In High Places 1

This time 9 years ago (yeah, tenuous I know), I was getting ready to go on my first trek. I’d signed up to trek to Everest Base camp. I had no real idea of what I was getting myself into, having only started properly walking the hills about 18 months before. I’d never been to a non-western country, never experienced different cultures and hadn’t walked above 900m before I signed the papers and paid the money.

I’d read about Everest itself and the people who climbed it. The books never dwelt on the journey to base camp; it was usually dispatched in a couple of pages which talked about Rhododendron bushes and the unbelievable loads Sherpas carried. The journey became a whistle stop sprint up to the Khumbu Icefall where the real action began. So although there has been a lot of exposure for the area, there was very little detail about where I was going.

The guide book I bought was comprehensive but I had nothing to judge its contents against. A lot of it was about how many ways you could get ill, including some interesting but unappealing ways to die. A mate had been to Nepal in the early 90’s and his stories of cheap accommodation and food stuck with me. But he never went in to much detail.

I knew I had to get fit. The company I was going with gave me a training programme but I wanted to be fitter than that, so I planned my own based on the recommendations. My main training hill was Pen y Fan, which I did several times a month. But I added more challenges and tried to spend longer on the hills. I ended up doing the Brecon Beacons horseshoe several times. Then met up with a couple of others booked onto the trek for a weekend in Snowdonia. We climbed Snowdon via the Watkin path (which starts not much higher than sea level) and the following day, I scaled Glyder Fach in appalling weather (I got lost near the top and stumbled about a bit before finding something that resembles Castell y Gwynt).

Then I went off to do Ben Nevis and once again got lost in a whiteout. Scaling Ben Nevis wasn’t about physical fitness, it was a mental workout and I learned quite quickly that mental fitness counted as much as physical fitness; there were training days when I didn’t want to get out of bed and there were early mornings where the rain or mist was thick and there were good excuses not to go out. But mostly I went out and usually got soaked.

Then, suddenly, the training schedule indicated that I’d peaked and should start winding down. About this time I became paranoid about picking up an injury. Rough ground, steep descents and slippery surfaces all posed a risk. As did walking to the shops or going up or down stairs. I became ultra cautious as the days counted down.

I left Swansea on a cold and dark November morning and spent the night at Heathrow, where there were fireworks going off all night. It was the 9th, and I wondered why they were still celebrating Guy Fawkes night. But it was Diwali that was being remembered, and I was to find out when I got to Nepal exactly what that meant…

 

 

TW3

Age brings aches and pains. I know and accept this. So the sharp pain I started to feel in my heel wasn’t too much of a surprise, and for a couple of weeks I put it down to age, wear and tear and years of hills, mountains and pavements. And then I saw a post on Facebook that made me think again.

I’m not a fan of Dr Internet. Dr Internet never spent time in University learning about medicine (or anything, for that matter) and never passed any exams. So anything I read on Dr Internet I take with a pinch of salt. A large one. I mean, Dr Internet also saturates the ether with cute kittens dressed as puppies or cute puppies dressed as kittens. Imagine if you turned up at your local doctor’s surgery with a festering, rainbow coloured rash only to have your doctor show you videos of a baby hamster fast asleep in the jaws of a tiger cub dressed as a puppy.It’s not the best way to generate confidence.

But this post was from someone I knew. And I mean really knew, not just ‘liked’ a couple of times on social media. I have conversations with her in work, and I’m fairly certain she’s not a figment of my imagination as I’ve seen others talk to her as well. Anyway, the post showed how to apply sports tape to a foot suffering from Plantar Fasciitis. The plantar fascia is the bit of me that forms the sole of my foot and it can be damaged by exercise. I checked on the NHS website and found the symptoms attributed to this condition fitted with what I was experiencing. Suddenly I had a condition (and thank goodness it wasn’t one that was named after me, as those kinds of conditions are inevitably bad). More importantly, I could legitimately apply sports tape to the injury and thereby become a true athlete.

I bought some sports tape and displayed the photo that showed me how to apply it. There was an immediate problem. The foot displayed was the left foot and my sports injury was on my right foot. And I was looking at the foot in the picture from the point of view of someone applying the tape, not the individual whose foot was affected. So there was some mental juggling required to identify which toes the second strip started from and which way around the heel it went. If you’ve ever used sports tape (I have, as I suffer from a proper, real, legitimate sports injury you know), then you’ll know that unlike, say, regular duct tape, it’s very elastic. So after having measured out what I thought I needed for the first strip, I found myself with handfuls of very thin and sticky black tape sticking to everything, including itself.

