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Project Kilimanjaro!

Project Kilimanjaro!

This has been a long time coming friends! I struggled with the narrative on this because so much of my concentration has been on Project365 and getting that out and available to be screened and shared. The holidays for me have consisted of work–or what might seem like work if I didn’t love what I am doing. It’s not entirely conventional to have steel-cage death match days with ones computer over the holidays, but this time has actually helped give me some breathing room and I am really stoked to be able to share this edit with you before we head into 2014.

This short film is just about my personal experience climbing Kili this past year and it’s not necessarily representative of anyone elses. It was hard for me to write this narrative for the film because Kili is by far the most notable of all my ascents to date and it was a huge honor to be included in the expedition–however at the end of the day, I didn’t see fireworks or have that big culminating moment on the summit. It felt like a long walk up a steep hill, while sucking air through a straw. I struggled a lot feeling sick and my blood glucose was frequently uncooperative. I was out of my comfort zone and I didn’t feel like I was doing a great job of being a “good diabetic”.

I have talked at length of empowerment and “going beyond” diabetes, but when the rubber meets the road, it can really be a junk show–and the pretty timelapses and video clips cost a lot emotionally and physically to bring back. I keep coming back to the blue-collar ideals that I believe in regarding diabetes management–we have to learn how to accept the losses and dig deep enough to find a “win” buried in all the mess.

A dear friend once related to me a fable about three brothers who were each given a pile of horse dung. The first one was very offended and unhappy. The second was skeptical, but used the manure to plant and fertilize a rose garden. The third, rolled up his sleeves and got down to business digging frantically with his hands–and when questioned about this response he replied “I just KNOW there’s a horse in here somewhere!”

I think we all go through those phases and while I’d love to be transforming horse dung into beautiful roses, sometimes I’m having to settle for rolling up the sleeves and going for broke! It all comes down to how we choose to think and act on our circumstances. Please enjoy and feel free to share this short–it’s one more piece of the puzzle, one more vote for healthy empowered lives with diabetes.
Where does it end?

Where does it end?

Or does it? I’ve gotten two questions repeatedly for the last several months: 1-where will the last day of the project be 2-will you keep climbing after its over?

I’ve been back in Zion for a couple of days and getting out with my partner “Broccoli” Rob while trying to figure out some answers to these questions. I like to jokingly quip that on day 366 (Jan 17, 2013) all my climbing paraphernalia will be listed on eBay and that I will take up golf.

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The last few days I Rob and I have been going out, looking for unclimbed routes and boulders. Lines that are beautiful but guarded by steep and unpleasant approaches and scary landings that threaten to punish the careless without mercy.

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There are gems upon gems…and so much beauty, without even having to leave the canyon. There is so much just here that makes me want to get stronger and faster and begin to physically push myself in ways that I have held back from in order to ensure that I am able to climb each day consecutively for this project.

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So we took in some of the potential, climbed a few unclimbed (as far as we know) easy routes up some very impressive boulders that have many more routes that exceed what we can currently climb.

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So to make a long story short, there are a lot of unanswered questions, but Project 365 is only the beginning. But the beginning has to have an ending and in the coming days I hope to share with you my thoughts on how I intend to close out this amazing chapter. Meanwhile I will be heading to Joshua Tree for a few days for the Insulindependence wilderness festival which will be a great opportunity to connect with friends and just get out to climb!

This year I am thankful for…

This year I am thankful for…

A lot has happened in the last week and it has been good–this whirlwind started with my attending a World Diabetes Day event put on by the folks at Roche in Indianapolis. Aside from getting to make a lot of friends, this event really allowed me to see (again) the support and impact that Project 365 is having. It also gave me a greater appreciation for ALL of the people who have done so much to help us keep going.

Sharing a light moment with Rob, the Social Media guru at Roche at the top of the wall. One of many amazing moments that day!

Cherise from DSMA came out and we climbed together! It was really exciting and although I had to do a little arm twisting at first, she totally crushed it and got to the top like it was nothing!

Our sponsors were super helpful in keeping us charged (Thanks Goal Zero!!!)

and fed! (Thanks Clifbar!!!!)

It was so cool seeing this shot Stefanie captured in Moab on a poster! Totally surreal!

More than 150 Roche employees came out to chat with me and share their stories and what this project means to them. I never thought of people who spend every day working to make the supplies that I (and millions of others) use to survive as being affected by diabetes awareness. Sometimes the most obvious things escape me…but it was a powerful reminder of just how far Diabetes reaches beyond those of us who live with the condition personally. Seeing the teamwork and the amount of effort that was put into World Diabetes Day and the climbing wall and the Big Blue Test was awesome! Then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, this happened…

In an instant, a LOT changed. I had been constantly wracked with worry about being able to finish the project and I wanted to really be able to focus on wrapping up the climbing and shooting without having to worry about the fund-raising on top of all the other responsibilities I have to cover. Now, I am able to finish the project and there is funding to produce the documentary on top of that once it’s done. I am so thankful for the opportunity to take the next step in Project 365.

Not to be forgotten in the excitement, I want to extend a special thank you to everyone who chipped in to our 100 day challenge. We made huge strides in increasing our Facebook following and each contribution is hugely appreciated. I am grateful for all of the support that has come in so many ways. I have had an opportunity to communicate this to many of you personally and I am looking forward to showing my appreciation by taking what I have been given and making the most out of it.

