This is a long post so here is a summary for those whose time is more valuable;

I’ve not climbed all winter. I feel pretty annoyed about it. The flipside is that I’ve boarded a lot, and I’ve put energy into some other avenues of my life which have borne the sweetest fruits. I got better at boarding, went faster, did bigger lines, and then I found myself going too fast and too big. I had a big crash. It really, really hurt. I survived intact. My hand mysteriously cured itself. I may currently be weak, but climbing is once again possible. Hooray! [ed. I think I prefer the shorter version!]

The last update I posted wasn’t exactly all bluebirds, but one thing is for sure; there is always light at the end of the tunnel if your eyes are willing to notice it.

I feel like this winter season has been a total waste, squandered away in terms of my climbing. My hand started hurting in late November/early December time and since then I’ve seldom climbed, with a total withdrawal for nearly 6 weeks. The cortisone injection made my hand worse, and at that point I was feeling rather sacked with it all. If my hand didn’t recover, I would never come back to climbing, or certainly not at the level I wanted to be at. That was a sobering thought, but one I was willing to adapt to. Specialisation is for the insects, if you choose to believe the poem, and adaptation is the human condition.

There is always a flipside though. In the time that has elapsed since the end of November, many other things have changed in my life. If I was someone who looked for reasons as to why certain things happen at certain times, then I wouldn’t find it at all difficult to think that my injury came at a time when my attention was needed somewhere else, where my time was better invested in other things. But I’m not the type of person who looks back and decides to assign meaning to what are effectively random occurrences. My hand simply got injured, due to a still unknown cause, and doors opened up in my life that have led to great pathways.

One thing that came out as a positive from not being able to climb was that I was able to go boarding every day without worrying that I should be training. Snowboarding is such a great new adventure for me, and one in which I am progressing rapidly due to being a relative punt. I’ve reached a stage now whereby I feel like I can go pretty much anywhere, although this is said without having seen any truly ridiculous terrain! Snowboarding seems to progress in a few ways, which basically come down to speed or terrain. Either you go faster, you go bigger, or you do both. Yesterday James and I headed East to chase the powder and we were well rewarded, carving out new lines all day in a resort where we seemingly had all the off piste to ourselves. It was a really good find actually… I became much much more confident riding fast on powder, even though visibility was poor for most of the day due to heavy snowfall… (project triangle!). At the end of the day James was tearing down behind me when he went shooting off a drop that we’d hit earlier, only this time it came as a total surprise and at a much higher speed. The result was a very bruised leg, to the point where he could barely walk and couldn’t drive back which was a bad end to a great day.

When we got back to Innsbruck the snow had continued to fall and an early start was the only way for today, in order to find some virgin pow. James was too broken to climb down from his skybed, so any notion of shreddage was firmly done away with. The result of this is that he said “you can take my helmet and back protector if you want” which I decided to do for a change. Last week I got some wise words regarding the wearing of a helmet from someone who didn’t want to see me fubared, after I realised that it’s possible to go quite fast on a snowboard. The wise words had sunken in, but not as far as my wallet…

