Beware the ides of March

This blog could easily be called "The Backcountry is the Bomb - until it is not." Or it could have been called "My Silver Linings Playbook." Cause like everything that sucks, injury usually teaches you something. Just itakes a while get the lesson memo.

It all started with the very challenging winter. I have to say that it really got me down; I even wrote a blog called "Surviving the rain/snow 101". The blog was mis-named because although I survived (Yah!), there is damage. But I am getting ahead of the story.

Long story short: it was super hard to run in Squamish this winter. There were almost 60 continuous days of rain in the fall, followed by almost 4 continuous months of snow. That's right. The snow stayed on the ground from the beginning of December until the third week of March. There was some amazingly beautiful days - but few and far between.

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There were a lot more, shall we say, challenging days.

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And running was just slow, dangerous and generally difficult.

I was starting to lose my love of the sport, and think a lot about skiing (and Hawaii) when I realized "hey, why don't I start backcountry skiing). Gary and Eric (my coaches) both BC ski and I think I heard them say that hiking on skins can replace run workouts. What a great idea." Then I ran into one of my teammates, Vicki Romanin, in the grocery store and almost bellowed at her, 'let's start backcountry skiing." Amazingly she thought it was a good idea. I say *amazingly* because when you get into middle age, most of your friends just aren't such great sports any more.

Backcountry skiing was like when you hear an amazing song and it strums your soul. Every time I went out there, I loved it more.

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That is Vicki following the track up the East col of Blackcomb.

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Vicki and me hanging in the clouds.

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And the views. Oh, it hurts my heart.

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Vicki and our guide Randy in the trees below Oboe on Whistler. 6000 ft of hiking in a day on skis. Please give me more.

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Oh yes, the backcountry was the bomb… until it wasn't.

We were pretty aware of the risks and wanted to acquire avalanche safety skills and other mountain wisdom.


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So we both signed up for Avalanche Safety Training (AST) 1. We found a group lesson for March 14/15, perfect days for both of us.

The first day was a classroom day learning the theory of avalanches and how to choose supportive (safe) terrain. Day 2 was on skis doing companion rescues using beacons and learning to dig and evaluate snow pits. Another early day and I piled into my 4runner at 7 am, barely greeting Lynne. Everything seemed to be moving so fast that but, in my head, a tiny voice spoke: "Beware the Ides of March."

A bit of background. About 10 days ago, I had fallen running downhill on a sheet of ice when Hector (our dog) crashed into my legs. My wrist was sprained and not capable of weight bearing, nor very good at pole holding… maybe I should have said something to the instructors. Plus rain had fallen on the mountain the day before - right up to the peak. The results was a frozen crust about 2-3 cm thick. Vicki, my BC pal - who skis about 50 days a year and lives in Whistler - said that the conditions were the worst she has seen, maybe ever.

During the first part of the day, the instructors kept us inbound citing the hazard of hiking (and later skiing down) the breakable crust. We practiced our beacon searches and companion rescues.

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Then, just when everything seemed to be under control, the young guys instructing the course decided that we should hike out of bounds after all. We did and dug our snow pit on the far side of Flute, facing Oboe,

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We were packing up at the end of the day, standing on the top of the iced over crust. Symphony lift was still running but there were no skiers (and had been hardly any all day) because the ice was too daunting. I felt happy that this milestone we behind me and I could drive home and have a hot bath and finally touch base with Lynne after several days either working or taking avalanche training.

As we started skiing down, I knew that my BC skis were not handling the ice well. Super light , wide, and made of carbon, they started a violent chatter immediately. Then, imperceptibly, I rammed one of tips into a break in the crust. And it stayed there, trapped in solid ice. My ski just didn't release; I fell over sideways and felt the pain. OWWWWWWWWWWW. I shouted for someone to release my ski but everyone was below. Finally, Tigger, one of the instructors tried to get back up. But he kept falling. When he reached me, he released the ski and set it up for me to step into. My ankle was throbbing but I knew I had to get back into the skis and ski out. So I did.

I fell again because of the pain but released the ski myself, and stepped back in. Finally we reached a flat section below a cat track that I had often skied out on. The last time we exited the backcountry here, we had put on our skins and hiked out to the cat track. Which would have been so much easier for me. Instead the guides decided that we should boot track out - which is faster. So, I put my skis on my back and carried them out about 750 m to Burnt Stew. That was the longest hike.

I kept apologizing for being so slow and the tail guide sang out "there is no hurry in the backcountry" except there was because, even as he said it, his voice was getting farther and farther ahead of me. It crossed my mind that I could ask for a rescue skidoo but I banished the thought. Instead, I resolved to get myself out. Each step, I said to myself "you are strong, you are brave, you are persistent." This mantra got me to the ski track where I stepped in again. OWWWWWWWWWWWWW.

We skied past Harmony (which was closed) and down to Emerald Lift. Everyone else was skiing to the base and looked surprised when I said that I would try and catch a lift up Emerald and download in the Gondola. Vicki gave me a hug and I scurried in my skis to Emerald - just as they were taking down the lift line ropes. Please let me on. Please let me on.

Once I downloaded in the Gondola, I still had to carry my skis to my truck in the distant parking lots. That sucked but by then, I was numb, until I tried to take off my ski boot. OWWWWWW.

In the comfort of the car, I finally phoned Lynne and tried to recount what I had just experienced. But there were no words, only tears.

Later, we both examined the foot and agreed. Of course, it is only a sprain, not broken.

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However, over the next couple of days, that swelling (above) just kept getting worse until my foot/ankle was triple its normal size. The fact that I crutched across SFU campus the next day to teach and attend a faculty meeting did not help. By Friday morning, I had a feeling that I should go to the hospital. Lynne was on the same page and by Friday afternoon, we were sitting in ER waiting for the x-ray results. Lynne is a skilled (and trained) microscopist so when the ER doc came by to let us know that the radiologist at Lion's Gate was on a break and that is why we had to wait so long, I asked if Lynne could take a look. She and the doc went over to the computer and talked for several minutes in hushed tones. I watched Lynne's face as she re-emerged from behind the nursing counter. I knew right away it was broken. Base of fibula. Clean through. Almost an avulsion (e.g. ligaments still attached to bone).

My first thought was "I will miss my 100 k race". But days have passed and the reality has sunk in. No running, probably for 2 months and possible longer.

Why did this happen? The obvious answer is that ice is treacherous but there are more subtle answers. I was far too busy, cramming too much stuff in. While confined to the couch, I looked back on my race blog from Smith Rock - when I was also injured. This is what I wrote then:
After Chuckanut, I was not very tired - compared to how I felt after the Squamish 50 km last August. But I was really busy at work, had to travel to San Franscisco, skied with my sister who was visiting from Hong Kong. Obligations and opportune pleasures combined to make me super busy. Plus I used the down time from running to pack more activities in. All of which might have contributed to what happened next.

The universe may have been trying to tell me something again. In the meantime, here I am resting on the couch.

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Footnote: my sister, Hedda, posted a video of Max (my nephew) catching air on his first backflip at Revelstoke. The caption read: Nadine, don't try this.
Okay that really made me laugh 😸