One of our walking group arranged for us all to take part in a climbing taster session at a local centre. It has been many years since I did any climbing, and I’ve certainly not formally scaled anything since I had my implant, so I was eagerly anticipating being harnessed up and let loose on a wall without the encumberance of a socket. Things actually worked out slightly differently…
On arrival at the climbing centre we noticed that no-one was using a rope. I thought that was pretty unusual but it transpires that our local centre specialises in bouldering. Keeping the height of the walls relatively modest and having a thickly padded floor underneath allows ‘climbing’ to be practiced without needing the security of a harness and rope.
The first stage in our taster session required us to traverse around a room of holds gaining no more than a couple of feet of height at the most. When our instructors had assured themselves we were not totally incompetent we were allowed into the room with taller walls, easily giving us the ability to gain sufficient height that falling off could be an issue. At this point I was struck by a slight dilemma – ITAP allows me to do some amazing things but large impacts on the implant, such as that produced by falling awkwardly from a significant height, are frowned upon. As you may imagine, I considered my options for a few full seconds before plunging upwards!
I have discovered that bouldering is scarier than climbing!
I like to say that I displayed a natural flair for climbing and overcame the awkwardness imposed by my prosthetic leg with grace and composure but that simply isn’t true! I did actually part company with the wall in an unconventional manner a couple of times, one of which was from near the top. On that occasion, hanging on with one hand and twisting round until I’d stopped penduluming allowed me to land in a semi-controlled fashion without any unwanted ITAP consequences. At the end of a really enjoyable session I was pleased that I made the decision to take part despite the slight risk involved. After all, what is the point of having a superb prosthetic system if I don’t do anything with it? I’d like to do more of this sort of thing but next time I’ll go somewhere that provides the climbers with a rope!
As an amputee and proud member of the British Mountaineering Council I was excited to receive notification of this event:
First ever BMC disability symposium
Unfortunately, on closer inspection, it seems like it isn’t meant for people with disabilities to discuss their experiences of mountaineering but rather to help able-bodied outdoor professionals that deal with disabled people. Whilst I’m pleased that the BMC is working to help people with disabilities, I cannot help but think that my initial impression would have been more interesting. To meet and listen to fellow disabled people that have overcome the restrictions placed upon them by their disabilities and enjoy getting out into the mountains would have been inspiring – perhaps one day!
This weekend my friends and I celebrated the third anniversary of summiting kili. As has become our tradition, the kili veterans assembled at one of our number’s houses for a fortifying meal and then set off to scale the dizzying heights of Leith Hill, Surrey, in time to quaff midnight champagne! My wife had to miss last year’s walk as Henry was only a few months old but this year we recruited Nanny to look after her grandson allowing Helen to take a full part in the celebrations. This was perhaps a little unfortunate as the weather wasn’t being kind to us. Our ascent was multiplied by repeated slips in the muddy ground and we were somewhat damp when the champagne opportunity was reached.
Kili anniversary walk 2013
Looking back on kili has particular significance for me as the training and ascent were the first major activities that I undertook after my ITAP was implanted. Before ITAP I wouldn’t have believed I was capable of completing such an adventure. For a significant part of the training I was pushing the envelope of my new found post-implant capabilities, gaining the confidence to make the ascent. My successful Kili trip itself was essentially the culmination of the implant procedure, initial rehabilitation and an extended period of informal rehab helped by my training and other activities. It helped redefine my self beliefs, providing a platform for future adventures and friends to share them with!
This week marked the beginning of a different sort of adventure for all of us; that of camping as a family. With the enormous amount of extra stuff required by our little boy packed beautifully into the car by my fair hand, we set off towards the Wye Valley, setting of pleasant memories from my childhood. My wife and I had probably spent longer choosing the campsite where we would be staying than the duration of our stay but, upon arrival, were very pleased we’d made the effort. The facilities at Greenway Farm are the best I’ve ever experienced on a campsite in the UK and, given its location, it’s well worth the drive. The weather on arrival allowed us to set up in the dry and I was a lucky witness of Henry’s first foray into tent erection – he’s a natural!
Being outside gave Henry the freedom to run round to his heart’s content -it was great to watch! Sometimes he needed a little helping hand as he’s still not the steadiest on his feet and I was very happy to be able to provide this stability!
Going for a walk
We were not lucky with the weather every day of our break but we didn’t let this put a damper on our activities. We’ve learnt a considerable amount about camping with small children in varying conditions and hope to put this to more frequent use in future.
I was recently asked to talk about some of my adventures at an event organised by Ossur, the manufacturer of my main prosthetic leg. As part of this presentation I showed some of the footage acquired by Grace whilst we were in the Atlas Mountains. Hastily edited by myself for the talk, I thought it would be a good idea to post it here so that more people can share in our adventure!
