Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

Crag-Daddy and the Morton’s Neuroma…

This title sounds like it could also double as a children’s book…but the illustrations would be disgusting and decidedly UN-kid-friendly, so I’ll keep it as a blog post only.  The idea for this blog post came to me about a month ago when my husband had what appeared to be a jalapeno pepper removed from the inside of his foot.  Yup, you heard that right.  In fact, here’s a picture of it…

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The “pepper” was actually a Morton’s Neuroma, and it turns out this condition is fairly common.  So I asked him to share a little bit about his experience with this issue, in the hopes that it might help someone else dealing with the same problem.  Here’s what he had to say…

What exactly IS a Morton’s Neuroma?  

It’s a benign growth around a nerve in the foot, usually between the 2nd and 3rd or 3rd and 4th toes.  The growth is basically scar tissue that develops from inflammation due to the aggravation of bones pinching the nerve.  Eventually the growth is too big to freely move between the bones.  So it can sometimes get stuck between the bones which is very painful or stuck above the bones which is also not comfortable.  

When did you start noticing it and what did it feel like?  

Early on (some time around 2011 or 2012), I would every now and then feel an intense pain and/or a tingling/numb sensation in my toes while climbing (it tended to always occur when I was backstepping on a small edge.)  Then I began to also notice some tingling and numbness in my toes a couple of miles into my runs.  I would stop and kind of squeeze my foot which would make it feel better for a little while. (I later found out that this action, called the Mulder’s Sign, relieved my symptoms short-term because it moved the growth back to its normal position.)  My neuroma went from being kind of an annoyance to a real problem when I increased my running workouts from 6 miles per week to 15.  After a few weeks climbing began to get very painful – at it’s worst I remember almost being unable to walk after a multi-day trip.  Dr. Google diagnosed me, and then a podiatrist confirmed my diagnosis.

Image taken from: http://www.performpodiatry.co.nz/painful-forefoot-mortons-neuroma-causes-treatment-and-prevention/

Image taken from: http://www.performpodiatry.co.nz/painful-forefoot-mortons-neuroma-causes-treatment-and-prevention/

What steps did you take to alleviate the problem, and did they help?  

I initially received a cortisone shot and some shoe inserts – the podiatrist said I would probably be fine in a month.  However a month came and went and I was not much better.  The shot/inserts seemed to help some, but what I realized helped more than anything else was a toe spacer.  Life was manageable with the toe spacer, but without it the pain was worsening.  My podiatrist told me that my neuroma was very large and that I probably needed surgery.  

Surgery is usually a last resort for me, so I decided to try everything else I could first – so in January of 2014 I stopped running, biking, and anything else that aggravated it.  I continued to climb and use an elliptical trainer (the low impact was better), but only with the toe spacer.  I bought new shoes in a bigger size with a bigger toe box.  But the condition continued to deteriorate. I then decided to get some custom made orthotic inserts, made from a digital impression of my foot.

What made you decide on surgery?

By November of 2014, I had increased to two toe spacers, and my orthotics were tweaked to add a taller metatarsal lift.  These minor changes helped a little, but was not enough.  In a typical day my pain level was never more than 3 out of 10 or so, but I had had to eliminate so many things that most people take for granted – like going on a hike with my family.  Friends and family began to bring up the idea of surgery, so I made an appointment.  The surgeon (actually the surgeon’s PA) gave me another cortisone shot, per their protocol, but it only helped for a day or two, and when I went back to see the actual surgeon, he could feel the neuroma between his hands and agreed that cutting it out was the best course of action. The informed me that by removing the nerve I would never get a neuroma in that spot again but I would no longer feel the inside of two of my toes.

What was the surgery like?

The surgery wasn’t that bad.  The hardest part was fasting the day of.  I showed up at the hospital at 2 and got taken in to surgery around 330.  They gave me some propofol and a nerve block…and 15 minutes later they were done!  I wore a special shoe and walked out of the hospital on my own accord (not even crutches.)  

