Surgery Six Proposition

I had a proposition. I’d readied my pitch to the surgeons at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, where, by the way, I’ve received hands-down the best medical treatment in my storied surgical career, from the people in the lobby to the nurses and assistants to the surgeons. Don’t know how they do it, but they do. This was two-plus weeks ago, and Dr. Hackett was about to trim my torn knee meniscus, while Dr. Clanton was about to remove a good chunk of the hardware store in my lower leg and clean-out scar tissue, bone spurs, and other such nastiness. Made sense to do ‘em at the same time, since it’s all on the same leg and the recoveries are similar. Plus, I’m not quite back to climbing yet from my massive shoulder surgery in December, and so we’d time it all just right – next week, I’ll start walking again (been on crutches for this short time since the surgeries), and in a couple of weeks I’ll start climbing again. Perfect. Rehab is coming along phenomenally well – if I do one thing well in life, besides fucking myself up, I do rehab.

Psyched after successful surgeries, and the news that I should be back at it soon.

This recent round made six surgeries in just over a year. Enough. Anyway, one of the super cool things they were doing is a new-ish treatment called mesenchymal stem cell transplant. Something like that. They’d go into my hip with a syringe (after I was asleep) and extract stem cells from my bone marrow, and, after doing some centrifuge-like procedure, inject them into the then-empty screw holes in my leg and the damaged cartilage in my cankle. Apparently these stem cells show great promise to speed recovery and maybe even grow new cartilage where it typically doesn’t regenerate. The stem cells take on the characteristics of the targeted cells, as I understand it, and can thus repair damaged tissue.

So I got to thinking.

“Hey doc,” I said to Clanton before they put me under, “I know this probably isn’t an approved use, but I got a twenty with your name on it if you take some of those stem cells and inject ‘em into my brain.” Everybody in the room laughed. They thought I was joking. I lowered my voice to a whisper: “OK, make it fifty.”

Then they put me to sleep.

My cankle. The "groove" is where a loose bone chunk, probably grinding into my foot whenever I moved, had worn through my cartilage; the stem cells could (we hope) help repair the damage. Dr. Clanton also cleaned-out a proverbial shitton of scar tissue, some of which had trapped a major nerve, and he removed two plates and 12 screws. Photo: Dr. Tom Hackett

Civility on the Interwebs, Little Weenies and Old Farts

Nobody ever thought I’d say this, but I like it when people communicate in reasonable ways on the Internet. At least when it’s regarding something I wrote – otherwise, since I don’t have TV, I kind of like to sit back and watch the fracas. Such a barrier exists with Internet communication that it’s easy to be a dick – just browse any number of web forums or comments sections. I’ve been guilty as well, no doubt. I think it’s just the distance. We’re more willing to be rude from behind the windshield of our vehicles than we’d be on the sidewalk, for example. And then get behind a computer, with all the tubes and microbes and gizmos and whatnot creating relative anonymity, and it’s no wonder mayhem rules the interwebs.

But I liked the tone of most of the commentary I got from my latest Cleanest Line post. It’s about adventure and the younger generation, and I hypothesize and navel-gaze over whether or not today’s youth are as inclined toward real-deal adventure (however you define that…). To be clear – as I’m pretty sure I was in the post – I’m not saying they’re weenies; I’m not saying they’re Gods. The young guns climb crazy hard, that’s for sure. It’s part of a natural evolution. It’s also undoubtedly true that, as our society grows increasingly mechanized, automated, and comfortable, each generation – overall, mind you – becomes less willing to embrace discomfort. Isolated examples don’t prove a larger point (“Yeah, well my buddy rode his bike naked to the North Pole, so your assumption is asinine!”). And maybe embracing discomfort – like the willingness to suffer for far-flung fantasies and adventure – is nothing but stupid. Intellectually, sure, it’s stupid. Why suffer? Well then, why ever leave the couch? (Aside from trips to the fridge, of course.) But somehow I’m unconvinced that the couch, or necessarily striving for comfort, equates to any sort of universal wisdom. I feel like something gets lost.

