Lessons from a winter hiking trip

Sometimes after a busy summer season of packing and unpacking for an outdoor trip practically every weekend, I need a break. October and November were quiet months. I did some trail running, but didn’t go on any major adventures. The rest from the hectic pace felt wonderful and much needed.

Another reason I have been taking it easy is that I developed some unusual pain in my left shoulder in mid-October. My shoulder did great on my two-week climbing trip, but a couple of weeks after returning, the joint started to throb and hurt constantly. Ever since I was a teen, I have had off-and-on trouble with tendonitis in that joint and had even been working with my physical therapist over the summer to get my shoulder stronger and resolve these issues. Things had been going splendidly with the therapy, and before my climbing trip, my physical therapist thought I might even be close to not needing another appointment.

Unfortunately, that is not how things worked out. The new shoulder pain is different than what I had come to expect with my occasional bouts of tendonitis. Because of this, both my PT and doctor thought it would be a good idea to get an MRI. The test results showed tendinosis (a chronic form of  tendonitis) and also bone-marrow swelling in the head of my humerus. What this means exactly I do not know. My primary care doctor has referred me to orthopedist, but my appointment isn’t for another week. Of course, my mind once again wants to run to all the scary what-ifs of the situation. What if the marrow swelling isn’t from the tendinosis and is instead  being caused by… (fill in the blank with numerous frightening conditions here). What if I can never rock climb again? Ahhhhhh……

However, if there is one thing UC and having an ileostomy has taught me, it is that dealing with uncertainty is part of life. Instead of letting myself fall into my usual pattern of worry, I am going to try to forget about my shoulder until my appointment next week and focus on the activities I can do. One of these is hiking. Even with a backpack, hiking doesn’t seem to bother my shoulder at all. And on the plus side–hiking is the most important activity I need to be doing right now to train for Rainier.

So on Sunday, I set out with Doug and his dad to hike up a peak. Our original plan was to hike James Peak (elevation 13,294′). However, just before exiting the freeway for that destination, we had an idea. Let’s do a 14er instead! The road leading to Grays Peak (elevation 14,270′) was just a few exits up the road. Colorado is experiencing a very dry winter, and with the trailhead access snow-free and avalanche danger minimal, it was the perfect chance to get to the top of this peak.

The high temperature for the elevation we were at was in the mid-30-degree range, but with 30 mph winds, it felt much colder. I had packed 28 pounds of gear, including lots of warm clothes, food and three liters of water (Doug also carried an extra liter for me). I was surprised at how great I felt hiking at such high elevations with this weight. I had been expecting it to feel much harder after not hiking any big peaks since July. We made it to the summit in late afternoon and enjoyed the gorgeous views, including those of close-by Torreys Peak, another 14er. Though we had earlier thought about trying to do both peaks, we realized that the late departure from the trailhead on this spontaneous trip would not afford us enough daylight to get in double summits.

Descending Grays Peak with Torreys Peak in the distance. So close but oh so far.
Descending Grays Peak with Torreys Peak in the distance. So close but yet so far.

My ostomy caused no issues on the hike. I had to swap out closed-end pouches (I prefer these to drainables on peak climbing days) twice during the excursion. At one point on the ascent, I realized that my pouch was getting fairly full. I was behind a ridge that offered some protection from the wind and there was also a tall cairn to duck next to. Doug and his dad were a little ways back on the trail and there was another party about 500 feet behind them. There was no one coming the other direction, so I decided to seize the opportunity to swap out my pouch right there on the side of the trail. I grabbed a small trash bag and fresh pouch out of my pack, ducked behind the cairn, pulled the waistband of my softshell pants down and quickly swapped out pouches. By the time Doug and his dad caught up, I had the used pouch and my other supplies packed up and was ready to keep hiking. I know that on Rainier, I am not going to have much privacy when roped up with teammates on a glacier. It is reassuring to know that I can swap out pouches so quickly and discreetly.

Ducking behind this cairn to swap out my closed-end pouch right along the trail was easy and discreet.
When no one was close by, I ducked behind this cairn to swap out my closed-end pouch right along the trail on the ascent. I also swapped out a pouch on the decent. For that one, I just walked off the trail about 50 feet and turned my back so that no one could see what I was doing. I continue to discover that using closed-end pouches on these types of hikes is a very easy and discreet way of managing an ostomy.

