Vent and Mountain

Woo, 3 climbs over the summer months – gotta catch up on this blog.  Picture fest coming up … ventilator ducking out of sight … and in the background some huge, dark mountains.
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Late July, it was back to the Furnace.  Not been there since Clare’s 2nd-ish time at The Foundry.  It was more of a Fridge in the winter but now it’s hotter and Nick has got a big fan blowing air near our corner.  Clare says it’s not hot, and certainly her hands aren’t warm.

The conversation starts with dogs. The Whittaker dog is old and very poorly.  A lovable dog, from the pictures that Robin shows us.  Then we look at pics of Helen’s mum’s sociable labs and whippets, and then show pics of our Pip trying to sit on Clare’s lap while Clare tries to use her laptop.
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We discuss the climb. Nick has weighed the climbing helmet and a cycling helmet, and the climbing helmet is actually lighter.  He suggests the first climb without the helmet.  See whether Clare is swinging round and actually needing it.  Robin will try to assist Clare with posture.

The vent. Hardly discussed!  A month ago Clare did her only climb so far without it, and Robin carried it, ready to reconnect.  But now … nah, leave it switched off on the back of the chair. Reconnecting it won’t solve problems fast enough, and Clare should come down if needing a rest.  Nick and Helen point Robin to a sand bag to carry instead, tee hee.
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Today Clare wears a different pair of Hazel’s shoes, size 6 so a bit smaller: they seem to fit OK, but here the wall is a bit undercut and Clare’s feet don’t make much contact.  It means swinging round is less of an issue.
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Clare reaches well with her hands and steadily scales up. Robin is both checking when she wants to descend and encouraging her upwards. 

She still looks good when she comes down and Nick offers her advice on tactics for the next climb.  He suggests to all of us that she should get up the undercut start fairly quickly (so Nick & I should pull hard) and then she can use her feet at the more vertical zone.
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Robin (with his ultra short pre-holiday day) has climbed up and down by now, and we hear about his new bike … keenly awaited… in the meantime he’s stripping down and cleaning the old bike, and planning a long canoeing trip in Germany.

Climb 2: Clare keeps on reaching.  She is dangling at times but her arms (and all of our arms) are helping her up the overhang.  Robin climbs behind to push her to the wall.  I can’t really see Clare’s face but while her head looks firm and she keeps making an effort to reach, I have to assume she is OK.

She gets quite high.
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Then fairly suddenly, her head starts to hang further back and she doesn’t lift her arms forward and up.  She needs to come down.  She looks exhausted on arrival.

Nick says it was a 7-minute effort, the longest yet.  I suction airways and put on the probe, which gives a lowish reading.  I tell Clare to breathe up as she can reoxygenate herself faster on her own than wait for the vent at modest pressures to do the job.  Sats starts to rise and then I connect the vent so she can really rest.

Helen goes for coffees and we talk holidays.  Helen will be taking people kayaking (happy smiles, there’s just no staying away). Nick and Robin and family have 2 weeks in France and lots of cycling, and after that Clare and I and family have a week in Oxfordshire … after that there might just be time for a climb before Nick’s ‘Tour De Party’ when Nick gets launched on the road to Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc with the help of a charity cake bake by Robin and sisters.

We watch Helen leading a ‘5c’.

Clare is looking a bit better by now but hasn’t been cheerful enough to join in talk of the holidays, saying only that she is going to sleep when she gets home.  Then she manages a smile when someone who saw her here at The Foundry early on comes over to say “Hi” and to congratulate her on her ongoing success.

Fast forward to late August …

Helen waves from the top – she’s fixing the ropes.
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It’s been 5 weeks, and some things are different. Nick has stubble and Robin’s Y10 GCSE results are in.

The stubble is protection from the mountain elements. Wet weather is expected in the French Alps at the weekend but Nick is undaunted, travelling out there tomorrow. We give him a cake baked by Clare’s sister, Xan, and a couple of choc bars (carbo loading / recovery / comfort).

What’s really different for Clare is her new trache and new speaking valve. She is only using the vent at night-time now.  Her voice is more audible and the others can understand.  “How was your holiday?” asks Robin.  Clare’s swift reply: “Good! And how was yours?”
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Holiday anecdote: it was “hilarious”, says Robin, his dad’s biking accident. Apparently French bikes have front and rear brakes on the other handlebars compared to British bikes …Nick braked sharply at bottom of hill and flew over handlebars. “Leg was bruised black!” agrees Nick cheerfully. Oh yes, he confirms, still OK for the 100-mile Ultra Trail run.

Can’t match the bike stunt, but Clare had her own slightly spectacular crash, when the power chair spun off the road on a country lane and she plunged down into a hedgerow. No damage, luckily, except hair leafage and nettle rash.

Robin spent 3 days canoeing from the Polish border to Berlin – and his new bike was waiting for him when he got back.  “How’s the bike then?” we ask.  “Wonderful. [Sigh.] Everything you want in a bike.”

