Climbing progress

On Sunday I climbed a few feet above the fourth bolt on the wall at the rock climbing gym, held my breath, and jumped off. I felt a few butterflies in my stomach as I free-fell 10 feet before my rope and harness caught me and brought me to a stop. Doug lowered me to the ground where a staff member gave me a smile and a casual “nice job” nod. I had just passed the test to be able to lead climb at our local rock gym. This was my second such test. I had also taken one in Fort Collins last month at the gym we sometimes climb at with Doug’s father.

In lead climbing, a climber clips their rope into protection placed in the rock (or on the artificial gym-wall) as they go. This “pro” is either: 1) temporary equipment that a climber places in cracks outdoors, or 2) permanent, preexisting bolts drilled into the rock or artificial wall. If a climber falls above the last piece they clipped, they will travel some distance before the rope catches. For instance, if a person falls three feet above their pro, they will fall that distance plus three more feet until the rope catches. Factor in a bit of rope stretch and the total distance could be 10 feet. The climbing gym wants to make sure climbers know how to safely clip their rope into the bolts on the wall and fall properly before they will allow you to lead climb.

Top roping is a different style of protecting the climber in which the person will only fall a short distance because the rope is already anchored at the top of the cliff or wall. When I began climbing again a year after ostomy surgery, I started with top rope climbing. Though I am now leading in the gym, it will be a while before I feel confident to lead routes outdoors again where there are more hazards.

Nothing has been a bigger symbol of my climbing progress as being able to get back on the “sharp end” of the rope. I was fearful of what a big fall might feel like after surgery. Would falling several feet in my harness hurt my stoma? Would the resulting tug make my pouch pop off? As has often been the case when returning to my active pursuits, none of my fears came true, and my stoma and pouching system held up just fine through the tests at the gym.

Lead climbing has not been my only measure of progress lately. While climbing weekly, I am quickly moving up the grades and getting on some overhanging routes (steeper than 90 degrees). When I returned to the rock gym five months ago, I didn’t even try to do any marked climbs — I just grabbed any hold on the wall. Soon after, I was only using the “on route” holds, but sticking to routes in the 5.7 range. Last month I ventured into the 5.8 and 5.9 territory, and last weekend I did my first 5.10-. I am feeling powerful and strong with not the slightest pain in my core.

When I got back into climbing, I told myself that I would be happy doing 5.7 routes for the rest of my life if that was all my body could handle. All that mattered was that I could climb again. However, I now see that these restrictions won’t be necessary. By conditioning my body, progressing slowly to build the required strength, and always wearing my six-inch-wide hernia belt, I am quickly returning to my pre-surgery climbing abilities. I look forward to warmer days when I can start climbing outdoors on a regular basis and head out on some much longer routes. And, of course, I’ll share some of those through videos!

10 thoughts on “Climbing progress

  1. Hi, great to hear the progress. I have always felt most types of trouser to have a waistline very close to Sydney stoma. I do wish he had even placed just 1/2 inch lower! When I am out for the day I do need to constantly hoist things up as pressure begins to pull to bag seal away from the tummy wall. Can I ask if you have had any probs sports clothing wise ?

    1. I have not had any problems with my sports clothing and have been able to wear most things I did before. Though my stoma is placed well below my waistline (2 inches to the right of my belly button and two inches down), inevitably my clothing stretches out with movement and also tends to sag to the level of my stoma sometimes. Fortunately when this happens, the waistband ends up resting more on my hip bones then my stoma, so there is still plenty of space for my output to flow and my stoma doesn’t get smushed. I have never had my trousers pull my wafer or pouch off, but when I am doing sports, I always wear Comfizz brand briefs or boxers. They hold the pouch down flat against my belly and prevent things like trousers or harnesses from catching on it. I highly recommend them!


      P.S. I checked out your blog. Nice job!

  2. Very proud of you! I really like your mindset that you’d be happy with one thing – not expecting more – and then that makes the surprise of going further so much sweeter. 🙂

    1. Thanks! I have found that not setting my expectations too high has been good for me, as while recovering from surgery, I had no clue what my body would be capable of by certain times. I do set some general goals, but I still take it step by step and try not to get disappointed if I am not able to do something I think I should be able to do. You are so right- the surprise of my progress has been sweet. I would be happy and satisfied with even the smallest victories after being so ill and going through surgery. I am pretty much blown away every single day by unexpected strides I have made. I am so incredibly thankful and don’t take a second of it for granted.


  3. Glad to hear that you are progressing so well with your climbing. A question about the hernia support belt though. Is that something you feel you need or that you doctor has advised you to use?

    1. Thanks Paul. After fixing up my midline incision that reopened, my surgeon told me I was at an increased risk of an incisional hernia. I asked him if I should get a hernia prevention belt, and he said it would be a good idea. He told me a little bit about them and recommended I talk to my stoma nurse about getting sized up for one, so that is what I did. She recommended the Nu-Hope belts and explained what I would need and then I ordered it through my supplier.

      In the first 6 months post-op (once my sore abdomen could handle it) I wore it a lot even for light-duty activities. Now I only wear it if I am lifting something particularly heavy and for all my sports (backpacking, running, yoga, core work, snowboarding, climbing etc.) I never asked my surgeon how long I should wear it. I find it comfortable and plan on always wearing one for strenuous stuff. I have a climber friend with a colostomy who got a parastomal hernia in the year after surgery. He had his hernia repaired and is climbing well again. However, he said he will never again climb without his 6-inch hernia belt and highly recommended I wear mine for such activities. I figure it can’t hurt to always wear it. Did you ever ask your surgeon about one?


  4. Heidi! What an achievement! I’ve seen lotsa rock climbing in Sedona and on TV and it really takes the strong and brave, qualities you are exhibiting so well. Great news that your abdomen is fit and responding painlessly. I am excited to see you climb lead in a video. By then, you will likely be setting up a sleeping hammock under a horizontal shelf! Keep it up and be careful out there!

    1. Hi Cary,

      Thanks! I know… I can’t wait to film some more climbing videos. It just needs to get a little warmer outside. Ha ha- not sure any big walls are in my future though. Not because my ostomy would stop me, but because I know very little about the systems necessary to carry out such a grand adventure:)


    1. Thanks Travis- Climbing is the activity I am the most passionate about and also the one I was most afraid to get back into after surgery. Sure does feel amazing to be doing it again. Can’t wait to get the trad climbing rack out again… that will be a bit down the line though:)

      Hope your ankle is healing well and that you will be back to cycling soon!


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