I had four strips to apply and by the time I was on the second, I was surrounded by backing paper, off cuts of tape, and strips cut to length. My right leg was bent back with my foot twisted to give me the best access to the sole and I think I may have been doing more damage to my knee (its the one I wrote about here) than I was curing my foot. After some struggling, a few words which shocked even Rufus and about 15m of tape, I had a taped up foot.

And I have to admit, it started to feel better quite quickly. It may have been the placebo effect, or it may have been the numbing effect of all that twisting and bending of my knee. But the purpose of the tape was to help support the plantar fascia, relieving some of the pressure and helping it heal. (Ha ha – helping my heel heal ahem), and it seemed to be working as I found walking was less painful. I kept it on for two days (it survived a coupe of showers, being real sports tape for sportsmen with sporting injuries) and while it was never meant to be a cure, it helped lessen the impact of everyday walking.

When I finally took it off, I followed the instructions that came with the tape. Yes, instructions on how to use tape. It said ‘roll off in the direction of the body hair for a less painful experience’. Fortunately, I don’t have hairy feet so I decided to whip the tape off it off in one go after cutting through part of it. It didn’t hurt, but as it was on the sole of my foot, it tickled something chronic.

Last night I attempted to apply more tape, using the lessons I’d learned from the first application. I cut the tape to more accurate sizes and tried to settle into a more comfortable position to apply it. 10 minutes and some more swearing later (Rufus was out of the room), I had one strip of tape that had completely stuck to itself, one bit (the easy bit) on my foot and I was resorting once again to contorting my body to try and reach the appropriate part of my foot with the rest of the tape whilst trying to prevent it from curling up or folding in on itself.

I sort of won in the end.

I took Rufus onto the hills this morning as I think that part of the problem with my foot is that we’ve been doing a lot of walking on pavements recent, and the impact doesn’t help with joints. It felt good to be squelching through the marshy ground this morning as the soft going made our walk pain free. And after nearly three miles on Moel Feity, I removed the tape again and resorted to best cure for sore muscles I know. Soaking in hot water.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Hopalong Hound

At 9 years old, (63 in dog years), the last thing Rufus should be doing is chasing rabbits. Unfortunately, when the rabbit calls, Rufus is honour bound to answer. Thus it was on Betws Mountain last Tuesday night, as we were returning to the car after watching the sun set over the distant Mynydd Preseli. A rabbit popped up out of nowhere, surprising Rufus and I and before I could stop him, he was off chasing it. Rufus kept within a couple of feet of the rabbit until it started turning to throw him off. As I stood trying to call Rufus back, they circled me. At one point the rabbit was heading directly for me and I had an image of Rufus crashing into me and us both going over. But the rabbit swerved again and Rufus followed. This must have gone on for about 30 seconds or more – it felt like minutes. In a straight line, I think Rufus would have caught the rabbit but the turns were too much for him.

Suddenly, I heard him yelping and he pulled up, limping to favour his back right leg. I did a quick check over to see if there was anything obviously wrong. In particular, I was worried about a fracture as I would have to carry him back to the car. But he let me examine his leg and there was no obvious injury. So we slowly made out way back down to the car and judging by the way Rufus was reluctant to leave, pulling on the lead to follow the scent of the long departed rabbit, it wasn’t too bad an injury. I assumed an overnight rest and some TLC would sort it out.

The following morning, he still wasn’t right and I could tell he was in pain as he tried to walk. So a trip to the vet was in order. Rufus struggled down the steps to the car but still wanted to go for a walk along the street. At the vet, he was diagnosed as have torn his cruciate ligament. It’s the bit of us that holds the knee joints together. I had a similar but less serious injury of this ligament which forced me to postpone my Kilimanjaro climb.

Although there was an option to rest it and let it heal naturally, this would take a long time and risk damage to the joint. Rufus is an active dog and keeping him quiet and inactive for the healing time would be difficult. And every time he didn’t rest, it would risk making it worse. So I agreed for him to have an operation on Monday to repair the ligament.

He’s a fit and healthy dog and I’m not too worried about him. I’m more concerned with his ability to let the leg heal. Since he’s been to the vet (and is on pain meds so in no discomfort) he has gone up and down the stairs with little problem, discovering the best way to balance and in the process giving me heart attacks as he wobbles and threatens to take a tumble. He won’t wait for me to go down in front of him. He hops up and down the garden, ensures I know when he’s hungry (which is all the time as I’ve reduced the amount of food he has as he’s not exercising, and I want his weight down so that his one good back leg has an easier time). The one thing I can’t do is take him for a walk, although he dragged me down the steps to the street on Thursday night and we did stroll up and down the pavement for a couple of houses either side of mine.

