When the famous English mountaineer George Mallory was asked “why do you climb?” he retorted “Because it’s there”, possibly the most quoted 3 words in mountaineering. It is not a question asked of every athlete but we ask to climbers as if to question their sanity or responsibility.
For me the answer is intricately entwined with a second more personal question: How do you live with an autoimmune disease? This illness has no cure. As a doctor, I am frequently asked by my patients,
“How long before my pain is gone?”
“How long before this treatment works?”
“How many days do I take this medication?”
People want answers, they want to know; they want an end-point to their disease. However there are no answers and no cure for autoimmune disease; only management.
Patients with autoimmune disease do not get an answer to these questions.
They must live with uncertainty.
As many of you know, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 15 and have continued living in spite of it for 31 years. Through those years, I have taken countless medications, had many hospitalizations and many surgeries. There has been times of chronic pain, weakness and debilitation. There have been times that I questioned if I would survive. There were times that I wasn’t sure I wanted to survive. During those times, I had to “dig deep”. I found companionship in reading stories of climbers who dug deep in their adventures in the mountains. It is amazing how far we can push the body when the mind is willing to keep going. It is these stories of climbers enduring hardships, pain, victory and defeat that inspired me and gave me the confidence to know the body will follow. These stories gave me strength and inspiration and the will to fight so that I can regain my health and live these adventures.
As so many big wall climbers are, I was drawn to Yosemite, the mecca of big wall climbing. In Yosemite, one finds a lifetime of challenges of all sizes – the biggest and most famous of which is The Nose of El Capitan. To see this wall for the first time is awe inspiring, it is hard to imagine it can be climbed. Yet sitting in El Cap Meadow, with binoculars one can pick out a climbing team here and another one there. It is captivating and one can do nothing but sit there and watch the slow progress of various teams as they make their way up that 2900’ wall.
Night time back at the meadows and one can count the lights of the teams camping on the wall either on rock ledges or portable ledges. I would sit there wondering what it must be like to sleep (or try to sleep) up so high on this magnificent wall.
I knew climbing The Nose was something I wanted to experience.
I wanted to see what it was like to push myself further than I had ever pushed before. But this climb challenges the best of the best. For most climbing teams, it takes 4-5 days to summit if they make it (it is estimated that 40% decide to retreat). More than half a century ago the wall was considered unclimbable. Warren Harding was one of the most accomplished and influential rock climbers between 1950-70. He spent much of his time in Yosemite pioneering new routes, and he set his sights on The Nose. Harding and his partners spent 18 months exploring and finding a route to the top all the while not knowing if it was possible. As they climbed, they fixed ropes so that they could rappel down and back up again as needed for supplies and alcohol (Harding had a reputation as a partier). In the fall of 1958, Harding and his partners finally topped out after a push of 45 continuous days on the wall. Harding later reflected,
“As I hammered in the last bolt and staggered over the rim, it was not at all clear to me who was conqueror and who was conquered: I do recall that El Cap seemed to be in much better condition than I was.”
Many have climbed The Nose since and climbers have taken up the challenge to complete it faster and faster, with the current record being held by Hans Florine and Alex Honnold in an unbelievable 2 hours 23 minutes and 46 seconds!
My goal is not for speed; I leave that to the superhumans. My goal is to prove to myself that I can rise to this challenge, overcome my difficulties and complete the climb despite IBD. My goal is to raise awareness for Crohn’s & ulcerative colitis (Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)), and to show others that suffer from these diseases that they do not have to live their life tethered to a bathroom. And finally, I ask you to support my latest goal to raise $35,000 that will go for research to find a cure for this disease.
Please support me in this climb
Please support me in this climb with whatever contribution you can afford. Every dollar will help. And please LIKE my Facebook page to get regular updates as I progress through training and preparation for this challenge of my lifetime.
Never, Never, Never Give Up,