Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mazamas Here We Come!

Some people react quite extremely to poison oak while others get only mild irritation.  I'm a mild irritation person when it comes to poison ivy and sumac.  They are annoying, but no biggie.  Apparently, not so much when it comes to poison oak.  Somewhere around 1500 miles, I came into contact with this dreaded plant.  I didn't know it until approximately one week later when I awoke with over half my leg blistered and continuously weeping.  It went down hill from there.

Don't worry, no nasty pictures.  Just a pretty Mt. St. Helens shot.

We decided to take a train home from the California/Oregon border and go directly to Urgent Care.  The lady at the hospital was very nice.  She grimaced at my description of the problem, flagged my chart, and told me she would put me on "fast track."  This is the nice way of saying 'stand aside and wait patiently without sitting on, touching, breathing near, or in any way potentially infesting anything so we can get you out of here as quickly as possible.'  I was also periodically informed to stop scratching and to wash my hands.

The doctor was also very professional.  He only recoiled once.  He did a very good job of concealing his disturbed shock when he asked how long it had been this way, and I responded, "Only about 4 days."

I was put on 2 oral steroids, one hardcore topical nerve suppressant, and oatmeal baths.  The doctor then began the directions:

I'm not allowed to get hot, sweaty, or irritate my skin.  No scratching. Regular bathing with special soap and a return visit if it doesn't begin to seriously clear up in 4 days. Anymore blisters aren't okay.  Any full coverage spreading (not tiny little bumps) isn't okay.  Any facial breakouts or crotch issues, aren't okay.  Wash everything you own. If it isn't important or it can be replaced, just throw it away. Most importantly, NO HIKING.

My face must have foretold my dislike of this last edict. I asked about short, 3 or 4 day hikes.  

 I asked about day hiking. 

Weekend Warrior style? 

Car camping? 

I was not pleased.  I tried to explain about the closing of the season, about the snow in the Cascades.  I tried to talk about The Barracuda, 1700 miles in.  The problem of losing momentum.  The issue of each day lost being almost 30 miles, how that really tends to add up.  

 He was a very nice man, but wasn't having any of it.  In a quite authoritative voice he began to explain:

When infections begin to cover 80% or more of your body they reach a point of no return and must be treated like an invasive Staph infection.  I was at 75%.  Though only one leg, my butt, and my lower back were completely blistered and weeping now, in less than 2 days my entire torso was likely to become infected. Soon after my other leg would have symptoms.  The symptoms take about 3 days or so to appear and the reaction was too extreme not to have spread.  I was hiking in 100 degree temperatures, sweating, not bathing, using the same infected clothes and gear for days and generally doing everything possible to spread the poison.  NO HIKING!

 I did everything I was supposed to for 4 whole days.  Do you know how hard it is to go from moving all day long, to sitting your itchy butt all day long?!  We picked a gallon of blackberries.  We sorted through all the clothes The Barracuda had outgrown.  We sorted through all the clothes that we should give to the needy box at church. We did a trip into the city for a Goodwill run to find gear for eBaying.  We tried being lazy, getting coffee, and reading magazines.  Jules watched an entire season of Breaking Bad on Netflix.  The Barracuda read an entire chapter book in less than half a day.  We were going crazy.  There had to be something I could do that wouldn't irritate my skin, cause me to sweat or be overheated, but still meant we could do something.

Plus, I need to do a trial run to see if I could realistically hike anytime soon.  Things seemed to really be getting better. The infection was clearing up dramatically (though the doctor was right about the spreading).  I had been through almost all of my major steroid and gauze pads weren't necessary any more.

 So we went mountaineering!
Yes, the dog goes too.  She has a sweater, boots, and I'm working on fitting some microspikes.

Mountaineering met every qualification.  The air is cold, no overheating.  With adequate layering, you don't really sweat.  It was close enough to our house (less than an hour drive) meaning we didn't really need to go camping. I could take my required shower and regularly bathe since it was only a one day thing.  You are covering so much elevation that the pace is so slow you definitely couldn't be considered hiking.  Even better, you get up at 3 am, work all day long, and don't get home till after 7pm.

There is something quite wonderful about getting up before the sun and watching it slowly crest the top of the mountain.  The contrast between the snow, the sky, and the rock is always so striking.

The Barracuda is developing quite a thing for mountains.  After summitting Whitney, he is rather determined to take on more than a couple 14ers.  Mt. Adams has been a frequent playground of ours and his skill level is high enough now that we don't worry much.  This was mostlikely the last trip we will bring the harness and ropes for, and the pickets were left at home completely.

See, this is not hiking.  This is walking in the snow.  We were merely walking in the cold, cold snow.  No overheating. Totally acceptable.

