover fully. I justified the defeat by saying that I still needed to get strength back in my arm. “Another week I told myself”. But in truth, I hadn’t even got near the limit of my arm. I still had more in me, and this was purely a mental battle that I had lost. I will go back there as soon as possible, to try ‘get back on the horse’, as they say. But for now, I was done. I then belayed Jesse up the climb. He cruised it and then collected my draws on the way down.

By now we were feeling tired, it has been over a month since we last climbed. We packed up our things, and I tested out my new camera on a couple who were climbing behind us, on the ridiculously photogenic “Dream Thing” (21**).

New mate Dave sending ‘Dream Thing’ (21)
This route is ridiculously photogenic. Loving the new camera to, Sony RX100 M3.

The road to recovery is still long and challenging, but I’m throwing myself in at full speed. I can’t wait to face my next challenge, as I continue to aim for new heights.

Feel free to leave some feedback in the comments below. Contact me if you’re keen to adventure together and be sure to subscribe via email to never miss out on my latest posts.

 

Sam
Avid outdoors man, aspiring mountain guide and author of 'For love of the Mountains'

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