Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Grateful Summits

This article appeared on Rock and Ice Thanksgiving Day https://rockandice.com/inside-beta/grateful-summits-how-climbing-inspires-gratitude/

Grateful Summits: How Climbing Inspires Gratitude

And maybe even spiritual transformation.
By Donna Stewart | November 27th, 2019

Craig DeMartino on Tailspin (5.12b), Poudre Canyon, Colorado. Photo: Courtesy of Craig DeMartino / Blue Water.
I’ve always felt that there was something deeply spiritual about climbing: that when we’re climbing, we’re tapping into some kind of pure state of being that may somehow, I dunno, maybe even help make the world a better place? I realize that some of you may have just rolled your eyes at me. But I also know that some of you just said, “I know, right?”
I’ve been doing some digging through the tomes on this kind of stuff and there’s almost diddly squat on the subject. The closest I’ve found so far are the words of those who’ve nearly died while climbing (there’s no religious experience quite like nearly dying, it seems) and Everest climbers beseeching the grace of Miyolangsangma, the Buddhist goddess of Inexhaustible Giving, who calls Everest home. Many climbers seek Miyolangsangma’s blessing before setting out to summit the mountain and some Sherpas will do no work with climbers who don’t. (Speaking of transformative experiences, Miyolingsangma was originally a malevolent demoness who was converted by a great Buddhist and was so overwhelmed with gratitude that generosity became her, um, middle name.)
As part of my digging process, I unearthed inspiring stories on the transformative power of climbing. Whether you believe there is something spiritual about climbing or not, if you’re a climber, at the very least you likely have a deep gratitude for finding this sport. Some of us owe our very life to climbing… which is kind of funny for a sport that, done wrong, can take your life.

[Also Watch VIDEO: Emily Harrington’s El Cap Rescue]

I’m one of the life owe-ers. When I found climbing, I was on a dangerous path. I was a homeless kid with nothing to lose and the voices of a past full of trauma I desperately wanted to silence. The only way I could feel most days was by scraping down to the raw, which usually entailed near-death experiences. Before I discovered the wild outdoors, this entailed jumping on moving trains, a mild fascination with breaking and entering, and climbing old buildings on the way wrong side of the tracks in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee (considered one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. even on the right side of the tracks—though this is changing, as you’ll see in a moment).
In high school, I was voted most likely to be dead by our first reunion. No one is more surprised and grateful than I that I’m still here. Not only am I still here, but I’m sort of thriving. And climbing is partially responsible for that. I’m still puzzling through the spirituality of climbing for me, but as I encountered more and more of these butterfly effects, I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one who’s been transformed or feels such an overwhelming gratitude for the sport, even when the price for participating is high.
Craig DeMartino was climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park in 2002, when there was a tragic miscommunication between he and his belayer. He thought he was going to be lowered down; his belay partner thought Craig was going to belay him from above the ledge, 10 stories up the cliff face. Craig stepped off the ledge expecting the rope to catch him, but instead he fell through the air, bounced off a tree, then landed on his feet. He shattered bones in his feet, ankles and ribs, and vertebrae in his spine.
Eighteen months later, Craig was still frustrated with his right foot. For one, there were so many metal parts now permanently implanted in his foot he couldn’t put on a climbing shoe. Plus, there was the pain. He’d talked to other outdoor athletes who had elected for amputation rather than give up active lives and live in pain. So, almost two years into his recovery, he elected to amputate his right leg seven inches below his knee.
After losing his right leg in a climbing fall, Craig DeMartino (upper left) longed for a prosthetic leg that could work in thin crack climbs. Designer Kai Lin (upper right) was inspired by watching a video of mountain goats climbing steep cliffs—what if a prosthetic could grip like that? With support from Arc’teryx, DeMartino and Lin put their heads together to invent a technical climbing prosthetic leg.
“I told myself if I wasn’t going to be a climber, it’d be fine, but I wanted to decide that,” says Craig. “I didn’t want the accident to take it.”
He never looked back, and when he looked forward, he started seeing more possibilities than limitations, and that wasn’t just around his climbing.
“I feel like my life was great, but now, the things I’m able to experience and see are things that I never would have before,” says DeMartino. “It all came from the accident.”