Our walk to the refuge:
Acclimatisation on day two:
Scrambling up Ounakrim on day three:
Toubkal Ascent on day five:
Looking back on this trip brings back great memories! I will one day get around to editing the footage into a single HD movie of the trip…
A week after Trailwalker and I’m happy to report that I have retained three of my remaining five toenails! My only flesh and blood foot, which is obviously very precious to me, is still something of a mess. Not only am I two toenails short of a set but the various blisters that I suffered during the walk were as bad as I had feared they would be at the time. To finish the 100km I bandaged my foot as best as possible and kept going with teeth gritted against the pain. After finishing it took some time to pluck up the courage to soak the bandages off my foot – disappointingly it felt worse than it looked!
The two smallest nails are destined to become a memory
The big one on my heel went almost unnoticed
The most painful one on the ball of my foot!
Getting around this week has subsequently been somewhat difficult. In the first days following the finish I tried to spare my poorly foot using crutches but found weight bearing via only a single prosthesis and walking aids to be very difficult. Keeping any coverings off my foot, except when absolutely essential, led to the relatively rapid drying-out and hardening of the soft layers of skin revealed by my wounds. I’m now able to put a shoe on very carefully and look forward to the return of my toenails!
Despite my tales of woe I have no regrets about pushing through to the end of Trailwalker – I’m very proud of myself and our team. When setting out on the majority of our adventures I am usually confident that I can complete the challenges ahead. After last year’s Trailwalker failure and my less than ideal preparation this year, I was far from certain that I would be celebrating at the finish. Stage by stage we pushed through the event and, by the time the sun rose on the second day, I was feeling weary but confident that I had sufficient endurance to finish. If it hadn’t been for the pain of my blistered foot I would have been positively chipper!
Pretty pleased to have got this far!
Crossing the line in a shade under twenty-six hours was an emotional moment. We’d done it at the second time of asking – 100km without significant pause – not bad for a person with one leg! Prior to ITAP, attempting a challenge of this magnitude would have been unthinkable for me. Next time we take part in Trailwalker we’ll be aiming to get under 24 hours!
Walkers and support crew together
I’d like to thank all the generous people that contributed to the fundraising effort that enabled us to take part. Not only did you contribute to two worthy causes (Oxfam and the GWT), you added to our much needed motivation to finish. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t heap as much praise as possible on our support team; Charmaine and Moe. Without you we certainly wouldn’t have finished and any walking we may have completed would have been far less enjoyable!
…which makes it all worthwhile!
Foot bandages finally removed
We did it!
Over the weekend ‘The Milky Bar Kids’ negotiated the tough 100km of Trailwalker in a magnificent time of 25 hours 55 minutes. As I crossed the finish line, to be met by Helen, Henry and friends, I got quite emotional about what we had achieved and the events of the last five years.
In the summer of 2008 I would not have been able to even contemplate attempting a challenge of this magnitude. Since ITAP in December of that year I have gone through my second rehab, climbed Kilimanjaro, developed a taste for winter mountaineering and now, at the second time of asking, completed what must be one of the toughest tests of personal endurance and team spirit, accompanied by great friends I met during our first African challenge. Taking part in the ITAP trial was not without risk but the rewards to date have justified my decision many times over.
Completing Trailwalker epitomises what’s great about ITAP: unlimited prosthetic endurance. I have an extremely sore real foot but have otherwise come through the ordeal uninjured. The people responsible for developing ITAP should feel justifiably proud that their technology has made the extraordinary possible!
Here it is:
View Trailwalker 2013 in a larger map
Only 100km to walk this weekend in less than thirty hours and we’ll be legends! Prior to ITAP I would have paid the price for walking 10km, now my biggest concern is how well my biological leg will cope with the challenge. Only time will tell…
Twenty years ago today I had already lost my leg after getting a little too close to a car whilst riding my motorbike. Had I been positioned 30cm to the left I would have missed the car completely, 30 cm to the right I would probably have been far more seriously injured. On such small margins do life changing events often hinge. Obviously what happened that day had a profound effect on my life and I can only speculate where I would be now if I’d been riding more carefully that day. The immediate implications were the cessation of the university course that I was pursuing at the time and a forced re-evaluation of my long-held intentions to join the RAF. After a relatively quick rehab I returned to university and eventually found a course of study that has allowed me to lead a rewarding and fulfilling life. Had I not lost my leg I almost certainly wouldn’t have experienced the circumstance where I met my wife and subsequently Henry would not exist in the same lovely little form that he does. Although it is human nature to ponder these things, this sort of speculation serves no real purpose.
What is certain is that in recent years ITAP has enabled me to achieve feats that I thought would always be beyond me as I lay on the bed in casualty that fateful day and signed the consent form for amputation. I can only hope that my implant continues to allow me to exploit my prosthetics to the full and live life like a two-legged person!