To whit: some highball bouldering which Stefanie shot–more great captures to add to the over 2 TB of media that we have so far…

Perfect light, perfect timing. College rock, near Boston.

I cant begin to explain how unsavory this topout was. Downclimbing was a much better option.

So, moving forward, I have been in the Boston area and last night I gave a Project 365 presentation to a group of students from Tufts University as a guest of the College Diabetes Network and the Tufts Mountain Club. As with all such events, a lot of work went into coordinating it and I am indebted to Jo Treitman from the CDN and Rose Eilenberg from TMC for bringing it all together. It was my first slideshow (hopefully not the last!) and I am happy to have had an opportunity to present to such a warm and receptive audience. Afterwards we went out to MetroRock in Everett MA and climbed our faces off till 11PM. It was inspiring to see how the act of climbing can bring people together.

Today was day 308 and I went back to College Rock, this time to meet Maria Qadri for some dia-bouldering and top-roping. Maria has been one of Project 365′s most ardent supporters and a fellow T1. We climbed together in the summer in central park and she has been a good sounding board for a lot of decisions I have wrestled with–a very level head and a great perspective on things.

Thanksgiving is up next on the agenda and I have a long list this year…

My humble thanks on World Diabetes Day

My humble thanks on World Diabetes Day

The last 301 days have had a lot of ups and downs. Project365 started with an idea and little else. From the get-go this has been a haphazard patchwork of input and effort from all over the world, literally.

Days like today, world diabetes day, when we have the opportunity to step back and see the bigger picture come together I am so thankful and so humbled. I often get so caught up in my role in this project and so worried about what comes next or what I should be doing, that I forget the mission and the support for the mission from so many of you.

Advancing the LivingVertical mission is my goal in Project 365, but regardless of how the project itself fares, this project and the ensuing documentary are only vehicles for a hands on message of being empowered, strong and free despite having to negotiate the challenges of diabetes.

Of late I have felt like the project has been out of my control–and I struggled with that realization. The last several days I have refocused and accepted that it has never been mine to control, and that, at the risk of sounding like a fortune cookie philosopher, the journey is the destination.

The support, the discussions, the help, the social media connections have led us to a point where today, I will be representing the LivingVertical mission at Roche event held for diabetes awareness.

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This logo- which started as a photo taken on our first climbing trip in Bishop, CA in 2008- and was edited by Stefs sister and then later finished and retouched by Terrie from ClimbAddict will be seen on special shirts created by Roche for World Diabetes Day.

A year ago, the LivingVertical mission was an idea and this logo was just a photo cluttering my hard drive. Now it is a part of the community, out in the open, where we are part of the framework, able to serve others who don’t want to be victims and who refuse to be kept down by the need to regulate their blood glucose. We are making a difference together and showing the world that diabetes is what you make of it.

Thank you all so much!

Support Project 365 by raising diabetes awareness

Support Project 365 by raising diabetes awareness

This blogs publication marks day 300 of Project 365. We are two days away from world diabetes day and this weekend was my strongest bouldering outing yet–something I am still surprised at considering my inability to have recovery days so vital for building power.

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Over the next few days I will be lightening my climbing load to turn my full attention to World Diabetes Day and using this occasion to raise awareness. While the window of opportunity is open. I want to extend the opportunity to join me in raising awareness through wearing a Project 365 bracelet or necklace available through our funding campaign for three remaining days.

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There is special significance to the Monkey Fist knots and we want to continue the effort and partnership with the diabetes community that they symbolize. The wristbands are a bit more obvious and straightforward and also help to raise awareness.

Project 365 is at a crux right now-we are at the point of breaking through and are beginning to reach more people but there is a funding gap that I have to address and your showing solidarity with this project through wearing Project 365 jewelry will also help us to close that gap and finish strong-aside from looking great!

I am looking forward to the last days of Project 365, not because I want a rest day but because this is just the beginning of something great and the best is yet to come but I need help to make it happen. Stay tuned for World Diabetes Day on the 14th of this month- the LivingVertical mission will be getting a fantastic platform to raise awareness and empowerment and I hope you can join in and follow along as WDD unfolds!

I am looking forward also to answering more questions in videos and sharing the LivingVertical mission in presentations in the coming weeks!

Climbing>Diabetes (awareness/empowerment)

Climbing>Diabetes (awareness/empowerment)

I recently returned from the Red River Gorge in Kentucky where I got a chance to share Project 365 with a lot of new friends. It was an amazing trip albeit short lived as the hurricane (Sandy) made short work of the beautiful weather we enjoyed initially. As I headed down to Kentucky, I was a bit apprehensive because I didnt have a partner. I just a had a lot of camera gear and desire to climb and capture some exciting footage for the Project 365 documentary.

This actually worked in my favor because in the course of making new friends and finding folks to climb with, the project invariably came up in conversation and everyone I met was really enthusiastic about helping and being involved. I climbed with Emily, Alex, Beth and Toby (Beth is on belay and not pictured here.)

Alex, Toby and Emily

One of the questions Toby immediately asked upon hearing about Project 365 was “how do you plan on raising awareness through what you are doing?” A fair question (and one I got several more times!) and it really inspired me to kick off Diabetes Awareness Month by sharing about my time in Kentucky as well as some thoughts about raising awareness.

