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My Blog

Injury Update

Trials and Tribulations

A week ago, nature let me down. Quite literally. Whilst out prospecting for new routes (climbs) on a small cliff near the beautiful hamlet of Porthgwarra,a small granite handhold, that I was pulling on, parted company with the rest of the crag and (because gravity did it's usual thing) I fell 3 metres onto that most unforgiving of materials, Cornish Granite, feet first.
(The scene of the Fractured Heel Incident.  The green line is a new climb I had managed to do just prior to the incident and which I have named "Hairline Fracture", graded HVS5b.  The red line is what I was trying to climb, the dot marking the point I was at before the hold snapped - note the hard granite landing. Tentively called "Sudden Impact".)
Instinctively I knew something wasn't right as I felt a dull ache coming from my right foot straight away, a sensation not too dissimilar to one I had felt a couple of years before when I managed to dislocate my ankle.  As with any injury, I hoped it was just going to be a bad sprain.  My mind raced and my First Aid training/experience took over....RICE - Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation....I wouldn't be able to do any of those things until I could get back home, but I could put my foot into the ocean, which would help reduce the oncoming swelling.  I was on a set of low-angled slabs that led directly into the sea, so I 'bum shuffled' towards it and, taking my climbing shoe off, stuck my foot in.  The cooling effect of the water brought instant relief and I began to take stock of my situation.
Having an injured foot is, quite frankly, a pain in the arse. It prevents you from doing pretty much anything we usually take for granted.  Next time you have a couple of minutes, have a think about all the little journeys you do in normal daily life...go to the fridge for milk, to the bathroom, out to the garden to put out the washing, etc.  Now think of the situation I was in.  I was down at sea level with an injured foot that I didn't want to put any weight on. The coastal footpath was at least 75 metres above me  and 200 metres away.  The car park was another 1500 metres away and, if I got that far, I would still have to get to the West Cornwall hospital in Penzance; and then back home to Newquay.  What would you do?
Some people would call the Emergency Services and I considered this as, miraculously, I had a phone signal! (This isn't always the case in Cornwall, especially on the coast at sea level).  Then I thought about what that might involve.  Definitely a helicopter (either the Royal Navy SAR helicopter from RNAS Culdrose, or the Cornwall Air Ambulance, or both!), the Coastguard, the Cornwall Rescue Group, an Ambulance and a Policeman. Mmmmmm. That seemed rather a lot of fuss and inconvenience for a lot of people, especially as my injury wasn't life-threatening.  I remembered stories of people who had decided to walk up Ben Nevis, then because they were 'a bit tired', sat down and dialled 999 for some assistance.  The local Mountain Rescue Teams were not happy! This thoughtless act meant that valuable assets were not available for a more deserving, and life-threatening, case. I decided against this course of action and would attempt to get myself to the car park under my own steam. 
I crawled back up the slabs to where my gear was and pushed everything I had into my small rucksack, then I gingerly put my trainers onto my feet.  My right foot still hadn't started to swell that much due to being immersed in the sea for about 20 minutes, so it was fairly easy to get on.
Next was to decide on how to get up to the coast path. Normally access to the vast majority of cornish sea cliffs involves an abseil, but luckily enough, access to this cliff was fairly straight forward, with only grassy slopes and an easy scramble up ledges.  I surmised that using my knees would get me up the rocky bits so I shouldered my rucksack and hobbled off, in search of the easiest way up.  It took a while, but I made it onto the grassy slopes without too much difficulty or putting myself in more danger, a good memory and route-finding skills paying dividends.  Yes, I did have to crawl on my hands and knees occasionally, but needs must and all that.  Next stop, the coast path.  It wasn't far away and the ground was fairly level, so I felt confident in hopping on my left leg.  I trialled it first to make sure it was 'do-able' and off I went.
I made it to the main coast path without doing myself any more damage, but it was hard work. I remember sitting on some grass on the edge of the path and thinking about the next part of the journey.  The coast path, heading west towards Porthgwarra, is a straight forward affair, however, there are a couple of rocky sections and areas where the path has been worn down to a narrow trench that would need careful negotiation to prevent further injury to my  foot. It was going to take a lot of determination and effort on my part to get to the car park.  I sat and thought about the situation some more and slowly a ting of doubt began to enter my mind.  It was now obvious that the injury to my foot was worse than I had originally thought.  It had begun to ache and the pain had increased as time had gone on.  I thought about taking my trainer off, to allow the foot to swell, but I wanted to try and keep it protected as much as possible.  It was a long way to the car-park and I might have to crawl the whole way.  So far adrenalin had kept me going.  I remembered how I felt after being blown over in the Cairngorm mountains a couple of winters ago.  Despite not being able to walk, I had made a conscious effort to get myself off the hill and back to safety, but after an hour or so I had barely managed to crawl 100 metres.  I had felt so alone and helpless and I had begun to realise the seriousness of the situation.  It was cold, windy and it was beginning to get dark. The chances of anyone coming past was slim.  Even though I had managed to put on a duvet jacket, as the adrenalin had begun to flush away and I had begun to shiver.  That was Scotland in Winter.  Now it was Cornwall in Spring. I had no need for a duvet jacket....but I could do with some help. 
to be continued.........


