Back in the wilds!

Heart pounding, quads burning and lungs barely able to keep up — I could not believe I was standing at 13,000 feet again. Yet there I was! Doug and I spent the weekend in Breckenridge with his parents. Our rental was a mere two miles from the Quandary Peak trailhead, so yesterday we decided to head up the trail to see how far we could get.

Doug and I take a break along the Quandary Peak trail.
Doug and I take a break along the Quandary Peak trail.

I had no intentions of making the summit, and just wanted to be out in the mountains moving my body again. With the sudden onset of groin pain in mid-January and an MRI in February that showed gluteal tendinosis in my hip, I had been doing lots of physical therapy and taking a break from hiking. In fact, I was starting to think that my Rainier attempt in July might not happen. I tried to keep my fitness up with biking and swimming (doggie paddling really… I cannot do any overhead swimming strokes because it hurts my shoulder avascular necrosis (AVN) too much). However, those activities hardly replicated the intensity of climbing big peaks with heavy gear at altitude.

Fortunately, last week I got some good news at a much-anticipated appointment with a new orthopedic surgeon. After looking at my MRI, he didn’t see anything in my hip except for the gluteal tendinosis. However, he does not think that the tendinosis is causing the groin pain I have been experiencing because that type of injury typically causes outer hip soreness. This makes sense as the physical therapy I have been doing for the last two months has really helped some of the pain in the outside of my hip, but did little for the groin. The bottom line is that the doctor did not know what was causing the soreness in that part of  my hip; the joint looks healthy. He said sometimes they really can’t find anything and oftentimes these issues resolve on their own with time. He thought it was fine to start training for Rainier again as long as the pain didn’t worsen.

I also talked to him a lot about my shoulder AVN. Though I really liked working with the doctor that diagnosed the condition back in December, this particular orthopedic surgeon has more experience working with patients who have AVN. After looking at my MRI, he felt the AVN in my shoulder may not cause me any further issues. He said the necrotic area is small and that most of the cases he has dealt with have involved a much larger percentage of the humeral head. As a result, it is quite possible that I won’t ever need a joint replacement. Of course, he did say the exact progression is impossible to predict. The doctor said I was really, really lucky that I have not developed AVN in my hip. He has never had a patient that had it in the shoulder that did not also have it in the hip. (Could I be this lucky?!) Though he said it is always possible to develop AVN in another joint at any time down the line, the more time that passes after taking steroids, the better the chance is that this won’t happen. He mentioned that there are a lot of factors at play with steroid-induced AVN that doctors don’t understand. For instance, the window of time for developing AVN after stopping steroids appears to be a lot longer for some people and with some diseases than others.

It was a huge relief leaving the doctor’s office knowing that I had just been given the okay to get back to all my activities. And with my shoulder also feeling so much better, I happily started planning all my new adventures.

Unfortunately, my body wasn’t quite ready to cooperate. The morning after my appointment, I was bending over to pick something up off the floor and I felt a pull in my Achilles tendon. I was so disappointed. I had waited so long for that appointment with the new orthopedist and now I had developed an entirely new issue less than 24 hours later! This is so typical for me. There were many times when I was recovering from ostomy surgery when I would tell my surgeon everything was great at an appointment and then have something go wrong the following day.

Luckily, I had an appointment with my physical therapist that evening so I could at least discuss my latest joint woe with someone. He felt I had probably just strained the Achilles tendon a bit and gave me some stretches and strengthening exercises. Because my pain was minor, he thought I could still train as long as the movement of hiking didn’t irritate the tendon. Obviously if the issue starts to become more painful I will head back to the orthopedic doctor.

So, I wasn’t sure what to expect on the adventure yesterday. Much to my surprise, I felt great and ended up hiking around 5 miles round trip with a couple thousand feet elevation gain, making it to the 13,000′ shoulder of Quandary Peak. My Achilles did not hurt and my hip felt okay. A few times along the way I just stopped and listened to the beautiful sounds of being on a remote mountainside again. I could hear the wind in the tree branches and the snow crystals hitting my jacket and it felt amazing to be out there. I actually pinched myself a couple of times to make sure it wasn’t a dream. The feeling of happiness felt so similar to those first wilderness hikes after my ostomy surgery when I realized that I would still be able to do an activity I loved so much.