Diabetes awareness means different things to different people, just as diabetes itself means different things to each of us. I look at a lot of the awesome initiatives I have seen like the BigBlueTest and You Can Do This and I realize that we all have a role to play in increasing the visibility of diabetes as well as highlighting various elements of life with this condition for the benefit of the public and also for those who live with Diabetes.

I started Project 365 because I felt like it was something that I could contribute to the here and now to help inspire a positive attitude towards living with a thoroughly negative condition. I never felt satisfied with pinning my hopes on future cures and research to solve the problems that we can solve today through our choices-and I have found that many others share this same view! Diabetes awareness and Project 365 will not eliminate the need for test strips and insulin. It won’t eliminate the frustration of high blood sugar readings despite having tight dietary adherence. It wont eliminate the fear of a low blood sugar episode while driving or after getting down off of a climb.  Someday science might fix those problems. But in the meantime we have to live our lives in the open, my contribution to awareness is empowerment.

Special thanks to Beth Jackson for capturing these still photos while I was climbing!

Photo by Beth Jackson: almost at the top of the route, Emily is hanging on rappel shooting video. I can tell you that a lot of effort from Emily, Alex, Toby and Beth went into helping out with these shots. This is where awareness begins–reaching out and getting involved!

Project 365 makes a compelling argument that diabetes is not weakness, it is accountability and motivation–two elements which can make you strong if you let them. Empowerment means you get to drive and diabetes takes a backseat to YOU and what you want out of your life. I like to say that I don’t struggle  with diabetes, I make it endure ME.

A screenshot of some of the awesome video captured by Emily as I completed my hardest onsight to date, 5.10c. This was significant for me because it means that I was able to climb this entire route, the first time without falling or resting or any pre-inspection!

That message of empowerment for people with diabetes is what I wanted to share a year ago when I was trying to kick off this project and today, 290 days deep, I can tell you that I am more passionate and committed to this vision, having had the opportunity to live it out and share it. My documentary effort, my contribution, is a small piece of the puzzle and I am happy to be part of the growing community of people who are sharing and empowering!

I am very thankful to everyone who has been sharing Project 365, encouraging  their friends to like us on Facebook, retweeting, contributing financially, commenting on the blog, and those who have taken their time and effort to help with the physical process of capturing video and photos! You guys ROCK and these are the front lines of awareness and empowerment!

Stay tuned for more. This is going to be a great month!

Pigeon Spire, diabetes and a bergschrund

Pigeon Spire, diabetes and a bergschrund

My 250th day of climbing was to be shared with Martin, my first T1D mountaineering partner; our objective, the west ridge of Pidgeon Spire–modestly rated at “only” 5.4 was a long way away and we had to make use of all available daylight to get back at a reasonable time. Stefanie’s cold that she had been nursing for a few days and on the 4 hour approach had taken hold and we decided that it would be better for her to rest in camp and that we would see her in the evening.

By this time I was quite certain that this was going to be a great day; I had never stepped foot on a glacier despite years of climbing many different types of rock so I was looking forward to that challenge as well as the realization of my long standing dream to climb Bugaboo rock! The fact that it was to be as part of a T1D team was just icing on the cake. Low carb icing, that is.

Before getting into the meat of this post which is visual, not narrative, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to Martin Fuhrer for being so generous both in taking photos and in sharing them with me (and by extension with all of you) and just as the climbing was a seamless collaboration, in many ways this post fulfills that same purpose.

Sunrise after a half hour hike up the boulder field and transitioned onto the snowfield below the glacier. Full disclosure, I did not slaughter the Kool-Aid man in some sort of diabetic protest-homicide–that red on the snow is actually algae that lives in the snow!

Looking ahead at our approach: Snowpatch spire is on the left, Bugaboo spire is on the right. Between the spires lies the Bugaboo-Snowpatch col or snow filled gully. Our route follows the zig-zag track up the col and over the notch in the center of the photo.

Martin and the Bugaboo-Snowpatch col reflected…

The snowfield below the col provided a good place to get familiar with crampon use and ice axe skills.

Beginning the climb up the col. The snow was generally solid underfoot at this point. Minimal kicking was needed in order to get your feet to “stick”.

Martin Fuhrer, Snowpatch spire in the background.

This is me coming up the col, closer to the top. In the foreground you see the Bergschrund, which is similar to a crevasse. More on this feature later! This shot gives you a sense for the steepness of the col. Feeling my feet slide out about 6 inches from every foot placement before they would really stick was pretty horrifying. It was steep as 5.6 rock slabs but your feet would sketch out from under you!

Once I was even with the Bergschrund, I took this shot looking across it from the right. The gap from the top lip to the lower one is about 12 feet wide.

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I really like this shot because it captures the scale of the approach to the top of the col. You may notice that the snow runs out in the foreground and it turns to dirt/scree. Upon reaching the scree, I literally thought I was going to peel off and go zipping into the gaping Bergschrund below. Martin was cool as can be and patiently waited for my expletive-laden traverse of this particularly hairy section to be complete before sharing that we “should probably have gone up the left side, even though its steeper”.

Once we reached the top of the col, there was a glacier to cross before we got onto any rock. Vowell glacier with the Howser towers in the background.

I had eaten a stout breakfast and kept snacking through the approach. Apparently almost skidding down the col didnt release enough adrenaline to raise my blood sugar because I am at 137 just before taking my morning Lantus…It looks like 177 but thats a 3. Just to preempt any would-be fact-checkers…

This is absolutely one of my favorite images from Project 365. If you can bring your diabetes HERE, then you can bring it anywhere. Thanks to Martin particularly for being right on the money when I was shooting up!