I've just found out that five people I know, all of whom work in the outdoor industry, have either severely injured, or broken a foot or ankle, just like me!  We are also all of a certain this a coincidence, or is someone trying to tell us something?  Good job mine is much better now!

Climbing Again

It's been a while since I wrote anything on here, so here's whats been going on......
I had my final 'official' physio session at hospital last week.  My physio has been impressed with how things are progressing and how I have been coping with everything.  Despite all that, I was subjected to exercises in the Torture Room (gym), involving parallel bars, trampettes and those step things that are used in Step aerobics......needless to say, my foot was sore for the rest of the day...apparently that's a good thing.  We've agreed to keep in touch by email and I can drop in, if I am passing and I am having any issues.  Isn't that brilliant service from the NHS?  Although I have a sneaky suspicion that as my injury is unusual, the medical people find it interesting.  I, however, find it to be a pain in the arse!  I just hate being inactive.  And to top it all off, I met the girls from Salt Air Adventures who were on their way to Scotland for a couple of weeks of playing in the snow.  They wanted to borrow a pair of ice axes, and were super-amped to be going North, just as a spell of cold, settled weather rolled in.  I was supposed to be meeting them up there, laid plans of mice and men and all that.....
Climbing Rope SpaghettiI've had some work at Duchy College this week.  I was worried that not being able to move around quickly would be a problem, however, as I wasn't the one doing any climbing, and would just be instructing and supervising, it turned out to be ok.  Monday was cold and wet and, in typical form, the students wanted to go to the indoor climbing wall....."Nay!" says I, "It's real climbing for you, and just because it's cold and wet doesn't mean we always run away to the wall".  Moans and groans followed but you can't learn about gear placements and belay building indoors...I think the guys and girls actually enjoyed going out, despite the cold and having to untangle a rope that had turned into spaghetti.
The temperature continued to drop throughout the week, due to a dominant High Pressure weather system, that brought clear skies and light winds from the East.  Up in Scotland conditions on the hills have been all time and mates kept sending me pictures of the hills and ice... but back in Cornwall, these conditions usually mean small, clean surf.  On a day off, I hobbled into Newquay to see what was going down.  Not much wave-wise, but those who ventured out into the sea would have been blessed with some little, fun waves and 'icecream headaches'.  I decided to test out my physio's idea that walking on the beach would be good for my ankle/foot, as the soft sand would mean good at strengthening ligaments and tendons, while the cold water would help to keep the swelling to a minimum. Check out my first attempt at making a video clip, using my phone...
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A physio session in beautiful cornwall
All that walking on the beach and around Newquay meant that I was hobbling more than normal the following day, but what a day! It was beautiful, so as I had another Duchy College group that were keen do do some climbing, we headed off onto Dartmoor, and the delightful (and hopefully sheltered from a biting easterly wind) Bench Tor, near Venford Reservoir.  Driving onto the moor was a delight , as the air was crisp and dry and the higher tors were covered in a generous coating of snow.  When parked up, Bench Tor isn't immediately obvious, but a brisk 10 minute walk (or a 20 minute hobble) brings the tor into sight.  Beautifully located  and secluded high above the East Dart river, Bench Tor is one of those hidden gems, that is an absolute delight to climb on and is blessed with a classic VDiff of Oak Tree Zigzag and a Pat Littlejohn E2, Hostile Witness.  Definitely worth a visit, if you've never been.
Climbing at Bench Tor, Dartmoor
The students had fun setting up top and bottom rope systems, and one of the guys led Oak Tree Zigzag under my supervision.  Not wanting to miss the opportunity, I tied in on the bottom end of the rope and seconded the climb. I found it quite difficult as my right foot is still quite weak, and even wearing mountaineering boots, with their extra support, I didn't feel comfortable standing on the big holds.  I had to use my arms more than I would have liked and this brought on frozen fingers and mild hot aches.  But at least I'd managed to climb at last!
The forecast for the weekend was for 4 inches(10 cm) of snow, but as I sit here, watching the Scotland/England rugby game, it's raining outside.  My boys are disappointed as they wanted to build a snowman in the morning...oh well, at least now I will get a lie-in.