People don't exactly know what to do when they meet a small 7 year old clad in mountaineering pants, steel 12 point front spike crampons, and wielding a very flashy ice-axe.  They are even more baffled when the see the dog.  So much of the time people tend to think of these sorts of activities being out of reach when you have a family or a pet.  Kids and dogs can climb 6,700 in less than 6 miles - think about it, that's only about a thousand feet per mile.  It is steep, and it takes determination, but it isn't un-doable.  Don't underestimate yourselves!

The boy has some unfinished business with that mountain.  Rainier is calling him. 

This next year's homeschooling curriculum is going to be dealing a lot with rope work, protection, and the math/physics/geological issues which come into place when mountaineering.  He has enough technique down the crampons no longer worry me, and his ability to Prusik out of a cravass far surpasses mine.  At this point he merely needs enough knowledge of alpine environments to work on his judgement calls and knee-jerk reactions in dangerous situations.

Yes, I climb mountains in a bikini.  It helps with that whole no-sweating thing.  Plus, the giant disgusting rash concealed by The Barracuda's head and my mountaineering pants make it far less attractive.  Generally, though, it is the most comfortable thing I've found to wear with all the sun exposure.

Mt. Adams stands at 12,326 feet and is the second highest peak in Washington, the third highest in the Cascades (Rainier and Shasta stand taller).  Sporting 11 glaciers it qualifies our family to join the Mazamas and makes The Barracuda one of the youngest official members to not be grandfathered in by a parent.  He was very specific that this whole "family membership" thing wasn't going to cut it.  He wants to take Intermediate and Advanced Climbers Education classes and Jules wants to learn ski mountaineering.  The Mazamas are sort of the top of the line for learning that sort of thing.  I kinda like the idea of weekends at the private, alpine lodge and the rescue/body recovery/life-flight insurance, but maybe that is just me.

Oh it is terrifying, completely insane, and really does feel like you are going to throw yourself off into the abyss.  Our family LOVES it!

The best part of the climb is definitely the glissade.  A glissade is the controlled slide down the mountain.  You remove your crampons (very important!), put on a coat and gloves, sit down, and proceed to slide hundreds of linear feet down the ice and snow using your ice axe to slow yourself.  On popular climbing days a rather deep trough is plowed into the slope by the previous glissaders.  When we went, the trough was over two and a half feet high on either side making the glissade much like a very extreme waterslide. You'd find yourself beginning to slide up the sides, swirling around the turns, and reaching some fairly terrifying speeds.  It was rad!  There was giggling, squealing, and cheers.

To most parents, putting you small person into a rather extreme snow chute and helping scoot/shove them off the side of a mountain without any form of protection might seem slightly negligent.  But it is seriously thrilling.  The Barracuda has only been sledding once, and at this point has no desire to go again.  Glissading just can't compare.  He is bouncy, laughing, and so hyped up at just the idea of the glissade, that saying no would be ridiculous.  Plus, forcing my child to slog down over 5,000 feet (you slide down darn near all the elevation gain) in crampons seems a bit more dangerous and cruel. 

Our son is a climber.  He has been a climber since he could barely walk.  I know I'm never going to stop him; he is far too determined.  Better to strap on a harness, rope up, and show him the appropriate way to self arrest.  It is a fairly awesome way to do some serious family bonding.

We were home by around 7ish and eating taco salad for dinner as it got dark.  I took my required shower, with my special soap, doped up on anti-histamines, and slathered myself in nerve suppressant.  I'm definitely not ready to hike.  Anytime I got even remotely damp from sweat or body heat my torso began to itch and tingle.  It was definitely a sure sign I'm still a few days off the trail.  However, I'm almost done with my extreme steroids (thank goodness because they make me crazy irritable and just plain angry for no reason) and only have to take the anti-histamines when I go to sleep.  All in all, it was a fantastic day. 

Even better, I only look like I have a moderate case of leperacy, instead of rolling in toxic waste.

4 thoughts:

Anonymous said...

I laughed, I cried and I sighed as I read you last two posts. The grit and determination that you and your family have are truly inspirational. To take a devastating turn of events and make it into something equally amazing (and terrifying for most of us) is awesome. I cannot wait to see what you do next and really cannot wait until I get to talk to the Barracuda!!

Lynnette F.

Anonymous said...

Oww. So the journey has been interrupted, but the adventure continues. Looking forward to seeing you guys this fall.
-- Mai Lon

Jennifer @ thehikermama said...

Oh, I'm so sorry you had to go through this! What a bummer! Hopefully you'll get back on the trail soon. There's lots of good weather left!

Anonymous said...

Did your dog go down the glissade as well?

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