I have been a climber for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I always wanted to climb bigger trees and steeper boulders. My Dad even made me little ice axes to climb snow hills during the long winters growing up in Mackenzie, BC. It was in my early teen years that I started really learning how all the rope systems worked to keep things safe. I was hooked, I just couldn’t get enough climbing. The more time outside, the more I respected the wilder of places. Exposure, gravity, strong and always changing weather .. pretty addicting stuff for my adventure seeking personality. I have to solve the problem in front of me: get from the bottom to the top. A simple sounding goal really, but the devil hides in the many details. So the question is always, “just how bad do you want it?”
In 1994, I was in my first year of computer science at UNBC and working on a new, very exposed, multi-pitch route (now called “Hells Bells” on Pope’s Peak). That October, right before midterm exams, my brother and I were in a car accident. I fell asleep driving a long distance back from a funeral in Saskatchewan. We started driving after school on the Friday with exams first thing Monday morning. With only hours left go, driving home to these exams, I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. That’s when I learned what real g-force feels like. Not the fun kind like in climbing, having the rope catch your fall, but the kind of acceleration that is not survivable. One could actually figure out how hard, how much pressure on the spine, would be created with the given speed, acceleration and time in the air. A similar problem might have been on that exam that fateful morning. my bother Doug still wrote his exams that morning while I was on my way to Vancouver on a spine board. I remember feeling thankful that my poor judgement didn’t injure anyone else. (Arguably, this should be just as criminal as driving intoxicated.)
The following two months were spent staring at the ceiling of the Hospital, followed by another six months in rehab at GF Strong. My mountains were now sitting up, feeding myself grapes, moving colored pegs on a board – only the most mundane tasks. The abrupt change from being independent and strong to helpless and weak was surreal. It was sickening to watch the atrophy happen so quickly. The body simply eats itself within a week or or two of being immobile. It took a long time to be able to push a manual wheelchair and I never regained any hand function. Living as a quadriplegic was about teaching myself tricks to compensate for the loss of function. With much trepidation, I went back into computer science at Langara College. After struggling in a c/c++ course trying to type and write tests with my now barely legible penmanship, I realized that getting right back into education was the key to my rehab. It wasn’t long before I started to question if it was possible to get back to the rock because programming certainly wasn’t the adventure I needed.
Some talk turned into a small rappel, and then grew into a much larger project. It took us ten years to climb the Stawamus Chief, but we did it! Great costs were paid for us to get to the summit in 2005. We were there for about ten minutes before getting into a helicopter (day light was going and rain was threatening). Would you invest ten years to earn ten minutes on a summit? Developing custom gear for quadriplegics has been a long and expensive process, but we did something unprecedented for this level of disability. I wonder when it will be repeated and how much faster that person will be compared to our 14 hours? I offer all the gear and know-how to whomever is willing to train for it. An open challenge and an honest offer to my fellow quads.
From an early age I’ve enjoyed making circuits and robots. Now, as an “adult”, I am even more dangerous with a soldering iron, but I haven’t fried a chip in a long time. The past few years I’ve been working on a better hybrid wheelchair for quadriplegics and been helping on my friend’s telepresence robot. I feel pretty lucky to still be doing my childhood hobby. Currently, I’m a coder for hire and living in Vancouver.