Good News at Last

I've just got back from the hospital and it's good news!  The consultant is happy that my foot is healing well and he has said I can now drive....FREEDOM! Its amazing how much we rely on the ability to drive ourselves around these days, especially in rural areas with little
or no public transport and being stuck out in the Blackdown Hills of Somerset has been frustrating, believe me.  It seems that my little expeditions around the local area have contributed to the healing process and the prognosis is good, although its going to be 4-6 months before I will be back to where I was before being blown over!  I'm still signed off work though, but shall be back amongst it in February!  In the meantime, I am going to keep up the walks as they are quite enjoyable.

The Long and Winding Road Part 2

The continuing story of my epic walk/hobble around the Staple Fitzpaine Herepath......
Having managed to persuade my right foot to go into it's boot despite it being the size of a large grapefruit, I hobbled out of the front door and out into the cold morning.  It was one of those mornings when the air is sharp and cuts the back of your throat as you breathe in and the views are gin-clear.  Yeap, it had been cold overnight and there was frost everywhere.
Early Morning Frost
Ok, I was out the obstacle to overcome was the large sheet of ice that covered the road at the end of the drive (there is a spring that flow out over the lane).  This was serious...if I slipped I ran the risk of doing myself more damage.  Cue poor re-enactment of Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks! The Gods were obviously looking at me favourably, as I made it to the other side unscathed.  The trail led up a minor road, which then became a wide bridleway and the next obstacle - frozen mud that has been shaped into ankle twisting nightmares by the passage of several horses.  Fortunately I had taken a walking pole with me to provide some support and I made steady progress towards the main ridge.
All round me, birds and animals were going about their daily business and the air was full of birdsong and the fast staccato tapping of a woodpecker headbanging a tree.  Yeap, it was a good day.  The path followed a wide trail through the woods, cutting underneath Castle Neroche and then a narrower, older path that led past the ruins of a small farmstead.  I love having a nosey around old building and ancient sites (quarries and mines are a big favourite) and always wonder about the stories they could tell if they could speak....
Now the ground was beginning to thaw and the mud getting slippery, making for difficult progress on the next uphill bit.  Again, I was conscious of injuring my foot again, so I took it easy and used my walking pole for support, before arriving at the summit of Staple Hill, the highest point on the Blackdown Hills!  So it was going to be down hill from now on! Great, except my injury meant even slower progress than going up hill! I was half way round and felt fine. Ok, I wasn't going very fast, and I certainly was nowhere near Naismith's 4 km per hour, but this was never going to be a race.  It was about doing something active, seeing how far I could comfortably go and preventing myself from going mad (there is only so much sitting about I can do).
This is easy, I thought. I will soon be fixed and back to climbing and surfing and walking on proper hills.......and then, there it was, a recreation of the Somme from 1915.  Half a km of thick, slippery, sticky, horrid mud, churned up by countless horses.  The sort of mud that you get stuck in or loose a wellie to.  And there was no way round it.  This was the crux...the hardest point of the whole walk and one which could not be avoided.  Just dig deep, be ultra careful I said to myself.  If I was fully fit, it would have been a struggle, but with a gammy foot , it was like trying to empty Dozmary Pool with a limpet shell - virtually impossible!  Slip...slide...lose balance....put walking pole out to steady myself......regain composure......slip....slide...etc etc.  I hated it. A couple of times I nearly went over on my bad ankle, which caused me to wince in pain. 500 metres took me 40 minutes. Rubbish!