After another snack and a little rest, we roped up for the first time to cross the Vowell Glacier. Here we are casting off onto the snow and ice, with Pigeon Spire prominent in the background-the Howsers are off to the right.

The glacier crossing was not all that difficult, but we took lots of pictures. Here is Martin grabbing another great shot as Pigeon Spire looms closer!

Lots of photos!

After crossing the glacier and approaching Pigeon Spire, I went low. Not a crazy low, but having a hypo just before you step off a glacier and onto a rock climbing route up a spire that is pretty remote (by most people’s standards anyhow) was a little disconcerting for me. I hadnt taken any fast acting insulin in days and I had been eating enough to choke a horse. I figured that this low was a result of my Lantus that I took just before getting on the glacier and the aerobic exercise of the crossing.

Martin at the base of Pigeon Spire preparing to negotiate the rock route while I am chowing yet another Clifbar and fretting…

The west ridge was our route…and what a ridge! It was like being on the ridgepole of a house!

Martin doing some ridge-riding–I got some great video of this too!

Off to the right side of the ridge–I checked my sugar mid-route just to make sure I wouldnt have a rebound high. I didnt.

There were several false summits like this along the way and the climbing itself was interesting and not at all challenging. We found some ice on the route which gave us pause…but it was nothing that made me wish I had lugged my crampons along! I was happy to have plenty of Clifbars along though and I ate several over the course of the climb!

Finally the summit and another sugar check. Still in range! I kept waiting for it to rebound high but it didnt. I kept burning it off!

Together Martin and I ascended the summit block. If you look in the bottom of the photo you will see my helmet balanced to capture video on the GoPro helmet camera!

Then came time to descend…another awesome shot by Martin.

Here is what it feels like to carry a 70 meter rope for a route that went cordless and didnt have any rappels that required more than 50 meters of cord…overprepared!

Then we downclimbed the rest of the route, back down to the glacier.

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Walking the ridgepole on the way back down!

Back down onto the glacier after taking in a snack. It was about 5 PM at this point. We opted to take our time since the weather was beautiful and we had the option of not rushing our descent.

We retraced our steps back to the top of the col that was so tenuously ascended earlier in the morning. Back across the Vowell Glacier and with only our descent back down to the snowfield below the col blocking an easy descent back to camp, we almost had it in the bag. It was getting later but we still had light and both Martin and I had been avoiding low blood sugar. Now we were in an incredibly dangerous point of the day. We had successfully achieved our summit and “only” a little bit of descending was left to do. Distraction, exuberance, hubris even begin to cloud the judgement. We discussed the need to really dial in our descent of the col.

We had two options. Downclimb (no ropes, because belaying was thoroughly impractical) or rappel the col. Rappelling seemed to be the way to go. I wanted to validate having brought an unnecessary length of rope–plus I was scared out of my mind after almost getting chopped on the way up there in the morning! Martin agreed to rappel the route with me since it was pretty clear that we wouldnt both be comfortable otherwise (which was very nice of him, in retrospect!)

The rap route went down the left, steeper side of the col. Earlier in the day we had bypassed the Bergschrund by going around it on the right. Now, this gaping moat lay squarely in our path which would have otherwise been very simple. We had already committed to our descent by the time we saw how big it was…we talked about traversing out into the middle and down climbing but I was not able to accept that option. It was my first day on a glacier and warm temperatures had been melting it all day, so the integrity of the snowpack was diminished–a fact evidenced by frequent and loud rockfall from across the col. Snow and ice acting like glue, holding the conglomerate together would melt, releasing fragments of the mountains.

The sun was going down, and it sounded like we were in an artillery range, with rocks the size of home appliances strafing the snowfield below the col. Our path down and out of that environment was blocked by a crevasse!

It doesnt look that big and bad, right? Thats what I thought too–till I got down into the business. I had to rap straight down into the crevasse and climb sideways while on rappel to get far enough over to scramble onto the snowbridge that I am pointing out for Martin after I was through the worst of it.

I rappelled down into the Bergschrund and immediately I became aware of the dripping water from the upper lip of the ice and snow. Hanging in my harness I couldnt reach behind me (even using my axe) and climb out on the lower “lip” of the Bergschrund–it was beyond my reach by several feet. I looked to my right and saw sunken snowbridges. Some had totally collapsed and lay tens of feet below and were just shattered remnants of the volatility of mountain snow-pack. About 15 feet to my right however, there was a sunken bridge that had melted down but still was barely connected to the lower edge of the Bergschrund. This was our only hope. This narrow and rotten bit of snow, bridging the crevasse would have to hold–or else I would go swinging back, down and across into the jagged of the innards of the Bergschrund.

Translation: Broken limb/s at best. Internal bleeding or TBI (traumatic brain injury) at worst. None of these ideas appealed to me. I tried to avoid thinking about how the Bergschrund could also collapse on top of me in addition to all of the other horrific scenarios that were playing out in my mind. In order to avoid vocalizing these scenarios too vividly, Martin and I engaged in small talk to keep it light. Diabetes was pretty light by comparison: “So hey, hows your sugar been…mine has been a little low today…yeah I ate a bit up at the top of the col…”.

Martin was unflappable. He was calm as if he was sitting on a sofa in his living room. I on the other hand was flapping about like three sheets to the wind.