The big challenge for me on this particular hike was the cold and wind. It was even more frigid than during our winter hike up Grizzly Peak last December, captured here on video.

Fortunately, in preparation for Rainier, I had purchased several new clothing items. This was a perfect chance to test them out. One new addition to my outdoor clothing quiver is a super warm down jacket with a hood. I have lighter jackets, but only this one is warm enough for extremely cold conditions. As I stuffed the two pounds of down luxury into my pack before the hike, I really thought it was going to be overkill. However, as  I threw this jacket on at breaks and at the summit, I soon realized it was a lifesaver.

Despite taking part in countless winter camping and backpacking trips, ice climbs and peak ascents over the years (including several since my ostomy surgery), I have never been as cold on a trip as I was on this particular hike. I am not sure why this was the case as I was dressed well and eating and drinking plenty. Regardless, some combination of wind, cold, shade, and my body on that given day had me freezing. On the summit I was so chilled that I could hardly grip anything. I had to use my teeth to zip up my jacket. As I descended back to the car, I kept having the urge to lie down and sleep. I would pass a boulder and think wow, that looks like a comfy spot to snooze for a little while. But then I would see Doug and his dad coming up behind me and would realize I didn’t have time for a nap. I don’t know if I was hypothermic, but if not, I was close. I shudder to think about how cold I would have gotten had I decided not to bring that down jacket.

On the summit with Doug and his dad in my super warm puffy down jacket.
On the summit in my super warm puffy down jacket.

I realize that having an extra-warm clothing item like this during cold temperature activities is especially important with my ostomy. Even though it only takes a couple of minutes to stop along the trail and swap out a pouch, I do have to expose a small section of my belly to the elements. In extremely cold temperatures, it doesn’t take long to lose heat by doing this. Packing conservatively with plenty of warm clothes is of paramount importance.

I can’t wait to head out on our next training hike, and I am starting to compile a list of peaks to attempt that have good winter trailhead access and low avalanche danger. For future training hikes, I will have to progressively increase my pack weight to at least 40 pounds (the expected weight of my pack on Rainier). I guess this means I can bring an extra large lunch next time!

The One Pass Ostomy Draining Device: a great product for the outdoors

Usually it is the big flashy things like climbing ropes, packs or tents that become my most coveted outdoor gear. Lately however, a much simpler and unassuming piece of gear has become one of my favorites.

A couple of months ago UPTT Inc. sent me a One Pass Ostomy Draining Device (OPODD) to try on my adventures. Due to my hip injury, I had to put off testing the device outdoors until a three-day backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park in June. This, however, did not stop me from trying it indoors. The OPODD is an instrument with two flat rollers that clamps onto your pouch when you want to empty. With one downward motion, the device pushes all pouch contents swiftly out of the tail. Though it took a few tries to get used to the OPODD, once I had the hang of it I found myself reaching for the tool again and again. It is especially useful on those days when my output is thick and difficult to push out of the pouch. One quick swipe of the device and the output is forced out — no matter what its consistency.

I liked the device so much that I was soon using it every time I emptied at home. Though I usually leave the device at home because I seldom carry a purse, the slim design of the OPODD makes it easy to fit in a handbag or tote to be carried anywhere you go.

The OPODD clamps on the pouch. Emptying the contents only takes one smooth downward swipe.

After trying it out, I was convinced that the OPODD was great to use at home. Now it was time to take it into the wilderness with me. Ever mindful of my pack weight, I am very picky about what I choose to bring on backpacking trips. Something has to be highly useful to make the cut. It didn’t take long to realize how happy I was to have the OPODD along on my first backpack adventure of the season. In the middle of cooking dinner on our first night, the sky darkened and big heavy raindrops spilled from the sky. We swiftly donned our rain gear and dashed under the trees with our dinner. Despite being covered by tree branches and Gore Tex, my clothing soaked up the dampness and my teeth began to chatter from the chill. Leave it to my ostomy to decide that this was the best time to produce ample amounts of output. I had to make a trek to the camp privy in a full-on rain storm.

