Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Climbing Gros Morne.

The entire point of going to Newfoundland, besides looking for whales at every possibility, was to hike Gros Morne. Before my transplant, when I couldn't walk to the bus stop without getting short of breath or having a coughing fit, I said the one thing I wanted to do if I got new lungs was to hike Gros Morne. It was one of the only real concrete goals I had for myself. At the time, it was hard to imagine I would be able to walk more than a block comfortably, let alone hike up a mountain.

Gros Morne may seem a bit random as there are a lot of beautiful hikes around the Maritimes but it was one that I had been close to doing several times but had never been able. Twenty years ago, when we visited as a family, Mom and Dad weren't sure how hard the hike would be and figured that David and I were too young so we stayed behind with Mom and went to the Rocky Harbour pool while Amy and Dad did the trek.

Then, eight years ago when David and I cycled across Canada (that was 8 years ago!), I was much too exhausted when we visited during our drive back home to do anything more than a few short hikes in the park. So I stayed behind at camp with Isaiah while David, Mom, and Dad went up the mountain.

Finally, three years ago, when Amy and I visited The Rock, I got short of breath while doing the little Tablelands hike. When we visited, it happened to randomly be oppressively humid the few days we were at the Gros Morne park. So much so that I called it quits on our (very) short hike and we tried to cool off by sticking our feet in the little stream. Going up Gros Morne wasn't even considered during that trip.

The mountain has always eluded me and this summer I knew I was ready to tackle it. My family, never ones to be left behind for a vacation, planned the trip. Then re-planned everything when it turned out that I had my PET scan and doctor appointments during the original time we had decided on going and I couldn't get the scan changed and refused to cancel a scan testing for cancer (it was all negative, by the way).

That meant trying to camp in Newfoundland during the last week of August. We packed our tents but totally ended up wimping out when it called for a lot of rain and stayed in the new OTENTiks and rustic cabins in the park. It was like camping only much warmer at night.
Isaiah cooking outside the oTENTik. It's basically a canvas shelter with bunks.
The weather on the day of our hike couldn't have been better. It was cool and cloudy which was perfect for the steep climb. We got up super early and drove across the park to the mountain (we were at the campground the furthest away). There was a bit of morning fog on the top of the mountain (you aren't suppose to go up if you can't see the top) but it looked like it would burn off pretty quick.

Off we go!
I was super excited once we got to the trail and felt like I would fly right up. Amy, much to no ones surprise, came on the hike too. With her oxygen tank. Well, Mom carried the oxygen in the backpack with Amy attached. They had perfected the system when Amy joined us for the last half-day of the Fundy circuit. But it still wasn't the best when Mom leaped over puddles or went over boulders too quickly.
For those who haven't been to the Gros Morne mountain, it's a 16km hike. There is an inclined 4km hike to the bottom. Then it's roughly 1km up over loose rock. You gain about 400m elevation in 1 km. It's steep. After that, it's all a much more gradual downhill over the back of the mountain but still over some rock and through a wet, boggy, valley. The trail meets at the start of the climb and then there is the same 4km return to the parking lot.

Amy started the hike by saying that she would just walk into the base and, "see how she felt" before making a decision if she would do the entire thing. The 4 km, mostly incline, to the base was a struggle for her. It was early morning so there was a lot of coughing, throwing up, and many breaks. She kept going and pushed through what looked like a desire to curl into a ball on the side of the trail and have a nap.

Along the walk to the base.
Side note: For some reason, Amy and I's CF lungs hate/hated the morning. There is something about having to get up early that just makes everything worse for terrible lungs. There is more coughing, more exhaustion, and generally more unpleasantness. I'm not sure if it's because the lungs haven't had enough time to cough out all the gunk that has built up overnight or just a exhaustion from not sleeping as much but the mornings, for CF lungs, are usually quite terrible.

But Amy is the picture of determination and doing something on sheer will. We got to the base and the mountain had cleared but it was still cloudy, cool, and no humidity in sight. It was a perfect day for reaching the summit. Amy decided to keep going with us as, while her lungs weren't happy, they didn't have the jabbing pain that sometimes occurs. Although I'm not really sure what would've turned her back at that point.
The hike to the top is up the ravine in the middle.

We had a little snack and then threw ourselves up the rock face, but not before Mom shamed a group of four into continuing up the summit. I think her words were, "if my daughter can do it with oxygen, you should be able to." I really don't think Amy had much of a choice after that.

Amy pointing out that "death may occur" if you lose your group and wander off the mountain.
So maybe we didn't 'throw ourselves' up the mountain as much as 'walked slowly trying to pick the right path over the rocks'. We avoided obstacles like a small child throwing rocks down the mountain towards us and two hikers who were doing the loop in the opposite direction to literally every other person. We took lots of breaks and seemed to be passed by almost everyone but somehow (I think through determination and a competitive spirit), Amy, and the rest of us, made it to the top.

[I honestly think that sometimes the only reason that Amy and I are alive and able to do as much as we can, is because we both hate when one of us can do something the other person can't. It's the attitude of 'if she can do it, and has CF, then I better be able to do it too.' There is a bit of unspoken sibling rivalry that keeps both of us going even though it no longer really makes any sense. Even less than it did before.]

I can't really describe how I felt at the top. I was so thrilled and excited to have made it. It signified more than just a hike. We asked a guy to take our picture and he said "it's a struggle up, isn't it?" to which Mom mumbled, "more than you know." And that basically sums it up. I felt like I had finally bounced back from years of illness and from not being able to walk up stairs without coughing, to being able to summit mountains.

The accomplishment was more psychological than anything else. Sure, it wasn't a stroll in the park, but the hike itself wasn't overwhelmingly hard. No more exhausting than the two days of the Fundy Circuit. It's not like anything had changed during that week or I had suddenly gotten significantly stronger. What made me feel all the feels was that I was able to do something I never really thought I would have the chance to do again. I was conquering mountains that I had dreamed of before my transplant. 
Made it!
I'm still not exactly sure how Amy made through the hike. I'm not sure how many times I can say determination but I'll say it one more time. There is something about having a disability that makes it so sometimes, you have to see how far you can physically push yourself. You may pay for it the following week and vow to never hike again but that never lasts. Because having CF is a constant struggle to stay healthy before you lose what health you have, testing physical limits seems to be par for the course. It's an attitude of, "do what you can, when you can, because you never know if you'll ever be this healthy again." I'm sure not everyone feels that way but Amy and I seem to be set on pushing our limitations as much as possible.

I know it's been almost two years since my transplant but I still get the sense of awe when I can do things I had only dreamed about before the transplant. Now one of those dreams can be checked off my list. Although seeing as my list only had, "hike Gros Morne", I'm going to have to think of other, more tangible goals than my vague "travel everywhere" and "do all the things."


Heather McGrath said...

Wow! You two are absolutely amazing! We all could learn a lesson from you!

Roxanne Robinson said...

Amazing people can accomplish amazing feats with determination. What a beautiful story. Congrats on reaching the summit together!