Upon reaching the snowbridge, I made an attempt to scramble up onto it. I had my left foot precariously balancing me on boulder-choked ice in front of me and as I attempted to stand up on the snowbridge with my right foot, the edge of the snow sheared off and I barely caught myself before swinging off to one of the fates that I had been imagining. I tried a second time. This HAD to work or else…

I planted my axe as far as I could in the rotten snowbridge and gingerly beached-whaled myself up and quickly scrambled up the other side and out of the maw of the glacier. I rapped down to safety…

Now I had to wait for Martin. From where I was, I could see him descend into the Bergschrund. Each minute seemed like an hour or more. I knew that because he was shorter than me, he would likely use a different sequence to put the moves together. I could see that his rope was angled off to the right and it was taught. I knew he hadnt taken a swing off to the side, so that was hopeful…

This was one of the most comforting sights I could see, as Martin emerged from the belly of the beast–smiling and still upbeat as ever.

We descended the remainder of the snowfield back down to camp together to eat, rest and celebrate the climbing life. Diabetes was good for small talk and it was just part of our routines.

That was my 250th day of climbing and my realization of a dream. My life absolutely changed that day, but that is a topic for a future post.

Climbing before the climbing

Climbing before the climbing

It was unseasonably warm for late September in British Columbia. We had been worried about being able to get any climbing at all in as the end of the season was near, but from where we sat at Martin’s parents place in Edgewater it looked as though the weather itself was giving way for us to get in one hail Mary attempt in the mountains.

We had three days to climb and the weather forecasted rain approaching four days out. We looked at all the objectives in the Bugaboos and decided that we should aim for something that would be a safe bet even with the days growing much shorter. Stefanie was still feeling ill but she was determined to make it up to base camp and decide at that point if she would take on a further climbing objective.

We drove about an hour from Edgewater on dirt roads into Bugaboo Provincial Park. As dirt roads go, these were very reasonable and rounding each bend I kept feeling my heart jump into my throat as I waited for the first glaciers to come into view.

That first…magical and intimidating view of the Bugaboo Glacier from the road!

This was to be the fulfillment of a dream but would also be my first time on a glacier, negotiating the hazards of snow and ice. Rock climbing has been my focus over the years but here in the Bugs, one had to negotiate glaciers and snow couloirs to reach the rock spires–and this was something completely new to me. Martin had grown up on glaciers with his dad on the other hand, and it looked like we had struck a good balance; I would handle leading the rock climbing sections and Martin would lead through the glacial and snow sections, each of us playing to our strengths.

The beginning of the climb to base camp.

Yup. Thats where we are heading. Up THERE. Settle in and enjoy the hike. Apologize to your back and knees after it’s all done with.

I mounted the GoPro on a chest harness to capture the approach; This is yet another view of Martin waiting patiently for the lowlanders to catch their breath!

Further up the approach the glacier came into better view and we got a better look at the Hounds Tooth in the middle.

The foot of the glacier (photo: Martin Fuhrer)

A moment of easy fun amidst the grueling, uphill…fun! (photo: Martin Fuhrer)

(photo: Martin Fuhrer)

The fellowship of the Insulin.

We took a lot of pictures. It cost us some time but it kept us on a reasonable pace and now we have lots of captured memories!

Some parts of the approach are steeper than others… (photo: Martin Fuhrer)

See caption above…and dont slip. (Photo: Martin Fuhrer)

Getting closer to the basecamp; things start to flatten out and water is flowing nearby.

 

Footbridge crossing as I am capturing video with my iphone. There was a camera capturing the action through photo or video almost all the time! (photo: Martin Fuhrer)

We kept a moderate but steady pace and reached our camp after about 4 hours. We had less than one hour of light left at this point and hurried to set up our tent and get some dinner ready. Morning would come early and we needed to start at dawn to reach our objective at a reasonable time. Stefanie made a customary quinoa stir-fry which I ate without any bolus injection. I checked my sugar again about 4 hours later and was at 141. It was 3 am at this point and I had to force myself to get back to sleep. I was so excited I didn’t want to just lay there and wait.  Then came the approach. The climbing before the climbing. There really is no way to describe packing a 70lb load of camping gear, food, cookware, camera equipment, clothing and climbing gear up a steep trail for 4 hours. I can tell you that I ate about 150 grams of carbs without touching any additional insulin and my blood sugar was holding around 110 for the duration. It was both odd and completely normal to take “blood sugar breaks” with Martin where we could stop together and monitor ourselves and compare notes.

Its almost like a vacation from Type 1 Diabetes. Almost.

There are very few things in this world worth waking up this early for. Climbing in the Bugaboos is one of them.

By the time the sun rose I had finally gotten tired again and was ready to go back to sleep–but it was time to climb so I struggled out of the tent and made a quick breakfast of oatmeal, jerky and a Clifbar Builder Bar. Again, no bolus despite a fairly substantial carb intake because I knew that if experience was any indicator, the amount of time I would spend crossing the glaciers would burn off all that and then some.

I shouldered my pack which held extra food, clothes, headlamp, crampons and all my diabetes gear–I had enough in the pack to spend an uncomfortable but safe night out away from camp in the event that a fast moving storm pinned us down. This wasnt like  roadside cragging or gym climbing. These were big mountains with many objective hazards and being prepared was paramount. Getting up to the summit was optional. Getting down, mandatory.

Sunrise. Time to climb!

Meet the Fuhrers.