When I got to the backcountry restroom facilities (a pit toilet sitting out in the middle of the woods with no walls or roof), I quickly grabbed my OPODD, clamped it on my pouch, slid it down and had the contents emptied within seconds. Normally it would have been hard to manually work output to the tail-end of my pouch with such cold hands, but maneuvering the device was easy even with the chill-induced clumsiness.

Heading to the privy with my OPODD on a very chilly evening.

That night, the handiness of the OPODD proved itself again. When I do strenuous exercise such as backpacking during the day, my output often slows down or stops almost entirely. That means everything comes out later — often in the middle of the night. Getting up at 2 a.m and walking five minutes away from camp alone is unnerving.  Sitting down to empty my appliance by headlamp while surrounded by miles and miles of pitch black wilderness  spooks me out. It is one of those times when I swear twigs are being stepped on all around me, and I imagine mountain lions behind every boulder. Pulse racing and goosebumps fully engaged, I want to purge the contents of my pouch as fast as possible and get back to the tent. This particular night, I ended up having to endure this experience a couple of times. It was wonderful to be able to clamp the OPODD on my pouch, slide the contents out quickly and return to the comfort of my sleeping bag and the company of a snoring Doug.

My positive experiences that first day made the device completely worth its weight — and that is really the only issue with bringing the OPODD on outdoor trips. For those who try to backpack on the ultra-light side, the OPODD weighs in at 3.6 ounces. Not heavy by any means, but when one is trying to get their pack weight as low as possible, every ounce counts. Personally I feel that the extra weight is a small price to pay for the ease the device adds to emptying my pouch in the wilderness.

The only challenge I noticed with the OPODD was that it couldn’t slide over the Velcro at the end of my Convatec Pouches. This didn’t end up being an issue though. I would just push the output as far as the Velcro with the OPODD and then drain out the rest manually. This actually worked great because it prevents any output from getting on the device.

You can’t see my OPODD, but it is tucked in my pack as I head out on a backpacking  trip in the Mt. Massive Wilderness two weeks after the one in Rocky Mountain National Park. I plan to bring the OPODD on every wilderness excursion in the future.

As I continued to test out the OPODD, I  realized that it was going to become an indispensable piece of outdoor gear. Two weeks after the Rocky Mountain National Park trip, Doug and I were out in the backcountry again on a hike up Mt. Massive which included two nights of camping in the wilderness. This time the challenge was mosquitoes which swarmed around me every time I tried to empty.  One plus of having an ostomy is that you don’t have to expose your bum when emptying like you would when having a normal bm. Still, the skeeters were happy to attack the uncovered skin on my hands instead. The speed at which the OPODD allowed me to empty prevented me from getting many itchy bites.

From cold hands, to scary dark nights and blood-thirsty insects, the OPODD came to the rescue and allowed me to empty quickly and easily. I never plan to hit the trail without it again.

Vanilla Blush ostomy underwear review

A few readers have suggested recently that I write about some of the products I use. I thought this was a great idea. Though everyone is a bit different in what products they prefer for their ostomy, writing posts on this subject would still help introduce people to some of the available products.

Just as I was thinking of doing this, Vanilla Blush, a wonderful ostomy lingerie company based in England, sent me some of their underwear to try out. The underwear they provided were the Grace and Beth styles, and those are the two models I’m reviewing here. Though this review describes their women’s styles, Vanilla Blush makes undergarments for men as well.

Right after receiving the underwear, I tried both styles out for everyday wear. Most of the time, I wear regular low-rise underwear and just let my pouch flop over the top of it because this is what I find to be comfy. If I am going to wear ostomy underwear, it must be as comfortable as my regular panties. After trying out the Vanilla Blush undergarments, I am so impressed! These undergarments feel great and are not too tight or restrictive. The fitting chart on the website is accurate, and the size I requested based on my measurements fit perfectly. One of the things I love most about these underwear is that they are not unnecessarily high-waisted.  They are exactly the right height to cover my pouch from bottom to top with no extra fabric. I love how I can see my belly button with the Vanilla Blush underwear.

