Tag Archives: climbing

Climbing Mt. Shasta: A Journey After Spinal Fusion Surgery

-Emily Fraysse

My eyes opened at the sound.

The nurses dressed in all white with hairnets and facemasks were clinking the industrial set of tools around on a steel patter to my right. I drifted off again as I felt a sting of the IV slide into my right arm.

My eyes opened at another sound.

My father’s alarm had gone off. It was three o’clock in the morning and I had just been dreaming a flashback to the spinal fusion surgery I had undergone around two years before.

Sliding on my down coat and slipping on my booties, I heaved myself out of the comfort of my royal blue tent and out into the cold, deserted ice. I could see my father had already begun boiling the water for tea and my younger sister, Madeline, still fast asleep in her sheltered cocoon.

With a full moon over head, the view was stupendous. It was still the dark hours of the morning, but with the full moon, the shadows of the luscious pines and the sparkle of the snow was clearly visible. Looking up at the slope of Mt. Shasta, a lit ant trail of climbers were already making their way up to the looming ridge above.

A bowl of oatmeal later and I was snapping my crampons onto my boots and heaving my thirty-pound pack on my semi-sore back. My back has been an issue for many years due to a duel with scoliosis. I spent the winter break of my senior year of high school getting a spinal fusion (two titanium rods fused to my spine to prevent the curve from gaining distance). The surgery, thankfully, worked, and a mere two years later I was climbing again. I had climbed before my surgery, but just a few times here and there with my father and sister.

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One step. Stop. Breathe. Another step. Stop. Breathe.

And that’s how it went for the next eight hours uphill. Any faster and the climber would find themselves exhausted after only three hours, unable to scale the 14,179 foot California mountain.

This was my battle. Battling my body, my mind, my mountain.

One step. Stop. Breathe. Another step. Stop. Breathe.

I couldn’t necessarily feel the rods, but I knew they were there. It had taken me about six months after the surgery until I was fully healed, and even then I was still not allowed to go on rollercoasters or partake in any other potentially dangerous activities for an entire year. Luckily, a mountaineering backpack sits on your hips, thus lessening the pressure on your spine.

I pushed my body and my mind, step by step. It wasn’t enough to cause injury, but I wanted to push myself to see how far I really could go. The first doctor I went to when I had first found out that I had scoliosis said that there was nothing I could do for it—not even surgery would help. But I took the plunge: a scarily deep plunge that has left me with a giant scar going all the way down my back. I wanted to prove to myself and to him that I could do it.

And I did.