Having survived The Muddy Field of Certain Death, I hobbled, even more slowly than normal, along the trail. which, thankfully, was flat, wide and easy going. I hadn't seen many people up to now, but just past  Orchard Wood, with it's hidden Iron Age fort, I encountered a group of dog owners undergoing training with their dogs. "Afternoon" I said. "oh, hello" one of them said, "are you ok? Have you hurt yourself?"  "Well, how long have you got?"  I thought.
15 minutes later, I was saying goodbye to my new friends who all thought I was brave (well, that's what they said, but secretly I suspected they thought I was mad) and was making my way to Thurlbear Wood.
Thurlbear Wood is an ancient woodland with a recorded history dating back to 1320 and is now measured by the Somerset Wildlife Trust. It grows on a bed of limestone, which i found surprising, as the surrounding landscape doesn't lend itself to that fact, as there's very little evidence of limestone rock about. Anyway, there's the remains of a limekiln, used for making 'quicklime', a substance used in building and farming.  By the time I passed through it, my pace had reduced to something slower than a snail!  My foot/ankle had seized up and I had run out of puff.  After all, I can't expect to run a marathon after doing nothing, but sit on my bum for 2 months....and now it was beginning to get darker......must.......go......faster......
Eventually, at 16.45, I collapsed in the porch and struggled to remove my boots.  It had taken me 7 hrs 20 mins to walk 12.5 miles.  Thats not fast by any standard.  Quite embarrassing, really, but it's a start.  I will pay for this in the morning (and i did - ankle like a balloon!)

The Long and Winding Road......

Well, Saturday morning dawned bright, cold and frosty....perfect for my first real walk since being blown over and breaking my foot a month and a half ago.  I have been
convalescing in Somerset, in part of the county that has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Beauty (ANOB), known as the Blackdown Hills.  AONBs are areas of high scenic quality that have statutory protection in order to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of their landscapes. AONB landscapes range from rugged coastline to water meadows to gentle lowland and upland moors.  They are different from National Parks because of their more limited opportunities for extensive outdoor recreation, however, many have extensive well-managed footpaths and bridleways, allowing locals and visitors to enjoy the beauty of these special places. (For more info on ANOBs in England, Click Here). 
It seemed a good idea to try and find a reasonably long, yet easy route that would take in many of the area's interesting geological and historical sites, as I hadn't really explored this part of the world, although I have driven through it on many occasions.  A quick search on the internet revealed a circular 13.5 mile walk in the ancient Neroche district, known as the Staple Fitzpaine Herepath.  It follows the line of the Blackdown ridge, passing the Iron Age hill fort of Castle Neroche, goes close to the highest point (315m), before heading North and going through ancient woodlands containing 500 year old oaks, another hillfort and limekilns. (For more info on Neroche and it's Herepaths, Click Here).
Armed with knowledge, a light lunch, drink and a warm top, the next challenge was to put my boots on.  My 'good' foot was obviously not going to give me any issues, but my 'bad' foot initially refused to go in the boot, past my instep as the damn thing was still swollen.  At one point it seemed that my Grand Plan would fail at the first hurdle, but with a bit of persuasion and persistence, I got it on and laced it up.  I would worry about taking it off when I got back!
To be continued......