The "Beth" underwear conceals my pouch from top-to-bottom without being too high-waisted. I love the sparkly fabric too!

The white “Grace” style is made out of a 93% cotton and 7% spandex fabric that feels very soft and is a perfect weight. The black “Beth” style is made out of a polyester/elastane fabric that is stretchy and comfortable. It also has some pretty sparkly threads on the front. Both styles have an inner pocket to hold a pouch. I happen to not use the pockets in any of my ostomy underwear or wraps. Due to the lower placement of my stoma, pockets tend to cause my pouch to bunch up more than if I just let my pouch hang freely in the underwear. Still, I don’t mind that the pocket is there. By not using it, I actually have a nice double layer of fabric over my pouch which covers it nicely. Whether you use the pocket or not, the underwear fit beautifully.

The Vanilla Blush underwear also holds my pouch in place and conceals it well, even under my tightest pair of low-rise jeans. The part of the underwear that sticks out above the waist band of my jeans is very flattering. If my shirt rode up as I went about my day, and the top of the undies were inadvertently exposed, I wouldn’t care. The bow and trim make them super cute!

The underwear work great under my low-rise jeans. They look so nice it doesn't matter if they stick out above the waistband.
The Vanilla Blush underwear hold my pouch against my body so that it is invisible under my most form-fitting jeans and T-shirts.

I knew I loved these underwear for day-to-day wear, but how would they perform during an outdoor adventure? I decided to give them a try during a day of rock climbing at the North Table Mountain climbing area in my home town.

As I hiked up the trail to the crag, the underwear didn’t ride up or bind and felt pleasant to wear.  The temperatures were really cooking on the south-facing cliffs, but the underwear was cool and breathed well.

Heading up the trail to the rock climbing area, the underwear are not restrictive and are cool in the hot temperatures.

When I do any strenuous activity, such as climbing, I always wear a six-inch-wide Nu Hope hernia prevention belt. Over this, I usually wear a pair of ostomy underwear to hold it in place. If I don’t, the hernia belt tends to ride up to the narrow part of my waist and does not provide the support I need. One thing I was a bit concerned about was whether these underwear would work with my hernia prevention belt since they have a lower rise than the ones I usually wear. Any ostomy briefs I wear for my outdoor activities must fit over the hernia belt.

When I put the Vanilla Blush underwear on, an inch of the belt stuck out at the top. However, this was not a problem. They still held my hernia belt in place wonderfully through the whole afternoon of climbing. It never shifted once, even when doing high steps and stems on the rock and hanging in my harness as I was being lowered on the rope.

Even though my six-inch-wide hernia prevention belt sticks out above the undies, they still held it in place well.
The underwear were comfortable while climbing...
...and lowering in my harness.

As late afternoon approached, I realized I had one more workout to complete. I bid my climbing partners farewell and drove over to the gym to do the core and upper body weight routine that was on my schedule for the day. I have been really disciplined in doing the workouts recommended by my personal trainer and only miss them if absolutely necessary. I knew I could still squeeze them in before the facility closed. As I did planks, stability ball work and lifted weights, the Vanilla Blush underwear continued to feel great.

Finally, it was time to head home. When I got there, I took off my hernia prevention belt and climbing pants and threw my jeans back on. From trail to cliff, and from gym to jeans, the Vanilla Blush underwear performed just as I had hoped they would.

Opening up about my ostomy

Last weekend I took a course to recertify my Wilderness First Responder credential with the Wilderness Medicine Institute. The first order of business in the course was to do short introductions with the other class participants. My heart pounded as my turn to introduce myself to 25 absolute strangers fast approached. I had planned to say something about my ostomy to the group, but I was having second thoughts. Maybe I should just stick to a standard intro and move on to the next person? After all, we only had to say four basic things: our name, where we were from, what we would be doing outside at that moment had we not been in class, and what our previous pertinent medical experience was. None of these things really had to do with my ostomy, right? Why did I feel this huge need to let everyone know?