[Also Read Out On A Limb]

Craig now lives a life dedicated to helping others find their inner strength and joy, by learning to live and thrive with whatever hand life deals them.
“I was pretty selfish and self-indulgent before,” Craig says. “Getting hurt opened my eyes to what my life could actually be like.”
Craig works with people with a wide range of disabilities, from those who suffered accidents liked him to veterans crippled by their experiences. Getting them into their bodies and showing them what they can still do has marked influence and science is now trying to articulate why. There are more and more studies about the health benefits—both mental and physical—of getting outside. The science has been so convincing that, according to a video on MSN, “In 2017, the VA funded adaptive sports programs in every state. Veterans are learning how to heal their war wounds through outdoor therapies like backpacking, skiing and rock climbing.”
Rana Betting, a climber, trained psychotherapist and curator for the blog Climbing Psychology, tells me, “Outdoor education programs have known for years that utilizing rock climbing experiences with their students often results in profound transformations.” As both a climber and a psychologist who has recommended outdoor therapy for patients, Rana has given this a lot of thought. She believes climbing creates greater self-knowledge, increased self-esteem, and greater connection to community and the outdoors—all of which enhance mental health. “Each time we try and succeed in any small or large way, we create positive pathways in our brain’s reward system.”
Debbie Higgs. Photo: Donna Stewart.
For climber, yoga instructor and Reiki master Debbie Higgs, climbing has taken what she was told was a broken body and brought her strength—physically, mentally and spiritually. “I am doing things with my body that, a few years ago, I would have thought were impossible, because I was told they were impossible. But I’m doing them and it’s not because of some radical transformation of my body. It’s a change of attitude.”
Debbie was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 21, but she had had the disease for much longer. While it’s not clear how long, it is clear that a lot of damage had occurred before detection, especially in her hands and feet. Her toes arch and curve gracefully, but in a way that, especially as a climber, you can see right away is not normal. It’s obvious that her toes pose challenges in balance, and that it would be painful to try to use her feet in the same way that most of us do. So Debbie finds other ways.
“How can I be climbing, balancing up there on rocks? How can I be up there, trusting this body that so many people have told me not to trust?” Debbie asks. “I don’t have to copy or emulate others, I’ll find my own way to get to the top, or sometimes I won’t, and at those times I’ll learn something about what my limits really are.”
Doctors are surprised Debbie walks around as much and as well as she does, but I’ve hiked miles with her and gotten winded keeping up. (Full disclosure: Debbie is my friend and one of the strongest, most focused women I’ve ever met. We climbed for months before I found out about her arthritis, because I wasn’t climbing with a woman who let her illness define her reality.)
Higgs on the rock. Photo:
Donna Stewart.
Even Debbie’s relationship with climbing is one uniquely self-tailored to her: “It’s not the same relationship that everyone has with the sport…the time I spend climbing represents a place of total freedom, releasing expectations for myself, letting my body write the story instead of the stories and fears in my mind that limit the possibilities of the game.”
Doctors originally told her that climbing and her other outside activities would cause her condition to deteriorate further, but she’s found that not to be the case. Instead, her body continues to grow stronger and she no longer needs as many medications as she once did, especially antidepressants.
“The thing I cherish most about climbing is that within it, I’ve created a space where I do not evaluate myself on any kind of framework at all. I let myself enjoy the challenge, and I refuse to measure my success or my strength on any kind of scale. When I go out, my only goal is to give myself space to see what I find that day,” she says.