I’m drifting, but I wanted to re-post what I wrote. It’s below. At least as interesting as the text, though, are the replies. One thing that struck me is how some folks latched onto a single morsel and ran, even sprinted, with it. Like parts touched a nerve. That’s a good thing, I think. But sometimes I was like, “Uhhh, dude, I never said that. Sorry that your momma didn’t breast feed ya or whatever.” I suppose we all sometimes read things however we want to read them. Including, perhaps, our own writings.

The replies are spread over the original TCL post and the Facebook posts on my page, Patagonia’s, and Alpinist’s (they posted it, too).

Admittedly the topic doesn’t truly matter. It’s just fun to think about – I think so, anyway. Hope you enjoy it, or at least maybe fish some good chunks of lint out of your navel.

Choose Your Own Adventure 

Jim Donini, mid-approach in search of virgin climbing terrain in remote Chilean Patagonia.

While gazing into my navel and pulling lint the other day, I wondered about adventure. It seems to me that, based on my admittedly unscientific observations of news reports and the ascents I encounter in my American Alpine Journal editorial job, refinement ascents are all the rage. By refinement, I mean something other than bona fide first ascents and new routes. Things like fastest ascent, new enchainment, first alpine-style ascent, first one-day ascent and first free ascent with its endless sub-denominations (onsight, redpoint, continuous free, team free, individual free, and so many that I can’t keep them straight – and, notably, as with everything that is a work in progress, the standards keep shifting).

I don’t mean for “refinement” to sound derogatory. You can’t fault today’s climbers for the reality that fewer obvious virgin lines exist. But we’ve got so many more advantages now, why not make the extra effort? Why aren’t the young whipper snappers doing like the royal “we” did? Uphill both ways with frostbitten toes and an 80-pound pack, baby? (80?! Hell, we had 100!) Well, for one, it’s probably true that the young whipper snappers aren’t as inclined to trudge to the middle of nowhere – they’re too busy climbing hard.

It’s just a shift. Things evolve. And who’s to say that a first free isn’t an adventure? (Though there can be little dispute that, all else equal, heading onto previously untouched terrain presents a much greater element of the unknown.)

It’s pretty freakin’ amazing how hard some of today’s younger climbers climb.

And still, I’ve wondered if the younger generation is more or less inclined to adventuresome expeditions.

Not that we have any way of knowing. Sure, fewer of today’s climbers go on far-flung adventures when viewed in proportion to the total climbing population, but that’s because the total number of climbers has grown by a shitton (spell-check always flags that word, but I’m pretty sure it’s one word, not two). Yet in absolute numbers, I know from my AAJ work that plenty of young climbers still head off the beaten path to chase windmills, and I love it. Maybe they just don’t make the headlines so much, and most of climbing’s surging popularity naturally comes from those drawn to the more accessible realms. Whether or not this reflects shifts in our increasingly modernized and comfortable lives, the fact remains that it’s relatively easy and enjoyable to safely dabble in bouldering, cragging and gym climbing. Type I fun – what a concept. And some of those “dabblers” get damned good. It feels good to be good.

Kelly roadside cragging on Redneck Hero, at the River Wall, Lyons, CO. Photo: Tommy Caldwell

So maybe climbers are just getting smarter. I mean, is there value in suffering for the hell of it, or in adventure for adventure’s sake?

I don’t know. But I know that some people prefer the blue tape route, and I like it, too. Along with my Facebook, quick access to climbing, and high-speed internet. Yet I still squeeze my limes by hand.

We all choose our battles.

If true that today’s generation is less inclined to go remote, that’s OK. Think of the bright side: You know how most people who visit national parks never leave their vehicles or go farther than like 200 yards from their SUV? Unreal, right? Absolutely. And a damn good thing if, instead of pontificating about the old days, you want to get away from the masses and have yourself an adventure.