Meet the Fuhrers.

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Crossing into Canada from Montana at the Roosville border crossing station was our first order of business–and turned out to be a bit of a challenge. I suggested to Stefanie that she capture some B-roll of us showing our passports and making small talk with the border crossing agents as we went across. The red-faced young woman at the window when we pulled up was somewhat less than cordial. She demanded that we put away the camera and bluntly stated that she didn’t want to be involved “whatever it is that you people are doing”.

I am customarily quite meek when confronted by law enforcement, but I was a bit affronted that she was so terse in her reference to Project 365. “Seriously?” I asked. “Do you know what we are even doing this for?”

She ignored my questions entirely and my desire to engage her in any sort of further conversation vanished like flatulence in a stiff breeze. She instructed me to pull around to the side and wait for an agent to “assist us” and assured us that someone would be right with us.

I began to fear that the type of “assistance” I was in for would involve latex exam gloves and that I would have to wait for hours to even get to that point. As it turned out, I was only half right; no cavity searches ensued, but we sat there for an hour watching the border agents in their office doing absolutely nothing until my surly friend finally came out and handed us our passports and wished us a good trip.

With no more mobile internet access (roaming charges are exorbitant!) we headed north into British Columbia with our only directions being to “drive 3 hours north and turn left into the town of Edgewater. Look for a red Honda FIT”. Navigation was simple enough but converting miles per hour into kilometers per hour by doing long division in my head nearly caused me to wreck the car when I wasn’t busy exceeding the speed limit.

After exploring the back streets of Edgewater and wishing that I had gotten an actual address from Martin when I had the opportunity, we were almost ready to break down and eat the roaming charges and send out a distress email, but then we found the right house. We had driven 1300 miles with general directions and found ourselves in the driveway of a fellow Type 1 climber who happened to live at the foot of the mountain range that had haunted my dreams since the first day I dared to dream of being a climber myself.

We exited the vehicle and almost immediately three figures appeared on the porch in front of us. They moved towards us to greet us and while I was absent-mindedly introducing my wife and myself I was trying to get my bearings and size up our new friends. I recognized Martin from his gmail chat avatar and he was flanked by his parents (Hans and Lilo Fuhrer) who were kind enough to host our meeting. They greeted us with thick German accents and despite their apparent age, their eyes shone with energy and strength. I turned to Martin and attempted to figure out where to begin.

What do you say to someone when you drive halfway across the continent to meet them based on sharing a love of climbing and a need to self-regulate a portion of your endocrine function? I felt strangely awkward not knowing immediately what to say–but at the same time I was happy because I realized that I couldn’t think of much to say because on a certain level, we already understood each other. Diabetes is like that–and so is climbing.

So I opted to just stand there in the driveway like a mental patient, smiling and nodding and doing my best to take in and catalog all the offers of snacks, meals and hot drinks that were being offered. Lilo even had a sage tea brewing because she had heard about Stefanie’s being under the weather. I couldn’t say no to a couple of cookies whose ingredients would satisfy even the most austere nutritional snobs (I should know after all!) and with food and drink in hand the five of us sat down on the porch to get to know each other.

Martin was a few year my senior and had been living with type 1 diabetes for almost a decade. We compared notes about our respective diagnosis stories and exchanged rough sketches of our day to day management. It was clear that we had wildly differing dietary proclivities and that our routines were not at all the same–but instead of being worried I began to see that our understanding of our own needs would allow us to integrate with each other rather than interfering as I had feared.

Lilo and Hans were very involved in the discussion; they had vivid recollections of first encountering type 1 diabetes and shared their concerns about feeling helpless when blood sugars misbehaved but at the same time they were unwavering in their stance that having diabetes was nothing that should stop anyone from living their life to the fullest.

Lilo and Hans Fuhrer (photo by Martin Fuhrer)

Lilo was also accomplished in the mountains; a gymnast and skier as well as a climber, being the first female to ascend the Diretissima on Yamnuska in 1964–a route that was on par with the some of the hardest rock climbs that had been established at that time. She also competed and medaled in national ski competitions in the cross-country category. She too had seen triumph and loss of life in the vertical world at a time when mountain sports were predominated by male athletes but was unflinching in her enthusiasm.

Hans Fuhrer, 76 years young, still crushing it. (photo: Martin Fuhrer)

Lilo and Martin Fuhrer (photo: Martin Fuhrer)

Martin had, not surprisingly grown up in the mountains and had spent his formative years climbing. Diabetes came to him during his college years and prompted him to seek out the challenges of his adolescence once again and he had done so with full support from his parents. How strange, I thought. My parents think Im crazy for climbing. Martin’s upbringing in the mountains with his parents taught him to accept challenges and simply normalize them until they were just another day out climbing. Talk about empowerment!

These people were no armchair climbers and yet they were so humble. I couldn’t have guessed even a fraction of their depth as mountaineers from what I had been told in emails. These were pioneers; true, old school legends; giants upon whose shoulders several generations of climbers had stood to see further into the future. Lilo and Hans Fuhrer sat before us, now in their mid seventies with undiminished energy and full knowledge of all of the consequences of living in the mountains and told us how excited they were that we had taken on Project 365 and that they were excited that Martin and I would be able to partner together for some climbing in the Bugaboos.