For Debbie, it’s one day at a time. She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I still struggle with my illness, and I know that struggle will go on. It’s all part of the journey…some days my mind feels like steel, and I feel strong. Some days I’m gripping my hands to a rock, with someone below cheering me on, telling me to stay up there because I can do it and I want to break into tears. My heart shatters and I think, ‘I CAN’T DO IT!’ Some days I wonder after every climb if I’ll ever be able to do it again.” The next day, she gets up and tries again.
For some, climbing provides a safe haven, metaphorically, literally or, as in the case of Jarmond Johnson, a climber from South Memphis, Tennessee, both. In May 2018, Rock and Ice published an article on a cultural experiment spearheaded by Tom Shadyac, director of blockbuster movies like “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “Patch Adams,” and my personal favorite, “Evan Almighty.” The experiment involved building a climbing gym in South Memphis.
Jarmond Johnson. Photo: Nate Packard.
Memphis, Tennessee is my hometown. It’s an incredible city full of talented artists, writers and what I have always felt was an overwhelming abundance of good hearts. It’s also a city struggling with some of the highest poverty and violent crime rates in the country. A few years ago it made it into the top ten of Time magazine’s peculiar list, “Ten Cities Where Americans Are Pretty Much Terrified To Live.”
Jarmond grew up in South Memphis. If Memphis has the kind of reputation mentioned above, South Memphis is the epicenter from which that reputation was built. It can be a dangerous place where trust is hard to cultivate. Jarmond grew up in a house with his mother and two sisters. From an early age he felt it was his responsibility to protect them. He thought becoming affiliated with one of the city’s gangs could help him do that. Understanding the complexity of Memphis gangs is beyond the scope of this article, but we all know that some of the activities come with great risks.
“I was on the wrong side of the law,” says Jarmond. “I fell toward that life and was getting involved in some crazed activities when my mom told me about Memphis Rox.”
Jarmond’s mother, Florence Johnson, was one of the first employees hired after the gym opened, and she believed in its potential. “She kept talking to me about the gym and telling me I needed to come by there and see it,” says Jarmond. Shortly after that, Jarmond started working at the gym, too. Three months later, he started climbing and has been hooked ever since.
When construction started for the rock gym, people thought it was a waste of money. “They ain’t gonna come,” says one naysayer in “Safe Haven,” a recent Shadyac film on what the gym has meant to Memphis. “Black kids don’t do outside activities,” the person says.
The gym doubled its membership sign-up goals in the first year and that’ss with a system that has a voluntary payment model. At Memphis Rox, if you can’t pay, you don’t have to. As for the complexion? It’s in all colors: everybody is there. It’s bringing a city together that has remained one of the most segregated in the nation, despite the fact that it hass been 55 years since the Civil Rights Act. Memphis Rox has been called one of the most integrated places in Memphis.
“It used to be that if they don’t look like me and they don’t talk like me, I don’t talk to them,” says Jarmond. “Now we’re in here all climbing together: Black, Caucasian, Asian, it don’t matter. It’s taught me not to judge so quickly.”
Jarmond started working for the gym as general staff, but management noticed that he spent any time he could mentoring the younger kids, and so they created a mentoring position for him. He says the more he climbed, the more he shied away from the high-risk gang activities.
“A lot of my friends haven’t lived to be 20,” says Jarmond. “Any time I get to work with these kids is valuable to me. This gym is a safe haven for a lot of these kids.”

