Featured 📸 at top: Louie Anderson
I hear the sound of Mick Jagger’s voice in my subconscious thought, “What a drag it is getting old”. The frequency of this refrain is mildly alarming, and yet, understandable. I’m certainly not getting any younger and aging has taken its toll, despite extreme denial.
Returning to the Octagon near Ten Sleep, Wyoming, after six years has been eye-opening. We’ve come full circle. This was our first destination post retirement beginning in June, 2015. I was a much younger 59 year old then. During our three month visit I was able to flash or redpoint quickly most of the 5.12s and easier 5.13s in the massive Octagon overhang. The summer season culminated with two 5.13b/c redpoints before departure.
Please note that the Octagon was then a “secret” crag known only to a handful of Wyoming locals, thus, very little information was posted on our blog or social media in 2015. Now it can be found in the Rakkup app guide to Ten Sleep and will soon be published in a comprehensive hard copy guide to the region.
Flash forward six years and things are vastly different. My 65 year old body has shrunken. Arms are now remnants of what they once were. Chest suffers the same decline. Legs feel like sticks scarcely capable of supporting my emaciated body, despite the fact that I’m working harder than ever to maintain what’s left of the former me. I take extra time to exclusively work power, followed by increased protein consumption which helps slow sarcopenia… slightly.
I tried to take advantage of my lighter, albeit somewhat weaker, physique as I slowly worked my way into fitness for the powerfully steep Octagon lines. Progress was slow, but sure. Just as things were starting to click, all hell broke loose. My left hand blew off of a small gaston crimp and I plummeted 20′ downward in a spiraling trajectory.
As with many accidents, it happened quickly and I was completely caught off guard. The plummet ended with me sideways in the harness. I immediately felt a sharp pain in the left lower rib area and an odd discomfort in the center abdominal region. I envisioned a time machine, by which, I could turn back the clock and redo what’s already been done.
A week later at the Washakie Medical Center, located in nearby Worland, a CT scan revealed torn intercostal muscles and an umbilical hernia. Now, I know what you’re thinking, isn’t Worland a small rural place in remote sparsely populated northern Wyoming? Do they even have a hospital? The answer is, yep, and it’s surprisingly good. Don’t let size fool you. This small 18 bed hospital is a fairly new facility with state of the art medical equipment. Their staff is highly competent, incredibly friendly and quite capable. I met with a surgeon the next day and a week later I was waking up from my first surgery (ever!) to fix the hernia. The torn intercostal tissue would have to heal slowly on its own.
Now comes the hard part, waiting for the trauma to mend properly. I’m told not to lift over 15 pounds or to engage my front core for the next two weeks. I can feel the mesh material, placed permanently by the surgeon inside my abdominal muscle wall, as I move about. I want to heal completely so I prepare mentally in advance, to take the recommended recovery time away from climbing.
I distract myself with short hikes, modified yoga practices and some light arm exercises using BFR (blood flow restriction) bands to keep the weight low. The mild activity helps promote sanity, but little else during the downtime. It will be my longest break from climbing since hitting the road six years ago.
By August I’m back on the rock. To avoid using my core excessively, I commit to a couple of weeks of vertical climbing in Ten Sleep Canyon. I’m quickly reminded of why I prefer steeper terrain. The image of a fish out of water comes to mind. My fingers and toes scream with discomfort. My fitness level actually decreases while frustration levels rise. Luckily, my core feels better by week two of August and we happily, slowly, return to the physically demanding overhanging terrain of the Octagon.
Crowds are nonexistent here, unlike the extremely overrun canyon proper. Octagon climbing requires a higher level of gymnastic fitness which helps weed out the weekenders and the less dedicated. We relish our freedom from the masses. It was not uncommon to see 50+ climbers at a crag with room for 20 on any given day. Ten Sleep has become popular, and for good reason. The rock is high quality, the routes are fun, the scenery sublime and the weather cooperative to climbing virtually every day that one desires.
We enjoy solitude whenever possible, which is often why we seek the wild and more remote places where we experience the power of silence. Evidently, so does everyone else. Refer to someplace as paradise and you can pretty much wave it goodbye soon after. At least here in the low key, choss laden Octagon our thoughts can turn easily inward. Plus, we’re able to stay out of the way of the herd, which is good for us and good for the rest of the herd, since we enjoy moving at a slower pace.
The road back to complete health will take time and concerted effort. A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step and I feel like I might be two or three steps along, which is fine. I have time. Although it’s best to avoid getting injured, sometimes things happen and life changes in a millisecond. The Tao (way or path) of healing forces us to reflect on our mistakes, slow the pace of life and let both mind and body mend properly.
We’re hoping to spend the rest of our summer here in Ten Sleep before ditching the rope and pulling out the crash pads. The plan will be to work our way south while pebble slapping along the way. Joe’s, Priest Draw and a full winter in Hueco. Time to work the weakness, which is of course, power! We have big plans for 2022, whereby we hope to redeem ourselves for a somewhat lackluster 2021.
Above all, the overall objective to life is to stay as happy and healthy as humanly possible. I find the two go hand-in-hand. Thus, it’s an imperative that we become experts at the Tao of healing.
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