I was completely overwhelmed upon hearing this. I was sitting on the porch exchanging stories and pleasantries with people who had climbed with Fritz Wiessner, Fred Beckey, Chuck Pratt, Royal Robbins and many many others who are now climbing legends. Google some of the preceding names if you haven’t heard of them. As a climber, you couldn’t fall ass-backwards into a richer experience than what I was experiencing. It would be the equivalent of going to buy a guitar amplifier off of craigslist and finding out that it had been played by Jimi Hendrix.

I suddenly had a really good feeling about the upcoming climbing. I felt like my life was about to change and though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, I just felt so connected to these people and I knew Martin and I would really click in the mountains.

Martin and I broke off and took a short hike out to a bluff overlooking the headwaters of the Columbia River and we talked privately about our perspectives on climbing and diabetes. It amazed me how much we shared in common; we had traveled similar paths without ever knowing it and had found diabetes to be an opportunity to excel rather than a curse. Suddenly I felt totally understood. I felt validated–like climbing mountains every day for a year was normal–or that it could be.

I took on Project 365 not to show off how I manage to excel but because what I do is normal in my world and can be normal for anyone–and meeting someone else who made me feel completely normal was incredibly empowering for me. I had been so concerned with empowering other PWD that I had forgotten that I needed empowerment too. As I tried to contain my excitement, not wanting to scare off my new climbing partner with excessive exuberance, I thought about what a colossal blunder it would have been if I had not driven 1300 miles to meet up in response to a seemingly random email.


The great unknown: like online dating but more risky

The great unknown: like online dating but more risky

About a month ago I was frantically scrambling to get back in rhythm with my climbing. Delays with my car’s registration and plates had me pinned down and while I was able to always find something to climb I was falling further off of my edge and I felt like I would never make it into the big mountains–a  part of the project that I had been putting off all summer due to other, significantly worthy engagements that kept me in flatter topography.

During this time I received an email asking about the possibility of partnering for some climbing in the Bugaboo mountains in British Columbia from a fellow Type 1 named Martin. Let me back up for a moment and say that the Bugaboos (aka “the Bugs”) have loomed in my imagination as the apex of alpine splendor since day I took the first step forward in the world of climbing and purchased Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills and saw the photo of Bugaboo Spire on the cover. I stared at that photo as I purchased that book in 2006 and many times since, wondering how long it would be till I got to go there. The specter of the Bugs bled through into the planning of Project 365 and it was one of the principal places I wanted to share with the DOC (Diabetic Online Community). If you can bring diabetes here, then a whole world of possibility opens up!

Reading Martins email, I was cautiously optimistic. I told him I would get in touch with him once I had definite dates and that we could see what our respective situations looked like at that point. There are lots of complications that can arise from meeting someone online and finding their actual “self” to be much different than their online persona. Given the fact that climbing depends on all of the usual relationship dynamics coupled with putting your life in your partners hands, there was a small part of me that hesitated to move forward with this meeting–lots of what-ifs.

Then there was the issue about the diabetes. PWD are also fickle like the alpine weather, eccentric and OCD. We are difficult and we have our own little ways of doing everything to create normalcy. I have often told people that I am not some super diabetic above the fray of routine–I just have normalized a NEW routine that allows me to be functional in the mountains. Once you adjust, then its all plug and play, even if you’re surrounded by rock  on one side and the abyss on the other! At the heart of it all, I am forced to encounter the fact that I am a cantankerous curmudgeon who resists change like the plague. So what if Martin was as difficult as I am? What if his routine and mine didn’t jive?

Im not a self hating diabetic, but this condition is all about calibration and the wrong match up can create challenges. There is no “diabetic diet” or set routine that we all follow. I do things one way, while other people who are striving towards the same goal may do things wildly differently. I am used to being the odd man out and just telling everyone else to do their thing and I adjust and  play along, but would that work on a multi-day trip into the mountains with another T1? We would be out there together, depending on a greater level of teamwork, not every man for himself!

The season was late (early Sept) and the fickle weather of the alpine world can be disagreeable even in the summer but the early fall in the low country signals the end of the climbing season in the high country as snowfall ramps up at elevations over 7,000 feet and skiing season takes shape. I knew that I had very little time to dither about and that there would be no second chance at this–I had to hang it out there and take a risk. If Martin and I didnt click properly, if our strategies on climbing didnt mesh, if our experience and skill levels weren’t compatible, we would be in for a rough time or possibly worse. Physical risks aside, the project budget was (and is!) waning and this would have to be a great trip to validate driving 1300 miles.

On the other hand…I just had a really good feeling about this guy–and if I was able to  get up there and capture several days worth of footage in the Bugs, it could set a new high point for the project and change the whole dynamic of the film. I assessed the risk and decided that there was more to be gained by at least trying than there was to be lost if we tried and failed.

By the late September I had turned 30, narrowly avoided getting struck by lightning, and had rejoined Stef. There was a weather window that looked to be unseasonably warm and would fall perfectly in line with our arrival in British Columbia. With my wife and partner by my side, I headed north to explore an online relationship in person, prepared to shoulder the risk of any possible result.

If you havent already figured it out from reading these blogs, I am pretty neurotic and I put a lot of pressure on myself. I take things to heart. I overthink things. I was acutely aware that Stefanie had freed up a lot of time from her new job to join me and help with shooting this leg of the trip. There were many dynamics in play and I prattled away incessantly as we drove through Utah, Idaho, Montana and into British Columbia. I found the most easily accessible roadside boulders to climb for my daily ascent and then I returned to the car, trying to verbally account for the fact that Stefanie was getting ill and might have to sit out our climbing adventure in the Bugs.