[Also Read Free For All]

Every Wednesday, Jarmond leads a group of kids in what they call Hump Day Talks. They have conversations around questions like, “What do you want to do?” “What can we do to improve ourselves?” “How can we improve in order to get to the next phase?” The program appears to be working. Last Halloween, Jarmond talked to some of the neighborhood gang leaders about working to uplift the community, too. Halloween night, rival gang members called a truce and handed out candy side-by-side from the doors of Memphis Rox.
“My biggest inspiration was my mother, who passed away this past February,” says Jarmond. “She put her heart and soul into this gym. She’s seen this community go up and down, places open and shut. But this place? She said, ‘This place is gonna be here forever.’ Long as I’m working here, I’m gonna try to make it be here forever.”
An ancient philosopher once said, “If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. For truly, the greatest gift you have to offer humanity, is your own transformation.” In this case, it seems to be one climber at a time.

Donna Stewart is a freelance writer and the author of Yoga Mama’s Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls. You can see more of her work at www.donnastewartwrites.com.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Rock and Ice Article: Climbing Takes on the Theater

Climbing Takes on the Theater: Durango Dirtbags Win Award for Their Play “Lobuje”

Climbing stories have made for classic books, been in the magazines for years, and more recently have made the leap to the big screen. Now they’re taking on the stage.
By Donna Stewart | October 23rd, 2019
Photo: Donna Stewart.
“WHY DO YOU WANT TO CLIMB THIS MOUNTAIN?” Mike Largent, climber, actor, writer and founder of the adventure-based Theater Troupe, Theatre of the Wild, demands from fellow climbers, roaring into their faces drill-sergeant style.
The climbers, standing at military attention, shout back, “TO TELL A MOUNTAIN CLIMBER STORY THAT DOESN’T END WITH JAMES FRANCO UNDER A ROCK, SIR!”
This is the opening scene for the ground-breaking play, Lobuje, named for the 20,000-foot Himalayan peak and based on the raw experience of the theater troupe, Theatre of the Wild, who summitted the peak last November. Their docu-dramedy is the first time a mountain climbing story has ever been performed on the stage. How did the story translate to the unusual terrain? They won a People’s Choice Award at the Fort Collins Fringe Festival in July and they deserved it.
While the troupe’s leader, Mike Largent, did nearly die of hypoxia and had to be rescued by a helicopter, the opening scene guarantees the audience that that’s not what this story is about… at least, it’s not all this story is about. And that’s super refreshing because I’ve heard more than one person “meh” when the latest film debuts about badasses sponsored by Black Diamond or The North Face finding the next big edge on which to test their already considerable skills. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all still deeply impressed, but it’s getting harder for us to connect to their stories. And, frankly, we’re seeing so many that maybe, just maybe, they’re starting to be a little same-old, same-old? Where are the stories about those of us living real lives kicking and scratching our slightly less-toned tushes through a bit of adventuring?

[Also Watch VIDEO: Return To Mount Kennedy]

“Go Big or Go Home” is actually starting to get some shrugs and yawns here and there as audiences, overwhelmed with the litany of the how’s of these adventures, have started yearning for the deeper waters of the why’s and who’s, with the who’s being who are these people really, where did they come from, what drives them, and how much like “me” are they? Along with these deeper questions, people, especially non-climbers, also want to know, “Why does this even matter?”
The answer to these questions is what Theatre of the Wild’s Lobuje is all about. One of the core-binding principles of the four troupe members (Mike Largent, Sarah Grizzard, Theo Reitwiesner and Gustavo Palma) is that pushing yourself through adventures, whether in the wild or otherwise, carried out on the individual level, improves the world on a global level. The important thing is that you’re getting out of your comfort zone. “It isn’t about being the best,” says Theo Reitwiesner, a college student pursuing a double major in psychology and outdoor recreation at Fort Lewis College, one of the only colleges in the country that literally offer a degree in Adventure Education. “It makes us better people and that’s good for the whole world.”
Photo: Donna Stewart.
Theatre of the Wild want to remind the audience that growth promoting adventures come in many different forms. “You can do more, you can get out there in whatever way that means for you, and it’s worth it,” says Largent. “You’ll grow.”
Lobuje brings this message through revelations not of the pure badassery of the players, but through the revelations of their lovable, fabulous human fallibility, starting with three of the climbers downing a bottle of martini premix like some sort of post-race sport drink rather than pouring it out at airport customs, which naturally came with some uncomfortable consequences over their long flight to Kathmandu. The message—that anyone can and should have adventures—is brought home as you watch this crew who had been so busy with work and school and life that they didn’t have time to fully train, struggle and crawl their way to the summit. That is, except for Largent, who had perhaps the deepest, most powerful adventure of all, struggling to breathe until he was forced to evacuate by helicopter, alone, with the hopes a rapid descent to lower elevations allowed him to live.
When asked why no one went with him, Reitwiesner said Largent waved them on saying, “What are you going to do? Lick my wounds or hold my hand?” Full disclosure from this writer: If we’re climbing in a foreign country and I just spent the last 24 hours unable to talk because I had to concentrate on trying not to drown in my deepening lung lake, I’m gonna want you to hold my hand all the way to the hospital like the big baby I am.
True to the opening scene, however, Largent’s near-death experience is only an aside in a story that is sometimes frightening, sometimes hilarious, but always raw and honest, performed by a talented troupe of performers, three of whom are theater veterans.

