My first post-surgery multi-pitch climb: my imaginings turn into reality (feat. new video)

In the weeks after making my decision to have a permanent ileostomy, my imaginings of what life was going to be like after surgery played in my head like little movies. There was the one that featured me happily leading hikes with my ostomy at work, and another in which I pictured myself successfully emptying my appliance on backpacking trips. However, the one that I liked to imagine the most involved being on a long multi-pitch climb.

There I was in my mind–hundreds of feet up a steep route and anchored into a small ledge with the climbing rope. I would picture myself removing a full pouch, snapping on a new one and then bagging up the old and tossing it in my pack like it was no big deal at all–as if I had been doing it that way my whole life. I would gaze up at the many pitches yet to go and get ready to climb, barely thinking about my ostomy at all.

As I prepared for and recovered from surgery, these visualizations became an important source of hope for me. I really had no idea if the reality would end up exactly that way I pictured it, but having these images in my head gave me a goal to strive for. I really saw no reason I couldn’t do all the things I was envisioning once I healed up.

One by one, in the year and a half since surgery, I turned those images in my mind into  actualities. I jumped right back into work and led hikes and nature programs. I worked my way into backpacking, even going on an eight-day trip 10 months post-op. Snowboarding, swimming, yoga, biking, short climbs–my return to all these sports has been just as amazing as I had pictured they would be. But there was one thing that was still just a series of images in my head:  the multi-pitch climb. Would dealing with my ostomy on a long, hot climb with small belay ledges be as doable as I had imagined? After all, one of the main reasons I chose to have a permanent ileostomy over j-pouch surgery is that I personally felt it would be easier for me to manage on all-day climbs. I was a little nervous about  putting that notion to the test. As I built up strength in the 20 months since surgery, and worked through some hip and shoulder injuries, I continued to wonder what climbing a long route was going to be like with my ostomy.

Last weekend I finally found out as I went with Doug and his brother and dad to climb Devils Tower in Wyoming. We had all climbed this famous rock formation in 1992 and were excited to give it another go. This reunion-style climb with my family was more than I could have ever asked for as my first post-surgery multi-pitch climb. Being back on the rock with all of them was a blessing.

Our gang on the summit of Devils Tower, WY, 20 years ago.
Our same team on the summit in 2012.
We are tired and thirsty, but safely back at the base.

The 15-minute video below highlights our adventure on the Tower. As I watch it myself, I am in awe at how similar the real images are to the little movie that played in my head in the hospital. For climbing and so many other aspects of my life, the things I imagined and hoped for with my ostomy did turn into reality–a truly amazing reality.

9 thoughts on “My first post-surgery multi-pitch climb: my imaginings turn into reality (feat. new video)

  1. Great job!!!! You have a lot of guts you know…keeps motivated in case I do have the surgery. I will think about what I can do when I get out of the hospital and after my healing I can have a goal also for myself.

  2. Great job!!!! You have a lot of guts you know…keeps motivated in case I do have the surgery. I will think about what I can do when I get out of the hospital and after my healing I can have a goal also for myself. I told my Physician Assistant about you and her mouth flew open kinda like WOW! I just laughed. I think she thinks you just cannot do anything after surgery like you use to. I told her WRONG!!!

    1. Hi Carol,

      Having goals and thinking positively about the outcome of your surgery is very important. A good attitude goes a long way in getting you through the rough patches that inevitably surface in those initial healing weeks after surgery when everything is so new. There were times when my goals were a little bit lofty in the beginning, and I had to lower my expectations a bit and be more realistic, but it was still so helpful to have that long-term vision there to give me hope. And I did eventually reach that wonderful place when I was back to doing everything I love and it all felt like second nature.

      I chuckled when I read your comment about the physicians assistant. I too encountered some doctors that made me feel like I was a bit crazy for wanting my permanent ileostomy. Fortunately, they were in the minority. Most of my doctors were supportive and my surgeon was wonderful and helped me feel confident about my decision.

  3. Awesome Heidi! I, too, passed a milestone this weekend…I actually PLAYED in a soccer tourney for the first time in over 2 years. I wasn’t as fit as I would like to be BUT the ostomy didn’t slow me down…my fitness level did and that’s totally fixable! I purchased something called Ostomy Armor to protect my stoma from errant balls, elbows or hips and never had to worry. The teams were all so supportive once they heard my story. Very uplifting! Keep inspiring!

    1. Nancy,

      Thanks for the comment! Nice job on the tournament!! You are so right that it is often the fitness part that slows us down. It definitely takes a while to build that up after being ill, having surgery and putting so much energy into healing up. It is the ultimate test in patience. But the important thing is that we are getting there and are living life to the fullest again!!!

      I have thought about getting Ostomy Armor, but haven’t found the need for it yet. I can see how it would be absolutely essential for soccer.

      Glad to hear that the teams were supportive. I have yet to meet one person who has not been supportive through my whole journey. Such a blessing.

      Best wishes with your future soccer endeavors!


  4. Olympian accomplishment! Gold for sure. Another extraordinary feat & video production. You’ve prepared and lived out your dream, erased the doubts, faced your fears with grace — Heidi, you are a cornerstone of inspiration, not only for ostomates, but for everyone who seeks to enrich their lives. Thank you so much for sharing.

    How much weight did you carry beginning the climb? Clearly, the fitness schedule you devised in preparation was a grand success. Ride that momentum into the next adventure video for your fans, but more importantly, for yourself.


    PS Excellent editing/production Doug!

    1. Cary,

      What a fitting comment since I am watching the Olympics right now as I type:) Your words, as always, mean a lot. It has been a while since Doug and I made a video and it was really fun to put one together again.

      I did not weigh my pack this time, but I carried a gallon of water which weighs a little over 8lbs. I also had some food, ostomy supplies, sunscreen and a few other items. I am guessing the pack weighed around 10lbs. Ideally, I would have carried one more quart of water, but the climb has a lot of wide cracks where one has to wedge their body– hard to do with a large pack. Instead, I drank a quart in the hour before the climb, carried the gallon of water, and stashed some at the base for when we got down.

      I am not sure what the next adventure will be, but I will definitely have my camera in hand when I figure it out:)

      Take Care,

  5. Wow, I am so amazed by your energy! My partner is a rock climber and my ileostomy has given me the freedom and strength to belay for him, but I never thought of actually climbing myself! The thought of a hernia has kept my feet firmly on the ground but I think after watching your video I will talk to my stomal therapy nurse and see what support belts are available in Australia to help me get into it.
    Thank you for your inspiring site!


  6. Carly,
    Glad the site has been helpful! I too was worried about a hernia, but have not had any problems at all when I wear my hernia prevention belt. I started on very easy, slabby routes to gain strength, but now I can do vertical routes and even easier slightly overhanging ones. The key is for me was building back into it slowly over many months so that I didn’t strain anything. Best wishes as you get back on the rock!

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