Sunday, June 27, 2010
Saturday was the second event in the Mountain Crutching Series. I'm currently in a transitional phase of regaining weight bearing use of my left leg, so this might be my last weekend of dependence on crutches. I hadn't been up Mt Kearsarge yet this year, and Cathy has never been to the summit. It was a nice morning, so the challenge was on.
The Mt Kearsarge toll road gains over 1500ft in 3.5mi from the toll house to parking lot. A hiking trail gains another 300ft in 0.5mi to the granite dome summit. My intent was to crutch the toll road without stopping at a steady, aerobic pace, then carefully pick my way through the mine field of a trail to the summit. Like Pack Monadnock last weekend, I wasn't sure if this was doable. It was at least three to four times the effort of a Pack climb. My upper body is getting a bit of a break now, as I can put some weight on my left leg.
Cathy left me at the toll house and drove to upper lot. She would hike down to meet me. The first mile of the toll road averages a persistent 11% grade. One thing I did not anticipate were the bugs. Mosquitoes, black flies and deer flies. When you are crutching up a mountain and don't want to stop, you have no hands to swat anything. I got sucked dry by the bastards.
Part way up, a woman in a convertible comes along side and matches my speed. Her German Shepherd was just a few feet away from me staring with dark, beady eyes. The conversation went like this:
Woman: "Are you CRAZY?" (making an exclamation that I was truly crazy)
Woman: "Do you want a ride?" (almost an order to accept a ride)
Woman: "I wouldn't even hike up this without crutches!"
HJ: Hill Junkie grin, thinking to myself I wouldn't hike up this without crutches either, I'd bike up it!
I would later encounter this woman with her dog again on the trail, reinforcing her suspicion I was truly crazy.
Cathy met me more than half way up. I was maintaining a pretty good pace, so she had to work pretty hard with no crutches to stay with me on the steeper parts. I couldn't keep up with her on the flatter parts. I reached the summit lot in 74 minutes, an average speed of almost 3mph. We had a quick bite to eat at the picnic tables, then off to the summit.
I've hike/biked to the summit several times. About 50% of the trail is rideable for someone at my skill level, the other 50% is even a challenge to hike without carrying a bike. A bit risky with a mending leg to be sure. I made sure the boot was pumped up firm. I dropped the crutches to the lowest setting. The biggest risk was twisting my leg inside the boot. I had to make sure where ever I planted my foot, it could not get lodged in between rocks and twist. Slipping or having to plant full weight on it was ok. Earlier at home, I was doing a little moving around without crutches.
It didn't take long before I realized I was in over my head. Progress was painfully slow and frustrating. A few areas were wet, and I learned my right foot sneaker and pads on my crutches did not grip wet granite at all. My mood become less than cheerful. Still though, I was determined to make that summit. I knew the first half of the trail would be the tough part. There were a couple sections of hands and feet too, where Cathy carried my crutches. I felt much safer that way. I deeply feared coming back down this stuff.
A short crawl on all fours brought me to the bare granite summit. There were maybe only 10-12 people up there with a strong breeze and very pleasant temperature. It was very hot below. I didn't want to hang out up there too long, as my ankle just took many times the abuse in 30 minutes than it has in a whole week. I wanted to beat the swelling back down.
It turns out going down was much easier and less risky than going up. I could plant my crutches a step down and just lower myself to that point. That is very hard to do in reverse going up. I rarely had to put weight on my left leg. I did have to crab-crawl a couple spots though. When I got back to the car, my whole body was trashed. Absolutely nothing escaped punishment. It was the kind of workout I never get this time of year by just riding.
My ankle didn't swell up excessively on the drive back like I feared. In fact, I was able to park right at the door of Exit 6 Starbucks and walk in without crutches. Woo-hoo! My ankle got stiff and sore later in the evening, however. I ended up watching about 5hrs of TV, icing my ankle much of the time. Physical therapy three times this week and rapidly ramping up activity level is bringing my leg back fast. This comes with a price of elevated swelling most of the time. It is hard to say where the correct balance is. My therapist told me if I do a lot this weekend, to spend non-active time with my foot up and iced. As long as I make rapid progress, I'm not going to worry too much about the swelling. Swelling is expected anyway when getting range of motion back.