[Also Read Gambling In The Winds – Finishing Hayden Kennedy’s Unfinished Line]

The entire performance is played out on the back of an old dump truck the troupe has converted to simulate the troupe’s climb to the peak. They custom built a fold out stage that features a retractable climbing wall they actually clip into and scale.
“People say they felt like they were immersed, like they were really experiencing it and that’s exactly what we were going for.” Said Gus Palma, who was relatively new to climbing when the troupe took on the climb. “We want people to ask themselves: What’s their version of their stories? What do they want to do? Not talk about, not daydream, not read about, but do?” says Largent. And nobody has to die or leaves a limb pinned under a rock for it to matter.
Theatre of the Wild have one more performance coming up October 25-27 at the Alpine Club’s Craggin’ Classic in Moab, Utah. For more information: https://americanalpineclub.org/moab-craggin-classic

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Epically Human - Published in The Durango Telegraph 9/12/19

Epically human
Theatre of the Wild's "Lobuje" offers answer to today's radness overload

Epically human
Members of Theater of the Wild in a scene from "Lobuje" earlier this summer at the Fringe Festival in Fort Collins. The play, about a real- life climb to the 20,000-foot Himalayan peak, was performed on a makeshift climbing wall on the flatbed of a truck./Courtesy photo by Donna Stewart
 Donna Stewart - 09/12/2019
“I’m saying, let’s take f***ing action toward things that we’re passionate about, without apologizing and without reservation. We don’t have time for that,” Mike Largent, founder of Durango-based performance art troupe Theatre of the Wild, said.
It sounds like a battle cry, a pep rally-to-action before facing some sort of epic challenge. But Theatre of the Wild is out to challenge ideas about who and what exactly is “epic,” especially, but not exclusively, in the wild.
Truth is, we’re getting bored with titans. In the last few years, I’ve heard more than one person “meh” when the latest mountain climber story hits the theaters. With 500,000 peak baggers in Colorado alone, it’s getting so even free-soloist Alex Honnold has a hard time maintaining his level of appeal.
Audiences are starting to desensitize to epicness. We’ve struggled and lost right along with the best climbers in the world. Yet another climber spends days, weeks or even years confronting his or her limitations  by struggling to the top of something craggy? Lucky them, but what else is new?
Here’s something new: a live theater production that features climbers, not sponsored by Black Diamond or North Face, reveling in the adventure of the personal.
“Why do you want to climb this mountain?” Largent roars, drill sergeant-style, into each climber’s face in the opening scene for the troupe’s new production, “Lobuje.”
“To tell a mountain climber story that doesn’t end with James Franco under a rock, sir!”
It’s true that when we watch movies or read the titan’s tales, we get jazzed, eager to run out and start conquering mountains or slaying dragons. But sometimes people just feel like these tales are more demoralizing than inspiring. We can’t relate. Sure, they make us dream big. We spend every spare moment at the crag and lots of moolah on gear. Yet, at some point, we realize we’re just not going to be the next Honnold or Tommy Caldwell.
Which isn’t to say it’s not worth trying. It’s just that most of us just don’t have the time and money to sustain the lifestyle necessary to hold on till Arc’teryx looks our way. Personally, every time I’ve approached breaking the V3/V4 barrier, I’ve either broken a bone, had to work more or gotten pregnant. Life gets in the way. With the current philosophical emphasis being “go big or go home,” it’s hard to rally for adventures that seem, on the surface, nothing to write home about.
Undoing that mindset is one of the goals of Theatre of the Wild’s “Lobuje.” Their message: You do you, and to heck with bragging rights. They want to remind us that it’s not about what we get to the top of, or how many miles we walk, run, paddle or crawl. It’s that we’re showing up, for ourselves, in whatever way  that manifests for us at the time, regardless of whether anyone else will be impressed.
The four troupe members (Largent, Sarah Grizzard, Theo Reitswiesner and Gustavo Palma) are no strangers to obstacles. Each of them worked long hours or several jobs at once to make “Lobuje” happen. When hoops popped up, they hopped through them. And they believe we can all do a little more ourselves if we’re willing to jump, too. “We want people to ask themselves: What’s their version of their stories? What do they want to do? Not talk about, not daydream, not read about, but do?” says Largent.