Mustn't Overdo It

Having caught myself doing odd things, I have decided that not going out is driving me mad, so I have made the decision to get out and go for a walk (HOBBLE!) every day until I am back to full fitness. There is the added advantage of actually loosing that bit of weight I seemed to have gained over the Festive period and because of enforced  inactivity.  Even my physio said it was a good idea, so what the hell!  Yesterday was a beautiful day here in Somerset, in fact it was unseasonably warm and the sun felt strong on my face and I could feel its warmth on my back as I struggled along minor roads and footpaths.  It was positively Spring like.  Goodness knows whats going on with the seasons/weather.  Even Scotland, which is usually in the grips of Winter, is unseasonably warm and my fellow outdoor instructors are struggling to find snow for their winter mountaineering courses.  Well, that was yesterday.  Today, it's been a bit cooler and the forecast is for some colder weather at the weekend.  The wind seems to be coming from a more northerly direction.  Again I ventured out onto the highways and byways.  I decided to go and explore the Iron Age fort of Castle Neroche, which is situated high on the Blackdown Hills, and it was easy to see why the original builders selected this place for their place of living, steep earth banks, with a commanding position on the ridge, the views over the vale, over Taunton to the Quantocks in the North.  It would be easy to defend and difficult to attack and it must have been quite a sight in its time.  Now its significance seems to be lost to our generation, as evidence of mountain bikes using the earth banks as ramps, jumps and other challenges can be seen as deep ruts across the banks.  Pity.
I didn't feel sore after I got back to the house, which is encouraging.  I am planning an all day walk at the weekend, but I must be careful not to overdo it.  I don't want to undo all this good healing and spend any more time sat on my bum and not climbing and surfing this year.

Just a little bit Further.............

Yesterday I managed to walk just over a mile (wearing foot/ankle support).  Today, I managed two and a half miles! Ok, my tendons and ligaments are still very tight, but i can feel the difference.  There is hope!  I'm off to the hospital tomorrow for another bout of physio and I am hoping it's going to be a good session. Must do more exercise though, as 2 months inactivity and the Festive Season aren't conducive to having a good figure!

A Slow Start

I went out for a walk today, the first proper walk since I broke my foot.  It was just a short trip down a good Forestry Commission track, but it felt great to be out in the fresh air for a change.  I had to keep the 'bionic' boot on, as the tendons and ligaments haven't recovered fully and still need supporting.  I have made a silent promise to myself to go for a walk every day now as I need to get back on the crags, in the hills and in the surf for my sanity!
Apparently there was some sort of football match today that proved to be rather exciting, but let's face it, Spurs are the only team to get excited about

Still Hurting, Still Dreaming........

I had another physio session yesterday and I was dreading it.  Two days before I had been subjected to a bit of a beasting to get everything moving and this had left my foot feeling tender and sore (a good thing, apparently).  My physio must have seen my pained expression as I hobbled into the clinic....
"Is it sore?" she said. I think my facial expression said it all.  " Don't worry, I knew it would be after last time as I was very aggressive with it as I needed to prevent it from becoming very stiff.  I'm going to be a bit more gentle with it this time."
"Thank goodness for that!" I thought
And true to her word, my foot was gently caressed, bent, stretched and rubbed.  I'm pleased with the progress so far, although it's going to be a while before everything is back to normal and I'm not allowed to drive until at least the 19th January.  Got to remain positive!
The upside to having to stay at home is that I have been keeping an eye on the Pacific Big Wave season.  There's been a big swell hitting the American West Coast and Hawaii over the past few days and everything has been going nuts! It hasn't been consistantly big enough for The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau  contest to run, but there's been some mega sessions at Maverick's in California and a super paddle-in session at Jaws on Maui...check the video out....Maybe I will get a chance of surfing some of these fabled big wave in the future.  Biggest wave I have ever surfed was 2.5-3 x overhead, and that was thrilling!
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Shane Dorian at Jaws - Ride of the Year Entry in the Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards 2012
Shane Dorian paddles into a solid beast at Jaws, Maui, Hawaii on January 4, 2012. An entry in the 2012 Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards. For more details see the event website at www.BillabongXX...
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