‘Cluck!’ – there was a cracking sound and before I felt any pain I watched in disbelief as a side of my wrist inflated like a small balloon. I was on a day out in Italy ice climbing with my coach and friend Stephanie Maureau. We have just scaled a breathtakingly beautiful grade IV icefall and were on our way down walking on a steep terrain. For balance I grabbed a tree branch that turned out to be dry. It broke leading me to break instinctively with my wrist. A cinematic helicopter rescue followed with a man in black strapping himself to my harness and us dangling over the spectacular Cogne Valley. A James Bond episode it was.
I was dropped off in the Aosta hospital’s emergency room that was overflowing with pain and misery. As I lay abandoned on a gurney parked against a random wall, I was bawling my eyes out. Just 5 days before I went public with my bid to challenge the female world record for the Explorers’ Grand Slam. Gosh, I felt incredibly sorry for myself and so extremely angry that in some 15 years of injury-free skiing and alpinism this had to happen to me now.
My climb on a technical route on Aconcagua was just one month away. I closed my eyes silently rewinding the journey I made to that summit in February of 2015. The images flashed in front of me: the moraine, the steep Southern face and the cross on the top, after these on final one popped up – a group of wounded warriors led by AMS’s Colby Coombs who I met descending from the summit. I remembered them walking in a long line uphill, brave and determined to get to the top. Hmm …after all my injury was nothing compared to the discomfort and challenge that they must have faced.
I had a way out – I had to adapt my plan to the normal route that if need be I could do with a cast – no technical skills required. I had to give up – at least for the moment – my dream of climbing the Polish Glacier, a route few attempt and one I was ready for.
Next day back in Cham I woke up still bothered and in pain. My mind was racing for a solution for speedier recovery. Surgery? Cloning? That morning I could not put my socks on let alone lace up my Scarpa boots… A house guest lent me her Buddhify app to help relax with some meditation. The app denoted verbs to correspond to life’s problems. For managing illness, the verb was allow as in accept this as a part of one’s life, don’t fight it, adapt. I remembered podcasts I listened to while skiing to the South Pole: Uelli Steck interviewed during his injury speaking of the hours he had to spend on a stationary bike at home; Hazel Findlay, a top UK female climber, recovering from a shoulder injury, turning to studying psychology in the months she could not train. Each taming their minds and adapting the routine.
I had to avoid gravity for the next few weeks – I could not (as in should not) ski or climb – but I could hike on altitude, run or, for that matter, practice doing nothing, an invaluable skill for Everest Base Camp. On the way back from the French clinic, I asked Tim to pass by the shop to buy a pair of snowshoes. Next morning I downloaded the Strava app and pointed my snowshoes towards ski slopes ‘skiing in reverse’ towards the end of the lifts. I was saved from myself, whimpering and self pity. Upwards and onwards!