Returning from a post-lunch ostomy pouch swap. With the deep snow, I use closed-end pouches instead of drainables and then pack out the full one.
Returning from a post-lunch ostomy pouch swap. With the deep snow, I use closed-end pouches instead of drainables and then packed out the full ones.
Nope. I am not dreaming and pinch myself just to make sure!
Nope. I was not dreaming and I pinched myself just to make sure!
We reached a high point of 13,000' on the shoulder of Quandary Peak. The summit can be seen in the distance.
We reached a high point of 13,000′ on the shoulder of Quandary Peak just as another snow squall came in. The summit can be seen in the distance.

I look forward to the many mountain trips on the horizon as I start to train for Rainier again. If If I end up not summiting the big peak due to all the recent training hiccups, I will be okay with that. If the fun I had today is any indication, just being on that massive and beautiful mountain is going to be a breathtaking experience in and of itself.

Relaxing in the hot tub after our hike with a perfect view of the peak.
Relaxing in the hot tub after our hike with a perfect view of the peak.

10 thoughts on “Back in the wilds!

  1. So awesome to see that great big beautiful smile. Glad you had a great trip. You are always an inspiration. You will me able to do Rinier. !!!!! ( did I spell that wrong again)? Thank you for always sharing your experiences. Luv to you and Doug!!!! Eileen

    1. Hi Eileen,

      Yes! It feels so good to get the okay to go hiking again. I can deal with some mystery hip pain as long as the doc says I am not hurting anything. Tendon is feeling better this week too. I will drop Scott an email tomorrow about a possible upcoming hike. Hope to see you at the next meeting. It is coming up fast!


    1. Thanks Claudia! Yes- it does feel fantastic to overcome the recent challenges. It is also a good feeling to know that deep down, I would have also persevered and been strong enough to handle things had the hip MRI results come back with less favorable results. Getting to a point where I have learned to be less anxious about my health issues feels great!

  2. “A few times along the way I just stopped and listened to the beautiful sounds of being on a remote mountainside again. ” I miss that sound. Can’t wait to hear it again. Being in the krumholtz, listening to the white throated sparrow…feeling the cool damp air…my surgery is friday. I so miss hiking…Thank you for sharing and giving me something to shoot for.

    1. Kathleen,

      Though I haven’t had a chance to respond earlier, I thought of you today! I hope your surgery went well. Hang in there through the recovery. There will undoubtedly be really tough moments, but the one gift of those difficult times is that they can make us appreciate the amazing moments so much more. I was at a work conference today and was at an off-site session up in a park. When the class was over I stepped outside and the sweet smell of sun-drenched ponderosa pines overtook my senses. I got goose bumps as I thought to myself I am so amazingly happy to be alive today. At those moments my mind always goes to my surgery and how it has helped me experience such beauty again. As you heal up, think of the krumholtz, white-throated sparrows and that alpine air and let those images fill you with peace. Picture yourself hiking among them and know that you will be there in-person again soon!

  3. Yea Heidi! As a runner in my former life….it seems like I was always tetering on the brink of an injury….then while sidelined for 9 mths with an IT Band injury….my disease got out of control and I worried about my health more than my injury….LOL! Iam finally feelinh better…a week ago tmo I came home!

    I am so inspired by your strength….I hope to get past all this surgery mess and get back to the land of the outdoors this summer….speaking of…I am going to go walk before the snow comes!

    Yea for you and good luck training!


    1. Shannon,

      I hope you enjoyed your walk and continue to improve every day! I am so glad to know that you are back at home and feeling better.

      Yeah- the injuries are a bit discouraging after building up strength and doing so well with all my sports in the initial year or so after surgery. I will get back to that point I am sure. Between shoulders, hips and now calves and ankles, I spend almost an hour on physical therapy every day. I am going to have some mighty strong joints after all this!


  4. Great to hear from you Cary! Yes it is good to be back to being active. Still not sure what is up with the area where my Achilles inserts into my heal, but I am not worrying about it. Just doing my PT and hoping for the best. It doesn’t hurt at all when I hike, not even up big hills, so I think I am good to go. It only feels weird when I bend to pick something up when my foot is angled in just the right way and my leg is straight (definitely something I can avoid doing now that I recognize this as causing trouble). And I would barely even call the sensation pain– more of a weird stretchy tingling feeling in the back of my heel. Anyway, I went for a nice bike ride today and did some sketching and no pain while on the cycle either. I was soooo happy. With cycling and hiking as my pain-free training options, I think I might actually make this Rainier climb happen!

    Loved seeing the latest photos on your blog!

    Take Care,

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