So, now for some climbing.  We’re at the same place as 3 climbs ago, but this time Robin climbs to Clare’s left rather than beyond the “liquorice”.

Clare wears Hazel’s grey climbing shoes, as used last time, and the strategy is to get hands and feet on the wall and to hold body out from wall. Clare is saying “thank you” a lot.  She really is going to get speech back.

Nick suggests Clare tries without a helmet at first, and we’ll see if she needs one. A very lightweight helmet would be good … what kind could we get? Helen and I think that French white water canoeing helmets are very light, and Helen says she’ll see if she can find one around.

First climb. Clare is reaching well.  She draws up both feet and uses them a bit, with help. It’s the most “whole body” climb I’ve seen Clare do.
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I wonder if Clare is breathing.  I call her name, and ask. She nods.  Robin says she’s OK.
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The speaking valve falls off and I catch it one-handed.  It isn’t essential but Robin has no trouble reaching down for it and fitting it back on.
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Clare gets pretty high.
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She comes down tired but she’s smiling.  I’m smiling too because we can hear what Clare says: “It was amazing!!”

Nick and Helen discuss Clare’s technique. Clare is using her stomach muscles. Though not under command for a year or so, they are still there. Clare used to be able to swing up onto a trapeze bar, I say.

Clare’s next remark is harder to figure out. I thought she said “I am going to climb again [after resting]”, but it turns out to be “I am really going to learn to climb again”, i.e. to get my ability to climb restored after my stroke.

Then it’s more holiday chat. Robin tells us about the “dead animal” that a friend on holiday started to look for … the friend traced the smell to Nick’s and Robin’s climbing boots 🙂

Clare says “Congratulations on your GCSE’s” to Robin. She is really looking forward to going back to school. She prefers school to holidays. Robin is the other way round.

2nd climb. Nick climbs with Clare.  Helen belays Clare, and Robin belays Nick.  It’s all change (though I keep pulling).  Clare gets almost as high with an all-over-body effort. 


She comes down tired, though still cheerful. Nick says it’s usually Robin saying “climb to the top” but actually he thinks himself that Clare could do it. 

We fix the next climb for 14th September, fitting round Helen’s busy weekends.  We wish Nick good luck for the UMTB, drink coffee, and eat Xan’s cake.

Swooosh …

Now September.  Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc is in the past, just about. We followed Nick via the LiveTrail SMS update service … for 82 kilometres of dark and steep mountain running, until medics told him to retire.

We meet Robin at the entrance.  How’s the bike?  “Excellent!” says Robin, huge smile.

We look for Nick and Helen as we enter the main hall and see them setting up at The Slab. We look particularly at Nick as we approach …. thinner?  Yes!  Certainly is.

Nick says he was 8kg lighter when weighed by the race medics, severely dehydrated. He’s grinning about that. He was extremely disappointed to be forced to stop – though he knew it was the decision that had to be made after throwing up from 8pm onwards all night and next day. But he’s pleased that people are still giving him sponsorship money to benefit the schools.

Clare and I have studied the results and tell Nick he would have been well-placed (exactly 1000th) if he’d not been forced to stop.

First climb.
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Nick will climb behind Clare again, with Helen belaying Clare, and Robin belaying Nick.

It’s a great start. I pass Robin the iPhone once Clare and Nick are round the 1st blob and he gets some good pictures. Feet on holds, and straightening legs – Nick encouraging and helping. 
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Something of a whoop from Helen as Clare gives a huge pull and Helen and I have our ropes go slack. Clare pulled harder or sooner than we expected, or she pushed up with her legs.

Nick is saying go for top.  Not very far from top … but Clare wants to descend.

Nick asks how tired on a scale of 1 to 10.  Clare says “7 plus”.  I’m thinking that Nick stops moving at 10.  On the other hand, Clare ought to stop moving before oxygen debt builds up.

Clare now says: “I want to work on my weight training”.  Well, we have just bought a pull bar to put up in doorways.  Robin gives us advice.  Tell people not to leap at it and swing into the room.  Erm, ok then.

While Clare rests we hear about Robin’s planned 4-hour bike ride to follow climbing today. He is building up to a ride from John O’Groats to Cornwall.  Or any excuse for a 4-hour bike ride.

2nd climb. Went much higher than any of expected.  Clare is trying really hard.  There is some “1 more pull!” going on … 1 more pull is followed by another 1 more pull.
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It’s Robin, watching from below, who says Clare should come down.  I’m just thinking that her hand positioning is looking less lively when Robin says she is “looking pale”.

Zoom back to chair. Clare is smiling and very positive.  “I really enjoyed it.”
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Now for some spectating: Robin climbs up a chimney route to get the ropes down.  Meanwhile Helen fetches coffees, including a frothy one for me and Clare to share. And cake for Nick, to try to feed him up a bit again.


See you in 2 weeks!

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