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Left foot is the neuroma foot…

What was the recovery like?

The recovery was a lot easier than anticipated.  I had to keep my foot highly elevated (above my nose) for the next 48-72 hours, only getting up to go to the bathroom.  Then for the rest of the week I could move around a little more (weight bearing was okay), so long as I kept my foot elevated at chest level the majority of the day.  After the initial 72 hours, I was able to work from home, in a makeshift “office” using my laptop, a bed, and a lot of pillows. I took percocet for a couple of days, but the ankle block didn’t completely wear off until 48 hours or so, and the painkillers made me nauseous, so I starting switching to ibuprofen by day 3. 

Within 1 week’s time I was feeling pretty good and walking in my special shoe without too much limping.  I went into the office the next week and was able to function just fine – at the end of the day it would bother me a bit (swelling), but elevating it in the evenings would help.  At the 2 week mark I got my stitches out and was cleared to do any activity I wanted to, using pain as my guide.  

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The next day I went to the climbing gym and it felt pretty good.  A few days later I tried to run outside…my foot felt great but my legs were sore for a week!  However, 3 weeks later (5 weeks post-op) I was able to comfortably run 3 miles continuously.   I climbed outdoors for the first time post-surgery at the 4 week mark, and had zero foot pain from climbing as well as hiking in to the crag.  

What do you think caused it?

There’s definitely a genetic component – my mother has had one removed from each of her feet.  Apparently some people have a bone structure that predisposes them to problems like this.  I’m also pretty sure tight fitting climbing shoes don’t help.  

What advice would you give to someone who thinks they may be suffering from a Morton’s Neuroma?

To me surgery was a last resort, which is why I waited so long.  Though I have no regrets, I will say that had I known my neuroma was as gigantic as it was (and therefore unable to reduce using conventional methods), I would have opted for the surgery a lot sooner.  If there is a next time for me (on another foot or web space), then I think Ill be able to spot it sooner and perhaps take care of it before it gets as big as this one did.  So my advice would be to try out all your options…but if things are not improving (or not improving enough), find a doctor you trust and have it taken out!  

Pain-free post-op....life is good!

Pain-free post-op….life is good!

Thanks to the Crag-Daddy for being so open about his experiences – if anyone else out there has dealt with this issue, feel free to chime in in the comments below!

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A “Fashion-able” Day of Climbing

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Great times were had this weekend as we celebrated the Crag-Daddy’s birthday!  Our usual modus operandi is to gather as many folks as we can to climb at Dixon by day, then come back to our house and party by night.  After 4 consecutive years, however, this is the first time that the weather didn’t cooperate, and our day plans turned into a gym day for Steve, and a get-ready-for-the-party day for me (cue sad trombone.)

Thankfully the weather dried up in time for Sunday though, which allowed us to enjoy a beautiful, albeit short, afternoon on local rocks at Crowders Mountain.  The birthday boy had his sights set on Fashion (5.12b), an area classic.  There are multiple starts of varying difficulty, but all variations share the same rad upper crux sequence high above the second bolt.  The original line traverses in from the left along a seam to a high first bolt (a slightly harder variation starts directly below this bolt.) The hardest, most “super direct” line has a separate first bolt and takes the most direct path up, via the most heinous crimpers.  I’d done the super direct version a couple of years ago.  It was actually send #12 on my quest for 12 5.12’s in 2012.

Who knew helmets could double as a super-hero mask?!?

Who knew helmets could double as a super-hero mask?!?

The original start is pretty heady, with some pretty big pendulum potential if you fall in the wrong spot (which is one reason I’d opted for the better-protected harder version previously.)  Thankfully though, the rock quality is better, and the holds are not as small or as sharp as the super direct.  The climbing is comparatively not hard, but definitely not easy (5.11-?).  There’s a nice 5.10 warm-up (The Gimp) that shares anchors with this route, making it pretty hard to pass up a toprope burn all things considered.

