Alpine Club of Canada

ACC Gazette Summer 2019

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22 The Alpine Club of Canada | Gazette | Summer 2019 How mountains and a high objective helped one member recover from injury. By Sébastien Trudel I t's December 27, 2018 at 4pm and I am surprised to be standing on the summit of Aconcagua (6,962m) in Argentina. For the past two weeks my girlfriend Cécile Lechat and I have been climbing the Sentinel of Stone, the highest mountain of South America and the highest summit outside of the Himalayas. It's not just a surprise to be on the summit ‑ I'm surprised that I was able to start this trip at all. I have had painful lower back problems for ten years. There were ups and downs from year to year but the pain had always remained manageable and it never totally stopped me from hiking. Through the years, I hiked to the top of the 46 high peaks in the Adirondack Mountains (the infamous "Adirondacks 46ers") and was on my way to completing the "Northeast 115" 4,000‑foot peaks. I climbed Mt Rainier (4,392m), and the Stok Kangri (6,137m) in India in preparation for Denali in 2017. I had been managing the pain, but two months after returning from Alaska, the pain came back stronger than ever. By October of 2017, I couldn't take it anymore and had to stop and turn back on a hike in Vermont. X‑rays and an MRI confirmed that I had a herniated disc in my lower back. Cortisone injections and more rest didn't solve the problem and I was recommended for neurosurgery. The first surgeon I met told me I wasn't sufficiently injured "yet", despite the fact that I couldn't stand straight and could hardly walk. I saw a second surgeon who did think that I was sufficiently injured and recommended fusing my vertebrae and was ready to proceed. He sent me for more tests and explained the procedure but what really freaked me out was all of the potential side effects. So I backed out. "Come back when your mind is ready, " he told me. If anything, it was my mind that was functioning properly, telling me that there might be a better way for me to treat my body. My choice was between having sur‑ gery and risking the potential side effects, and rebuilding my core muscles to avoid it. I rested for months and then began the hard work. I began working out every morning. I found a chiropractor and an inversion table on Kijiji (just the table, not the chiro!) and did whatever repetitions my back allowed me to do. Every other week I would test it by going back to hiking, but that only confirmed that it was not healing quickly. I took a step back and became more reasonable and did smaller hikes to build resistance. By that point I was in need of a new source of motivation to help me push through the workouts and I was missing the mountains. That's when the idea of Aconcagua came up: a big mountain, but not too technical, with plenty of guiding companies that can offer the support that would save my back. But with high alti‑ tude, fierce winds and cold temperatures that make 70% of the climbers turn around before they can reach the summit, it remains a significant challenge. continued on page 24 Back in the Saddle on Aconcagua Above: South face of Aconcagua from the park's gate. | Ci-dessus : Face sud de l'Aconcagua vue de l'entrée du parc.

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