Last July, the Durango-based troupe debuted their theatrical docu-comedy at the Fort Collins Fringe Festival (earning a People’s Choice Award). The first ever recorded play documenting a mountain climb, “Lobuje” follows a motley crew of performers as they attempt to summit the 20,000-foot Himalayan Peak of the same name.
As the group takes us on their true, very relatable 2018 journey, they reveal the unique, the tragic and the quirky in each of their personal stories. With raw honesty and courage, they give the audience full exposure to what drives each of them to subject themselves to the kind of life-and-death tests that await. While “Lobuje” isn’t one of the highest peaks in the world, it’s still a big, freaking craggy mountain covered in ice with the hiking starting at around 15,000 feet – 7,000 feet above the danger line for altitude sickness (which Largent got and nearly succumbed to, by the way.)
And “by the way” is how that part of the story is told, not as the focus, but merely as an aside of an adventure that is sometimes frightening, sometimes funny. Three of the climbers actually start the long trek with a martini hangover, which they had to endure while navigating foreign systems and technological quirks.
While it’s true their climb lacks all of the traditional juice that fuels most mountain-climbing tales (loss of life, limb or marriage), what they bring to the table is an action comedy that strives for deeper waters. In the process, it gives the audience a human version of the typical climbing experience: a mountain climbing story about and to inspire everyman/woman.
“We’re not really here to say you could be the next professional athlete,” said Largent. “We’re here to say that that doesn’t matter. You can do more, you can get out there in whatever way that means for you, and it’s worth it. You’ll grow. It’ll make you a better person, and that will benefit the whole world.”
That message comes through loud and clear, in large part because it’s being conveyed to you not only by the people who actually made the climb, but by a group of talented actors who are as passionate about performance art as they are adventure. Largent, who also serves as artistic director and lead writer, taught theater at Arizona State University and Fort Lewis College. He holds an MFA in performance from Arizona State, which specializes in developing new work and might be where he perfected some of his incredible facial expressions. He uses these masterfully in each of the several roles he plays in the performance. As a matter of fact, all the actors wear many hats, an inside joke you’ll get when you see the play. Watching the characters “transform” so completely and convincingly is one of this play’s marvels.
And where would you see this kind of play? Why outside, of course! The theatrical play is styled for outdoor performance on a truck/stage custom built by the troupe. The fold out stage features a retractable climbing wall that simulates their climb to the peak. And here’s the thing, it’s all so convincing that you actually believe you are there.
Could Alex Honnold do that?

Epically human
link to original article: https://www.durangotelegraph.com/second-section/features/epically-human/https://www.durangotelegraph.com/second-section/features/epically-human/

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Original Adventure Pro Lightning Strike Article

I've always been curious to know how readers would respond to my raw articles, the original version before the editor gets a hold of them. Like the old Chinese Proverb of Good luck, Bad luck, who knows? I think having a news paper editor is a mixed bag. If you read the article in Adventure Pro, I'd be curious to know if you can see what they changed and what you think about those changes. With that in mind, here's the original article that was published recently in Adventure Pro Magazine (Pg. 35) https://issuu.com/durangoherald/docs/adventureprospring2019is

Title ideas: How Not to Get Lit UP, Flash Facts and the People Who Lived Them, Electrifying Tales, Shock Therapies

Dan McClure was coaching his son’s little league baseball team when the first thunderclap slowly rolled across the valley, originating from almost 10 miles away. Despite the actual clouds being far in the distance, Dan followed protocol to head for safety at the first hint of thunderstorms. He sent the kids and their parents to the safety of their vehicles parked behind the nearby dug-out. Then, Dan headed to his car, parked on the far other side of the field, on Bayfield’s Mill Street.

