My new years passed as did my Christmas–as somewhat of an afterthought, which nearly slipped past unnoticed. I returned from my 349th consecutive day of climbing, thankful to have survived the initial learning curve of ice climbing in the Wasatch Mountains in Northern Utah. Rob and I had just gotten down from the mountain just as a snow squall blew in. I was concentrating on feeling my fingers and toes while capturing the last minutes of the day in video and still images–while wearing massive, clumpy gloves. Im not sure which of us was the first to acknowledge the holiday–but we forgot again and remembered it several times over.
It just seemed very…distant.
My big achievements on New Years were less about my prowess climbing ice, but rather the fact that I had managed to keep my Dexcom CGM sensor in tact throughout countless layering sessions in the least hospitable weather conditions I have encountered during the project. I had long wondered what proper, technical ice climbing was like. Now, I know…unfortunately, it’s not easy to describe. It’s certainly cold–which slows everything down and makes all of your movements seem clunky and less precise. Layers upon layers take time to painstakingly arrange in order to balance your temperature–too cold and you are in trouble. Too warm and you start sweating and then as soon as you stop moving, BANG your’re freezing!
Its another balancing act–like diabetes! And like diabetes, I found workarounds to get the job done. I learned the value of stripping down to your skin in order to change base layers–20 degrees in a dry t-shirt feels much better than 20 degrees in a wet t-shirt with several layers on top of it! I found that powder on my feet keeps them from sweating–thus keeping them much warmer!
Managing blood sugar in this environment is a lot more cumbersome than in other scenarios I have encountered. The layers (two pair of gloves too), the fact that glucose meters are not rated for use at such cold temperatures, the fact that it takes seemingly forever to do anything are definite obstacles. You cant do much with double gloved hands, so first thing, the gloves must come off. Immediately the clock starts ticking. Don’t lose your gloves! Unzip one layer, unbuckle your harness. Pull up your shirt and fish out your insulin. By this point you’re getting a little bit numb but you have to prime the pen and shoot up, manipulating your needles and such with precision. Then once you’ve dosed, its a race to get everything covered up, tucked in and rewarmed while your hands are still functional. Oh, and make sure your insulin gets put back inside your jacket because it needs to stay warm enough that it doesn’t freeze.
Whew. All done. Now time for a snack. Try to open packaging with gloves on…AARRRRGGGH!
The physical act of ice climbing, aside from the challenging context of the cold, honestly felt very foreign. I thought that there would be more cross over from rock climbing to ice climbing. Turns out, I am a complete gumby and felt pretty demoralized, struggling on moderate terrain. Its very technique oriented–not nearly as force oriented as you would think, given all the kicking and axe swinging that it entails. Its really very balancey and delicate. You have to be forceful but smooth and precise–not struggling against the insecurity of your position. Again, lots of parallels with diabetes. Accept it, and rise above it or struggle and flail for all your efforts.
I initially wondered if the “feeble” circulation of a type 1 diabetic would be able to handle sustained exposure to cold let alone allow me to get after it and perform adequately. In ice climbing, there is a term called “the screaming barfies” which references the rewarming process of very cold hands that are also pumped out from the simultaneous strain of climbing. I encountered this phenomenon and survived it. Turns out, I stayed reasonably warm and diabetes lost another chance to lay me low in the mountains. I have room to improve and I am excited to make that happen.
The new year’s arrival reinforced how the end of the project has been looming over the holidays and the thought I have been left with (more of a question really): how do I take it to the next level? What comes next?
Certainly the project needs to be wrapped up and processed once it’s complete. We have to send out the perks to all the wonderful people who contributed to this journey. I will be creating a cogent (hopefully!) documentary out of the 2TB of footage that we have captured and will be giving that documentary back to the community to empower people with diabetes…
But that isn’t the end. I can’t yet see exactly what’s around the corner, but I know there is a lot more to do–this project has whetted my appetite, seeing what one person can inspire through taking on moderate challenges on a daily basis. I say moderate because most people of average athleticism could keep pace with me on any given day. The act of repetition and the psychological duress of being apart from my loved ones are really where the meat of the challenge occurred.
So…what variables are in play in order to go bigger? Bigger challenges–harder routes, longer, more austere objectives? More people engaging a given challenge? Yes. The next level is out there. I am ready and I know I am not alone in this.
The mountains are harsh. Scary. Unpredictable. There are plenty of limitations out there that I can’t overcome. Gravity, rock quality, difficulty of a given route, weather…But type 1 diabetes is not one of those limitations. I will not live quietly beneath the perceived limitations of this condition–and I know I am not alone in this.