I was both pleased and surprised to climb the whole route clean on my first attempt.  When I lowered I rehearsed the more committing sequences down low one more time as well as the upper crux for good measure.  The upper crux is probably one of the coolest sequences on the mountain, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen two people do it the exact same way – but each way requires good footwork.

When my turn came up next I hemmed and hawed a bit, but finally put on my big girl panties and pulled the rope and sent, making this line my first 5.12b postpartum!  And now having done both versions, the original line gets my vote as the better line – the holds are friendlier on the skin and the movement flows really well.  The only detractor was having to battle with the encroaching pine tree for the first couple of moves off the ground.

 

Last move of the upper crux

Last move of the upper crux

Crag-Daddy was psyched to be able to work out all the moves – and although he didn’t nab a birthday send, I’m sure it’ll go next time out.  While he and our friend Caleb packed up the gear, the kiddos and I got a head start on the hike out, which was really fun.  It was one of those perfectly balanced days – the ratio of personal climbing goals and quality family outdoor time was spot on.

 

 

 

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MLK Weekend Climbing

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Last weekend’s adventures almost came to an abrupt end before they even began, thanks to a weird tummy bug that was indiscriminately making the rounds through our house.  It started out innocently enough with a mild case of upset tummy for Baby Z (which initially we thought could be teething-related), then climaxed in the middle of the night on Thursday when both Big C and the Crag-Daddy were doing a synchronized barf bucket routine.  Amazingly enough, the bug was apparently extremely short-lived because everyone, though weak as kittens, was finished with the involuntary stomach emptying by Friday morning.

That meant that by Saturday morning, everyone was ready for adventure, so we headed up to Sauratown Mountain, dropping Big C off along the way so that he could spend a day with the grandparents.  (The hike is a very steep 45 minute trudge that is fairly unrelenting…it would have taken those little 4 year old legs all day to get up there!)  Last year was the first in many years that it had been reopened – for 3 special access weekends on a trial basis.  I was 34 weeks pregnant and the weather was miserable…but we went, not knowing if we’d get the chance again!  But apparently the trial days went well, because this year the Carolina Climber’s Coalition has made a deal with the landowners, securing access during the months of January and February for the next 5 years! Woo hoo!

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A pair of pics from DC Comics 5.10a

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Both pics courtesy of Emil Briggs

We started off the day with a stroll down memory lane, warming up on the jug-haul Texas Pete Rim Job (5.10b) before moving on to the crimpy, technical Skin Toy (5.11b).  Both were routes that we’d been on several years ago back in the day, prior to the closure.  I’d sent Texas Pete before, but it was by the skin of my teeth and I remember it feeling epic – so it was fun to warm up on it this time around.  Skin Toy was one that I’d only toproped, and certainly not clean, and I’d had designs to try and project it the next year…but then the cliff was closed and I never got the chance.  That being said, I had no idea what to expect out of it this time around – I’m a whole lot stronger now, but all I could remember was how tiny those holds were, and how intimidating it had seemed.  So I was super psyched to send it first go, hanging the draws! The holds were not nearly as small as I’d remembered, but the movement was just as fun!

Lots of climbers on the wall! (and the Crag-Daddy rockin' Skin Toy 5.11b)

Lots of climbers on the wall! (and the Crag-Daddy rockin’ Skin Toy 5.11b)

Next I hopped on the very picturesque DC Comics (5.10a), which was definitely my favorite route of the day. It would be easy to write it off as just another “easy 10″ on the wall, but this sucker should NOT be underestimated!  don’t let the grade fool you – this one is full value!  Definitely not for the newbie 5.10 leader – significant runouts, dizzying exposure, and spectacular position above the valley with a heroic finish.  If you are confident on 5.10 terrain, you owe it to yourself to climb this!