So this morning I was at Nordkette at 8.30 to get the first lift up with Emi. Unfortunately we were already too late and the cattle herd rammed themselves into the first lift whilst we had to make do with the second. The mountain is big though, so there were virgin lines waiting for us in nice deep powder. We dropped in, cutting across to an untracked area, and then I started to shred. I felt super confident, carving out huge sweeping turns in super soft and relatively deep powder. I was going faster and faster, taking off as I crossed other people’s lines, and I felt on top of the world. I truly felt like a dolphin in the waves… smooth, fast, elegant. I was tearing down the mountain at a rapid pace, probably the fastest I’d ever been on a board (so I’d guess upwards of 50-60mph – sounds ridic on paper, but not when you take a gps with you!). I saw a line and I was nailing it, but then I noticed an undulation which I didn’t want to hit at such speed, so I carved down inside it, into the more central line of the gully. I remember my last turn, gliding through the snow with such speed and fluidity. Then I can’t remember what happened, but I remember tumbling down, hearing the hard bang of plastic (helmet or back protector or both), tasting blood in my mouth, and cartwheeling down until I came to a stop. When I did come to a stop I could barely move. I was trembling and I seemingly couldn’t breathe properly. I was trying to catch my breath but it didn’t come. I wasn’t aware of the searing pain in my chest, I couldn’t sit upright, I just lay there trying to breathe. My first thought was a collapsed lung. I’d been with my brother when he’d collapsed his lung and I remembered what the doctor had said in the ER. It was possible to survive with one lung, but you had to relax, take small breaths, and not panic. So that’s what I did. I lay there, trying to be calm. I couldn’t take in more than about 20% of a lungful, but I knew I just had to keep breathing. I was ahead of Emi so I knew he’d be catching me up soon. I tried to sit up but it hurt too much so I lay back down, still concentrating on nothing but breathing. Eventually I saw Emi go past and stop further down. He was shouting to me, asking if I was alright, but I couldn’t muster enough breath to shout back. Another couple of minutes passed, a few skiers came past to see if I was ok and I croaked a barely audible and totally foolish “ja”. Eventually I was breathing regularly, but at about 30% of capacity, so I stood up and made my way over to Emi. I felt really sick at this point, in a huge amount of pain, and still had a way to go before reaching the sanctum of a lift. I guess adrenalin kicked in and I pushed on down, still trying only to take short breaths. We got back to the main station and I sat down, desperately trying to breathe more deeply, but each time I would try the pain in my chest would be too much. I thought I could walk it off. I couldn’t. I thought I could sit/lie it off. I couldn’t. Eventually I just admitted the obvious, I had to get the hell down to the car and perhaps get to the hospital. I took the gondola down the mountain, and on the way down happened to see a mighty avalanche on the mountain to the left of the nordpark. It’s a section that I don’t think people board/ski on, and if they do it would require quite a serious hike, so I’m sure nobody was over that way this morning. This avalanche ripped down with such force and as clichéd as it may be, it looked just like it does in the movies. I was really quite intimidated by it, remembering what Emi had told me about a day out in January this year when he saw the aftermath of a huge avalanche one ridge over from where we were today. The sad and sobering news is that a French skier had died in that one, his body not being found until days later. Seeing the avalanche really made me realise just how small I am in comparison to these mighty mountains, and their unpredictable nature.

Driving down was a real battle, but James was in the land of nod after being up all night with the pain from his leg. I got home, stumbled in, fell on the sofa in front of James and he dosed me up with a couple grams of paracetamol. I still couldn’t get a proper breath, but soon the pain subsided and I spent most of the day lying down. As I write this I can now take a full breathe again, but there is still a pain in the centre of my chest when I do. I’m sure I’ve not done anything too serious, but this was without doubt one of the worst injuries I’ve had in a sporting capacity. Nothing is broken, but the pain I was in, the feeling of lying in the snow not being able to breathe, the fact I can’t even remember what happened are all signs that this was a big one. I’m very thankful it wasn’t any bigger.

So I may currently be a little shell shocked from boarding, but that’s just the bad news. There is always a bit of good news too, and in this case it’s the fact that I started climbing again last week. The hand specialist in England had told me to rest, but to be perfectly honest, I’d lost faith in his ability after the cortisone saga so I’d returned to trusting my instincts and my body. The hard nodule in my hand wasn’t getting any smaller, or any bigger, and so I thought I should have a climb on it after nearly 5 weeks without doing anything. The good news was that I was able to climb almost totally pain free, and that I wasn’t a total punt. Emi and James were spurring me on, which was funny as I was trying to do easy moves but was drawn to the big boys stuff. Luckily big boy problems around here don’t involve small holds so I could have a few furtive efforts in order to assess my hand. The very good news is that in terms of static strength I haven’t lost all that much. The flipside is that my explosive strength is all but gone. For example, locking off on one arm on a small campus rung was fine on 3 or 4 fingers, but doing 1-4-7 was HARD. But the overall result was positive in that my hand felt almost totally pain free. The next day my hand wasn’t really aching so I was pretty happy. If I had to live with a small hard nodule in my hand then so be it, as long as it didn’t hinder my climbing. Since then I’ve climbed a couple more times, but at some point, unbeknownst to me something very good (I think) happened. After climbing one night I was sat at home and I went to give my small lump a little massage… and boom. It was gone. The hard nodule is GONE. I wasn’t exactly sure what the hell was going on, but I got a second opinion from James and his medical diagnosis was that the nodule is gone. This leads me to believe that it was in fact a cyst of some sort, which is exactly what Nick, Tom, and Gaz had thought from the start! Quite how the multiple hand specialists in Bristol can all manage to miss this is beyond me, but that’s not my prime concern. I’m just supremely happy that the lump is gone and that I can return to climbing regularly. I know I need to take it easy, to build up easily, and that’s what I’m planning on doing. I’m just happy that climbing is on the cards again.

I feel like I’ve wasted the whole winter on a hand injury, which is hugely frustrating for me, but I’m also thankful that I can start to get back into climbing. It seems like a long uphill road to get back to any sort of form, but the best things in life come not to those who wait, but to those who try hard. Very hard.