It would not be my standard practice to announce my ostomy if I was taking a class on computer programs or art techniques. However, wilderness medicine courses involve a lot of mock wilderness medicine scenarios where we role-play rescuer and patient. As course participants practice patient assessments on each other, abdomens are palpated and shirts get peeked under to see if there are any clues to injuries. It is not unusual to have fake bruises or wounds put on our bellies and other body parts with stage make-up to make things more realistic. I knew it would be impossible to hide my ostomy. I wanted to have everyone know about it right away so there were no awkward surprises. And I didn’t want to explain it individually to each team I worked with — I only wanted to have to mention it once.

Recovering from a fake head injury after a wilderness medicine scenario.

As my turn to introduce myself crept closer and closer, and my palms became sweatier and sweatier, I had a decision to make. It would have been so easy to give into my fears and not say a thing about my ostomy — but that is not what I did. Instead, I took a deep breath and spoke:

Hi, I am Heidi. I am from Golden, Colorado. If I wasn’t in class today, I would choose to be rock climbing with Doug, who is my husband. (I motioned toward Doug who was sitting beside me as a classmate.) I have been a Wilderness First Responder since 1998. I have also had a lot of medical experience in dealing with one of my own health issues. Eighteen months ago I became severely ill with a disease called ulcerative colitis and had my entire colon removed. I now have an ostomy where my small intestine sticks out of my belly and I wear a pouch over it. If you see this over the next couple of days, it is not part of a scenario (I smiled and chuckled).

I looked around the room to see if anyone was looking at me in a strange way, but they weren’t. The instructor nodded and smiled at me like he did with each person, and the introductions continued without the loud sound of a record-scratch. As the heat in my flushed face dissipated, a huge sense of relief washed over me. Now I could relax and enjoy the course, knowing that everyone would know what the pouch on my belly was for, should they see it.

Sure, I probably could have worn a wrap. But it is likely that people would have been just as curious about that. Anyway, as much as I like ostomy undergarments, nothing is quite as comfy for me as my regular low-rise undies with my pouch flopped over the top. I knew I was going to be sitting in class for two days and wanted to be comfortable.

My pouch is easily visible when my shirt is lifted, but it ended up being no big deal during the course.

As the class unfolded over the next two days, I was happy to discover that people didn’t treat me any differently because of my ostomy. When we ran through head-to-toe exams and practiced “log rolling” to check each other’s spines in the wilderness medicine scenarios, there were times that my shirt rode up and everyone could see my pouch. Yet not one person acted awkwardly towards me and no one tip-toed around me when it came time to touch my belly or move me around. I had a great class, refreshed all my skills, passed my exams, and was successfully recertified.

My mock broken radius is all splinted up.

Looking back, I am so glad I decided to share the information about my ostomy with the group in those initial moments of class. Being open about it not only helped me feel more relaxed about people seeing my pouch, but it allowed the other course participants to be more comfortable with it as well. More and more, I am discovering that this is true in so many aspects of my life with an ostomy.

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.

A dot marks the spot

It was a gorgeously sunny October day last year when I packed up my harness and backpack and headed out the door. No, I wasn’t going on a hike or climb. In fact, the place I was traveling to wasn’t even outside. As I arrived at my destination, I walked down the sidewalk and through the double sliding door of the building. I made my way to the check-in line by the front desk and felt somewhat self-conscious with my huge backpack sticking out of a bag slung over my shoulder. A few moments later, I entered the crowded elevator, where people gave me quizzical glances. Such gear would be expected at a trailhead, but it was not the norm here. However, today, having my pack and harness was as important as it would have been on any hike or climb. As the elevator door opened on the ninth floor, I nervously walked to the department down the hall to meet my wound, ostomy and continence (WOC) nurse for the first time. It was time to have the site of my stoma marked.

I had been told to wear my favorite pants to the meeting so that the location would match with my clothing. However, I also decided to bring my harness and backpack. With outdoor activities being a huge passion in my life, I wanted to make sure that my stoma location would work as well as possible with my gear.

The paper cut-out shows where my stoma is. The location between the waist belt and leg loops prevents the harness from rubbing on my stoma. My belly button sits right under the waist belt.