I ended day on The Amazing Joe (5.12b).  I did NOT send it, but invested some time in working out the beta, and I think I could maybe send it next time.  The crux for me was a big rock on move pulling above the roof, then the rest of the climbing is just going to be pump management through a few long moves between good holds.

The day was a nice balance of old and new, and I was reminded of all the great times we’d had at that crag back in our early days of climbing.  I was also reminded of how exhausting the approach is…but despite my out of shape sport climber legs I’m still psyched to get back there again sooner rather than later!

We spent Sunday at home, but then Monday morning we were back out in the sunshine again, this time at Rocky Face Park.  Since we’d spent our last visit ticking off the left side of the wall, it was now time to revisit the classics around the corner on the taller slab wall.  Almost all of these lines feature an opening slab that leads to a ledge (and often intermediate anchors), followed by face climbing and a cruxy finish.

The Rocky Face slab wall - me on The General Lee 5.11

The Rocky Face slab wall – me on The General Lee 5.11

Everyone got their slabbin' on!

Everyone got their slabbin’ on!

I was a little apprehensive about getting on these again, as my previous memories were of my 35 weeks preggo belly interfering with all of the long reaches at the cruxes.  But as I found out a couple of weeks ago, I had grossly under-estimated how much easier everything would be without the aforementioned giant belly!  The day ended up being a pretty casual one, great for outdoor mileage (perfect for the Base Fitness phase of The Rock Climber’s Training Manual…more on that later!)  I started on Hidden-mite (5.11a/b), then worked my way down the wall, ticking off Somebody Open My Dew (5.11b), a newly bolted extension called Bullistics (5.10b), The General Lee (5.11a), and Snake Charmer (5.10c).

Though Sauratown and Rocky Face probably couldn’t be any more different as far as crags go, hitting them both in the same weekend was a great combination.  We will definitely be getting back to Sauratown as soon as we can while The Amazing Joe beta is still fresh, and the Crag-Daddy and I are now several steps closer on our quest to cross off every route at Rocky Face that’s 5.10 and up!

Crag-Daddy lowering off of Bullistics 5.10b as the kiddos play merrily at the base

Crag-Daddy lowering off of Bullistics 5.10b as the kiddos play merrily at the base

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Exciting Announcement – The Guidebook is Finally Ready!!!

Well…almost.  Geez, has this been a labor of love.  BUT, it’s finally at the printer, which means in just a few short weeks I’ll have a book in hand and can officially call myself a published author!  YAY!

Map taken from page 6

Map taken from page 6

While I could go on and on about how much harder this process has been than I thought it would be, and how frustrating all the outside-of-my-control delays have been, here’s the details you really need to know…

WHAT IT IS…

Carolina Rocks: The Piedmont is a comprehensive guide to the 4 major climbing areas in central North Carolina.  It covers Moore’s Wall, Pilot Mountain, Crowders Mountain, and Stone Mountain.  In addition to detailed route descriptions and photographed topos, each area features history, factoids, current approach beta, and anecdotes from local climbers.  There are loads of stories and quotes from both first ascensionists, vignettes featuring local heroes, as well as old school photos that have previously never been published.  Sections of cliff that were only briefly mentioned or even skipped over entirely in previous guidebooks are covered in detail – such as the North Face of Stone, Last Wall at Moore’s, and Resurgence areas at Crowders.  My goal with this book was to create something that was not only an accurate reference book to have at the crag, but also a good read that will keep the user entertained on long drives to the crag, rainy days, or even as a staple in a collection of bathroom reading (:)).

WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE…

Here’s the cover.  That babe on the front is Stephanie Alexander (cruising Bombay Groove at Stone) – she’s been climbing for 30+ years and I’d be content to be half as cool as she is when I am her age.

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Here’s a sneak preview of a few pages to whet your whistle.