She had come down with a sinus infection that had never really gone away and I was concerned about it flaring up. We stopped at a grocery store in northern Montana and she grabbed the ingredients for her “secret” home remedy: Lemon, Garlic, Cayenne pepper, Ginger, Honey and vinegar. We drove across the street to a gas station where we got cups of hot water and proceeded to assemble the aforementioned ingredients in the car.

We still had an 8-10 hour drive ahead of us and it was nighttime. We opted to pull off and sleep and let the concoction work and get a little sleep for the next days mission to meet Martin at his parents place just south of our climbing destination in British Columbia. We had no way to know what the next few days would hold for us!

Heading out again! (day 276)

Heading out again! (day 276)

I have been photographing and filming the beautiful fall colors in the northeast as I have been climbing principally in the Gunks on fair weather days and ducking indoors to the Inner Wall in New Paltz, one of our first sponsors, who have been kind enough to support this project. Staying with my dad has limited my ability to blog since he does not have Wi-Fi and the blogs that I want and need to write involved larger photos that are not on my phone and require more bandwidth to upload here.

I know that quietness on the blog front may seem like a lack of activity but if anything, the tremendous amount happening is making me prioritize and stealing my efforts away from writing as much as I would like to. Getting the remainder of Project 365 funded through our final campaign has been a big focus and thanks to generous friends, we are 15% of the way to being able to fund the last several months of this mission.

I try to respond to tweets, retweets, facebook comments and the like, but I want to make sure it is stated here again, that I am SO appreciative of all of the help we have gotten and continue to get–in specific contributions and also in spreading the word and sharing this project. You guys are awesome!

I am hitting the road for a time to get down into the Red River Gorge of Kentucky and possibly other areas of the south east and I am looking for folks to climb with.

I would love to meet up with (for climbing or just for coffee) any members of the DOC.  I am looking for partners for weekdays in the Red over the next few weeks and if anyone wants to come out and try climbing and see what this Project is like on the day to day level, I welcome anyone interested. You dont need to be crushing big-number routes or have a ton of experience. There is a lot to do and learn so get in touch if you or someone you  know is available to mix some climbing with diabetes!

Lastly…I would like to tell you all to keep an eye on the blog next week because I am beginning to unpack our British Columbia adventure and it is something that will resonate with you if you have enjoyed any element of what has been shared so far! I anticipate several posts on that adventure, so please be patient!

 

My challenge to you!

My challenge to you!

Before I get into this post I want to thank every single person who has shared, contributed financially, liked our posts, tagged our Facebook page, retweeted and mentioned us twitter. We have come a long way and accomplished a lot more than imagined at the outset. None of this would be happening without you–the reader, the supporter who gives freely of their time and attention and more!

In the remaining days of the project we are looking to raise $3,650 via our Indiegogo campaign, similar to the one we ran before starting the project. Please click below and check out the new video and some of the perks we have to offer! We are also looking to add approximately 200 people to our Facebook following (1000+ total!)

We need you to help us do this and I am challenging our supporters to help us keep this project rolling and reaching people. Tag us in posts and ask your friends to like our page. Email some of your friends. People give more attention to much less worthwhile things in a day online (think Honey Boo-Boo videos, political rants, memes etc) so why not Project 365? This is something everyone reading this can (and many of you HAVE) do/done. It costs nothing.

Financial contributions are always appreciated too and raising money is one of our goals in order to finish this project successfully. However I know that giving money isn’t right for everyone. Many of you already have and that has not been forgotten. Please consider sharing our project with other people you know. A lot of hands make light work.

We have 800 people following us on Facebook currently- and if every follower were to contribute  $10 we would more than double our funding goal and have enough funds to actually produce the documentary beyond the scope of the actual climbing itself!

I hate asking for help. However the more I have continued with this project I have been blessed and humbled by the undeniable fact that this venture could not have happened without the help of many of you who have given without hesitation. While I am doing the climbing, the act of climbing in isolation would have very little significance. The support and community that has come out of this project IS the project. The climbing is the vehicle, the conduit.

Having said that, it’s an amazing vehicle and I believe that will become even more evident as I have a chance to finish the project and catch you up on my recent adventures. The funding from our initial fundraiser last year, coupled with the money we secured from selling clothes and “stuff” from before we went on the road, carried us for almost 9 months without having to think about raising money. Now we are just trying to close the gap to get to day 365.

As a parting thought, these blogs and the pictures on Facebook and Instagram are only the tip of the iceberg. I just got the final stats and analytics from the interviews I did in Atlanta at the climbing event we participated in there–and I was blown away. I had no idea we had gotten out to so many people: There were 429 total radio and TV airings of my interviews on 253 stations, which reached a total of more than 8.7 million people.

Maybe that’s not a lot of people. I don’t do market research for a living. Maybe its a vastly amazing number. All I know is that when this first started I never dreamed we would come close to that number–and because of many small contributions we have been able to make an incredible beginning. If you are here reading this blog, that means that you have an appreciation on some level for what is being done–and what will be done in the future–so I am challenging you to help us take this next step.

Don’t just click away, thinking you can’t do anything. Every share, every “like”, every retweet, email, word of mouth…I only wish we could see the analytics on THAT–I feel like we would all be in for a big surprise to see just how many others we can reach when we are invested in a common goal!

 

 

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