At the meeting, the nurse shared important information about what to expect with output, eating, activities etc. Finally it was time to get the location marked. I felt a little funny explaining to her that along with making sure the spot worked with my belly and with my clothing, I also wanted to test it out with my harness and pack. Fortunately, she didn’t make me feel silly about my request at all, and soon I had a big blue dot on my abdomen about two inches to the right of my belly button and two inches below. This was a good location because it was below my belt line. This meant that gear or clothing waistbands would not rest on my stoma or prevent output from reaching the bottom of my pouch.

When I got home, I stood in front of the mirror and looked at the mark. I tried to picture what it would look like with a stoma there instead. Suddenly, my decision to have the surgery seemed very real, and I felt excited and nervous at the same time. To further discover how my new stoma spot worked with my clothing and gear, I filled up the ostomy appliance my nurse had given me with applesauce and taped it on top of the blue dot on my belly. I then went out to the garage to dig out every backpack I owned. The one I had taken to my nurse visit was my favorite overnight one, but there was also the brand new day pack I had just bought before I got sick again. I had only used it once. And then there was the large load-monster of a pack that I took on very long trips. Would that one work with the ostomy? One by one, I tried on the packs and they all seemed to rest well above my stoma. I was encouraged.

Continue reading “A dot marks the spot”

The long haul (feat. new video)

When I first got out of the hospital around Thanksgiving in 2010, I was overwhelmed with my ostomy appliance. I remember calling Doug on the phone in tears the first time I tried to change it on my own. Output had gotten all over the place, there was way too much skin showing around my stoma, and I had put the one-piece pouch on quite crooked. Doug had gone to the airport to pick up my Mom so that she could help take care of me during my recovery and wondered why I hadn’t waited until they got home so that they could assist with the change. I didn’t have a good answer. I have a fierce independent streak, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it on my own. However, after that disaster I quickly realized that I wasn’t ready. I needed their help, and Doug or Mom assisted me with every single change in those initial weeks.

Though I was feeling better about my appliance after a few weeks, I still wasn’t all that efficient or confident at changing. So I went back to my stoma nurse for a refresher. She gave me some more tips which helped and soon I could change my appliances by myself. Still, it was the one thing ostomy-related that made me cry out of frustration time and time again. My stoma always created output during the change, making things take a long time, and I struggled to get my pattern cut to the right size. I constantly worried that I wasn’t getting things perfect and that I was either going to strangle my poor stoma or that my skin was going to get eaten away from cutting the wafer too big. It was at these times that I had my biggest moments of doubt about backpacking. If I couldn’t even handle doing the changes in my house, with hot running water and oodles of washcloths at my fingertips, how would I possibly do it out in the wilderness? No matter how I tried, I couldn’t picture it as a reality.

The problem was, I was jumping to step 20 when I should have been concentrating on getting the basics down. I realized this was causing undue stress and anxiety, and I began to focus more on the moment and tasks at hand. I could figure out the backpacking part later.

Continue reading “The long haul (feat. new video)”

Dealing with Output on the Trail (feat. new video)

Many new ostomates wonder how to deal with their output on hikes, as we usually have to empty our appliances every 4-6 hours. The answer is to dig a “cathole.” This is the term commonly used by backpackers for a hole to bury feces in. Because this is a very important skill for any outdoor enthusiast with an ostomy (or IBD) to have, I created a short video to cover some of the basics.

I am guessing that I have dug around 500 catholes in the backcountry in my lifetime. As an ileostomate, I am increasing that number at a rapid rate. Gone are the pre-ulcerative colitis days of having 1 or 2 bowel movements in a day. Now I consistently empty my pouch around 6 times in 24 hours. On the trips when I don’t use closed-end pouches, that equals 48 catholes on a 7-day trip! Knowing how to properly dig a cathole to protect the environment and water sources is crucial.

Continue reading “Dealing with Output on the Trail (feat. new video)”

A Case of 14er Fever Requires a Lot of Water (feat. new video)

On a three-day backpacking trip this past weekend, my husband and I finished our fifth and sixth 14ers  (a peak above 14,000 feet) since the beginning of July. Most summers before this, I was lucky if I did one or two. I have definitely caught the 14er fever. Hiking these peaks has provided me with the perfect opportunity to get outdoors and challenge myself physically while still babying my abdominal muscles. Indoors, I do a battery of  physical therapy exercises that safely strengthen my core. In concert, these two activities will prepare me for the more rigorous demands of technical rock climbing in the future.