Topo shots from Pilot

Topo shots from Pilot

FA action shot from Moores Wall

FA action shot from Moores Wall

Overview map from Crowders

Overview map from Crowders

HOW YOU CAN GET IT…

Even though it is not available to ship out just yet, pre-orders are available now through Earthbound Sports Publishing’s website! All you have to do is go to this link and click the “Buy Now” button at the top right of the screen.  And if you do it between now and February 16th you’ll be able to purchase a copy for $31.45, which is 25% off of the retail price of $41.95.  Shipping is free!

Once the books are here, copies will be available in local outdoor shops and climbing gyms, as well as online through Amazon and the Earthbound Sports website.

I’ll post updates on social media when we get an exact date for release.  But for now I just wanted to get the word out there about the discounted pre-orders!

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Petzl MACCHU + BODY = Perfect Climbing Harness for Growing Kids (and GIVEAWAY!)

It’s been a little over a year since Big C began to “for real” climb on our family outings.  While he’s still a little hit or miss in the outdoor realm (sometimes there’s not a suitable route for him to try, other times it’s more fun to dig in the dirt than put his harness on), I’ve made it a point to try and get him to the climbing gym at least once a week.  We don’t stay long – usually no more than 45 minutes or so, and that includes gearing up and down, and getting Baby Z situated on her blanket with a great view (and a carabiner in her mouth, usually.)

So when Petzl contacted us wanting to know if Big C wanted to be one of the first kidcrushers to try out their brand new kid’s harness system, you can imagine how excited he was.  “Is that harness like yours and Daddy’s, Mommy?” he asked anxiously as he peered over my shoulder to get a look inside the box.  When we put it on him, he was all smiles, and couldn’t wait to take it for a test spin.

It only took a quick afternoon sesh at Inner Peaks Climbing Center for me to see that this innovative product was top notch.  And although it’s often hard to get wordy gear comparisons out of a 4 and 1/2 year old, Big C seemed to enjoy it.  For the record, when I asked what he liked most about the new harness, he thought for a minute before concluding, “I like that it’s orange.”  When I asked him whether he liked the new harness better, worse, or the same as his old harness, he quickly responded, “the same.”

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However, as the parent who buys gear for this child who never stops growing, there are plenty of other features for me to appreciate.  Namely, the versatility.  The MACCHU harness is a sit harness, and by itself would be a great option for older children.  It’s got all the specs you’d expect out of an adult harness in a pint-sized package.  The leg and waist buckles automatically doubleback, and there is a buckle on either side of the waist belt, which keeps everything centered and symmetrical, regardless of how much you have to adjust for size.  There are two sturdy gear loops, perfect for the young gun transitioning from toproping, to following, to eventually lead climbing.

But it’s when paired with the BODY chest harness that the MACCHU really starts to shine.  Together this harness system creates a full-body setup – a necessary safety precaution for younger children (see this post for an explanation.)

The beauty of the MACCHU + BODY combo is that they are two separate pieces of gear.  That means one harness for the full body stage and initial sit harness stage (which could last a few years.)  It also means that families with multiple kidcrushers could potentially get away with buying only one harness to share – even if one needs a full body and the other is ready for a sit! The separate pieces also allow for a lot more adjustability with regards to torso length.

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Big C has proudly been strutting his (orange) stuff both at the gym as well as the local crags.  And soon he won’t be the only one – Petzl has graciously agreed to give away a MACCHU + BODY combo to one lucky reader!  Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below – you’ll get one entry for commenting, and additional entries for following along with our adventures via social media.  Contest will run through midnight of January 17, when a winner will randomly be chosen and announced via social media.  Good luck!

NOTE: The MACCHU + BODY is not available for purchase quite yet, but is scheduled to be released the week of January 27th. Big C received his for free for purposes of this review, but as always, all of my (and his!) opinions are unbiased and honest.

AND ANOTHER THING…For more about full body harnesses, check out my review of the Trango Junior here.  For more on Petzl’s line of children’s products , check out my review of the kid’s PICCHU helmet here.  For more on finding a balance of family climb time, check out this post.

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a Rafflecopter giveaway

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