He follows me out into the garden too. I like to keep an eye on him but he’s getting his confidence back and I don’t really need to be there. This morning, I took some macro photos of the insects on the hedge but Rufus got bored and went back in to rest.

I suspect he will be a difficult patient after the initial post operation period is over. The vet will give me a 6 week recovery programme of exercises for him to do. I haven’t explained this to Rufus yet – I’m waiting for the right moment.

Post script – by Rufus

I could have had the rabbit. Easy. I was toying with it. But Dave yelling at me distracted me. The knee hurts, but hey – wounded in action! When he took me to the vet, they gave me weird drugs and everything went psychedelic for a while. When I came to, I was back home. I love watching Dave’s face when I charge down the stairs. It was hard getting used to the balance at first, but now I know what I’m doing, I even fake a wobble now and again to hear him swear. I think I might enjoy the next few weeks!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

&%$@@!%$ (&^%$@^*

Hark, another swear word. What’s going on?

I have mentioned my recurring knee issue in previous blogs.  I’ve been doing my very best to rest it between training strolls and apart from the swelling on the front below the kneecap, it’s been pain free and only mildly uncomfortable. But last night, I was on the exercise bike in the gym and with little warning I suddenly had that horrible feeling, as if my knee was about to lock. Accompanying it was pain – not excruciating, but enough to sound alarm bells.

I stopped cycling, of course, but the pain continued and did so for the rest of the night, despite ice packs and ibuprofen gel. And this morning it was still hurting enough to leave me worried. Ibuprofen helped, as did a tight bandage. But it was clear that there was something more than a week’s rest could fix.

I have 44 days of training left. The training plan calls for two 6hr hikes this weekend, including ascent and descent with back pack. In the following three weeks, I need to do another three 8 hour hikes plus increasing amounts of cardio-vascular training in the gym. By my estimate, I have a two week window to rest the knee and hope it gets better. Even then, there is no guarantee it won’t go again either during the final training or on the mountain itself. On my last trek 6 people had to be evacuated down the trail, two by helicopter. A couple of those were as a result of pre-existing conditions. It nearly cost all of us our chance of getting toe Everest Base Camp. I’m not going to do that.

I went straight to the doctor who confirmed what I already knew, that two weeks wasn’t nearly long enough to sort the problem out. I’m having an X-Ray done too, as there may be more to it than simply Housemaid’s Knee. As long as it has a name with multiple syllables that sounds vaguely heroic, I don’t care.

So, reluctantly, I have decided to postpone the Kilimanjaro trek. Postpone, not give up. I’ll be back next year.

My knee

You know this knee now. The purply red bits are the culprits. Grrr!

I feel gutted and frustrated. Part of the preparation was psychological. I still remember climbing Kala Patthar in Nepal – and that was ‘only’  5,545m. Kili adds another 450m on to that. I can’t risk my knee giving out at that late stage. More importantly, when the adrenaline runs out and we’re heading down, that is when the damage will happen and I’m planning on using my legs after Kili.

Watch this space. I’m guessing the next post will be about the experiences of trying to claim off my travel insurance.

 

Bl**dy typical

I have trekked to Everest Base Camp twice. I have Climbed Kala Patthar in Nepal at an altitude of 5.5km above sea level. I’ve scaled Ben Nevis twice. I’ve done Snowdon 8 times, including the Crib Goch ridge twice. I’ve done three other Munros, the Carneddau, several Wainwrights and most of the mountains in the Brecon Beacons. I’ve got to the top of Pen y Fan 44 times and Corn Du 35 times.

I’ve completed three Gower Gallops – over 30km each. During the preparation for the treks, I regularly walked 16km a day. In May I hiked 128km. I did 60km in one week with Rufus.

In all that time I haven’t really had any serious injury. For that I’m grateful.

But now I have Housemaid’s Knee! The following space is the space I give you to laugh.

.

.

Housemaid’s Knee! The doctor stifled back a snigger as he asked whether I spent a lot of time on my knees. I have the sudden urge to get a feather duster. I may scrub the porch steps later this evening. As a bloke I refute the existence of dust but as a housemaid, I know dust exists. I am confused.

Below is a picture of a Housemaid’s Knee. You can see the swelling (it’s soft and watery to the touch) beneath and slightly to the left of the kneecap. It aches a little.

My knee

Housemaid’s Knee.