While hiking these peaks, I have been amazed at how quickly I am progressing and getting my strength back. While I walked the first one at a turtle’s pace, I am now hiking the peaks briskly and with little fatigue. All these successful peak hikes have also made me realize how well I have adapted to my ileostomy. Managing my appliance on the trail using both closed-end and drainable pouches has become second-nature. Moreover, changing my wafer outdoors, which is one of the things I was most fearful of, has proved to be very similar to doing it indoors except that I must pack out the trash (and the views while changing are more spectacular).

However, one aspect of my ileostomy that still baffles me is figuring out how much water to drink. One function of the colon is to absorb water. When it is removed, the small intestine is able to adapt and take on some of this role, but not as well. Because of this, ileostomates must drink more water to avoid dehydration. It has not been unusual for me to drink 8+ quarts of water on some of my all-day hikes. Up to this trip, I have not had any issues with dehydration. However, conditions were different on this excursion. The temperatures while making the strenuous uphill hike to camp were in the 80s which is warm for the elevation we were at. Despite drinking almost 3 quarts of water (some of which included a sport drink mix) and eating plenty of snacks along the way, I got to camp with a headache and bad nausea. Before we proceeded to empty our backpacks and set up our tent, I sat in the shade and drank some more fluids. In about an hour, I felt better. I upped my water intake over the next two days and did not run into the problem again.

Continue reading “A Case of 14er Fever Requires a Lot of Water (feat. new video)”

Celebrating Ostomy Awareness Day on Longs Peak

Today Doug, his dad, and I summited the 14,259-foot-tall Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park via the classic Keyhole Route. This was an important ascent for me. I had climbed Longs Peak once before in 2007 and had loved the route. When I was hospitalized for 16 days with my final severe UC flare last fall, I would often walk down to a common area that had huge picture windows facing west and gaze at Longs Peak in the distance. I thought back to the day I stood on its summit, and wondered if I would ever be strong enough to be up there again. Today, I answered that question as I successfully hiked 15 miles with about 5000 feet of elevation gain to reach the summit. This peak was different than the others I have done this summer, as it is graded a class 3 climb. This means that the route has some sections that involve scrambling, or using one’s hands to ascend the rock, yet the terrain wasn’t technical enough to require the use of a rope. There are also areas of exposure where a person wouldn’t want to fall. It felt wonderful to move over rock, and the experience made me look forward to the days when I can climb technical routes again. I just want to heal up a bit more first.

Everything with my ostomy went well during the hike and there is not much to report. I once again used closed-end pouches to eliminate the need to take time to dig a cathole and empty my pouch. This helped ensure that we were on the summit before the afternoon lightning storms came. This ended up being an important detail on this trip, as we dealt with one of the largest lightning storms I have ever witnessed in the mountains later in the afternoon. Fortunately, we had just descended to tree-line when the storm reached its peak intensity and avoided being caught out in the open.

The day before our trip, I discovered that our summit attempt would fall on the United Ostomy Association of America’s (UOAA) second annual Ostomy Awareness Day. I was thrilled! UOAA’s call for this special day is to have “Ostomates Unite and Help Others See Ostomies in a Positive Light!” This is a message that is very dear to me and is one of the reasons I created Ostomy Outdoors.

However, I have to admit that I have not always been as open about having ulcerative colitis or an ostomy as I wish I would have been. Truth is, when I was first in the hospital with my severe ulcerative colitis flare last fall, I hardly wanted to tell anyone about it. Sure, I shared the details with my family and closest friends, but I was less open with others. My coworkers were all curious about why I had suddenly disappeared into the hospital. I sent out vague emails to them telling them I had an auto-immune stomach condition. I was too afraid they might look up ulcerative colitis and see what the symptoms were. Once my hospital stay became lengthier, I did fess up and share the name of the condition. Surprisingly, it felt really good to not have to keep everything to myself, and I found that the people in my life were very supportive.

Continue reading “Celebrating Ostomy Awareness Day on Longs Peak”