A winter ostomy adventure (feat. new video)

After a whirlwind summer of camping, hiking and backpacking just about every weekend, outdoor adventures slowed down for the two of us. Snow and cold returned to the high country and the ski areas weren’t open yet. Once they did open, the snow was abysmal and I didn’t want to risk getting hurt by boarding on icy slopes. We were running and rock climbing (indoors) regularly, but we were not heading out into the mountains. At first, this slow down provided a much-needed break from the exhausting pace we had been keeping up over the warm months. It was fun to stay home on the weekends for a change and watch movies, sleep in and make gourmet breakfasts, and to draw, sew and do some of the other quiet hobbies I enjoy.

However, by December, I was antsy. The period of rest had been great initially, but now I felt like I was spending too much time away from the backcountry. Here I was finally feeling strong and healthy again, and I was sitting around at home weekend after weekend. Last year at this time I would have done anything to be able to go outside and climb a peak on the snow-covered tundra. Now that I was able,  it really bothered me that I was not seizing the moment to do so. It was time to get out of the house and back into the high country. As I began to research possible summit ascents, one of my friends suggested that Doug and I try 13,427′ Grizzly Peak– a climb she and her husband had done several years ago in the middle of winter. It sounded perfect; now we just had to wait for a good weather window.

Favorable conditions for hiking above treeline do not present themselves very often in winter. Frigid temperatures and heavy snows can make the high peaks very inhospitable places. The safest winter peak ascents, including Grizzly Peak, involve staying on high ridge tops to avoid avalanche danger.  However, these places are extreme weather-wise. The high winds on  ridges can expose one to dangerous wind chills and, when mixed with snow, can create whiteout conditions that make the easiest hikes impossible.

I began to watch the forecasts in hopes that one of our days off from work would line up with good weather. Finally, the magical combination presented itself: a Sunday predicted to be 40 degrees at 11,000 feet with cloudless skies.

I knew that dealing with my ostomy on a winter summit attempt could be challenging.  Even when the temperatures are above freezing in the mountains, it is almost always windy which makes the air feel absolutely frigid. Because of this, I decided to use closed-end pouches instead of drainables. I knew that this would help lessen my exposure to the elements since swapping out closed-end pouches is super quick. This was a wise decision as the conditions on the hike ended up being far colder than we anticipated. My latest film covers this excursion and shares some of the important things I learned in managing my ostomy in cold temperatures.


There are times during the winter when it feels so good to just stay home and cuddle up with a book and some hot chocolate. But Doug and I love balancing out those slower-paced moments with adventurous trips into the winter backcountry. Yes, these excursions are often fraught with weather uncertainties, numb toes, wind-burned faces and, now, cold fingers from changing ostomy pouches, but they are also filled with immense beauty. It is during these times when life feels most vivid and when our best memories are often made.

2 thoughts on “A winter ostomy adventure (feat. new video)

  1. Amazing accomplishment, Heidi! Way to go! One summer with my dad, I ascended to the peak of Mt. Sopris. But I was 14 and healthy then. Great memories. Noticed you used an undergarment that has a waistband high enough to go over the top of your pouch. Can you tell me the details of that piece of clothing? I’ve been looking for high waisted pants to go over or rest above my pouch, but no luck so far. I wish you a great New Year and look forward to more excellent posts and videos … so inspiring you are!

  2. Hi Cary,

    Thanks and Happy New Year to you as well! It was a fun trip and every time I go out and try an activity, I realize more and more how it is still possible to do everything that I love with my ostomy. I haven’t done Mt. Sopris yet… will have to add it to my list. Must have been a wonderful adventure to have when you were 14.

    I am not sure which undergarment you were referring to, as I had a couple of layers on. First, I wear Comfizz brand boxers over my hernia prevention belt (http://www.stomawear.uk.com/stoma-boxer-shorts-for-women/). They make briefs too… I have and like them both. They are pretty similar in the way they fit. The boxers just have longer legs. Over that I had long underwear which I think is what you were asking about. It is actually a super old pair of Patagonia Expedition Weight Capilene long underwear. They wouldn’t really be suitable for outerwear though, as they are meant to be worn under things. The garment is definitely not available anymore because I bought it in 1991:) I think Patagonia’s new version of Expedition Weight long underwear is called Capilene 4, but I am not sure what the rise is like. I know clothing items often have much lower rises now. I do have REI long underwear that I have purchased in the last 5 years and they are still pretty high-waisted, You might try that brand. That said, my stoma is located lower on my abdomen (2 inches to the right of my belly button and then two inches down from that) compared to some people’s so that may make it a little easier to cover the pouch.

    My outer shell pants that day, though high-waisted, were actually driving me nuts because they had suspenders. Whenever I wanted to pull down my pants a little to take off my hernia belt so I could swap out the pouch, I had to undo the suspenders which were under my jacket. Argh! It was way too cold to take off that layer, so I ended up just undoing the suspenders and tucking them into my pants the whole day. Fortunately the pants stayed up okay without them. A new pair of ostomy-friendly shell pants for hiking in winter is next on my clothing purchase list:) No suspenders!

    Good luck!


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