Dan, who is the owner of Bayfield’s Lightning Bolt Chiropractic, was moving pretty fast when, twenty feet from his car, lightning crackled through the sky and struck a nearby telephone pole. The bolt went down into the ground and traveled through the earth another fifteen feet, where it surged up, entering Dan’s left hand. In less than a second, the bolt shot through Dan’s left arm and exited through his right foot, leaving the lingering sensation of a burning bbq briquette in the bottom of his foot. Twenty years later he still has that burning sensation. It never goes away. (Picture of Dan last week in the spot where he was struck pointing at the lightning pole).
Photo by Donna Stewart

Aside from the burning sensation in his foot and feeling like he’d been cold-cocked by Thor’s hammer, at first he thought he was more or less alright. He went to work the next day happily cracking grateful patients back into shape. But the day after that? He couldn’t even get out of bed. An MRI revealed that he’d “cooked” his lower vertebrae. So began a long journey of recovery that he reflects on with gratitude. He credits the experience not only with impressing upon him the preciousness of life, but with a heightened intuition that has greatly enhanced his abilities as a chiropractor (hence the business name Lightning Bolt Chiropractic). (Picture of Dan with Dog, Thunder)
Photo by Donna Stewart
Dan was lucky on several fronts. Most obviously, a lightning strike can kill you and Dan survived. But lesser known is that 90 percent of people struck by lightning do survive.

But that doesn’t make them alright. Generating more heat than the surface of the sun in less than a second causes a shock wave we generally experience as thunder, but anyone standing within 30 feet of the actual strike could experience the equivalent blast of a 5 kg TNT bomb that can literally blow your socks off. The sudden intense rise in temperature can vaporize your sweat instantly, resulting in steam that can blow off your shoes, your socks and everything else.

Closer proximity or an actual strike can cause spinal cord injury (like Dan), severe neurological problems, burned retina, or third degree burns caused by the immediate and intense heating of any metal on your body.
Photo by Jonathan Bowers 
The blast can scramble the body’s signals, stopping the function of the heart, lungs, or any combination of the functioning of your organic matter. This might be a good time to mention that a person struck by lightning will not carry an electrical charge after the hit, so you can, should, and please do, perform CPR immediately if someone near you is struck by lightning and lies unconscious and not breathing. That is, if you know how to perform CPR. Not all strikes are equal, however.
Mother of 3, Kristi Murphy was standing on some rocks with four friends beside the Slate River in Gunnison, Colorado, when lightning hit the other bank. Murphy thinks she was knocked to the ground but truly doesn't remember.   "I felt a tingling sensation in my body just before lightning struck the opposite bank."   Four of the five people complained of symptoms like tingling sensations, nausea, and concussion symptoms like headaches that lasted for a few days after. 
Murphy said that she not only had headaches, but a peculiar “buzzing” sensation in half of her body, “The tingling feeling stayed on one side of my face and body for the next two days.”

Since later symptoms seemed relatively minor, no one in Murphy’s group sought medical attention, though they all wondered if they should. Most people don’t know whether to head for the ER after being struck, especially if their symptoms at first seem mild. But experts highly recommend getting checked out. Lightning strikes can cause significant damage to the brain, spine and other internal organs that might not be immediately apparent. Murphy was one of the lucky ones and her symptoms cleared up.
(Pic of Main Trail sign for Horse Gulch)

Photo by Donna Stewart...yes, that's a dog butt.

But not everybody makes out like Kristi Murphy and the good Dr. Dan. Our beloved Stacy’s Loop trail in the Horse Gulch Trail System is a living memorial to mountain biker, Stacy Thomas, a young woman who’d attended Fort Lewis in 1997. It was a late August afternoon and she was mountain biking with two friends on Telegraph Trail. The three were riding about 15 feet apart, with Stacy in the middle, when she was struck by a lightning bolt. They’d started out under blue skies, but Emergency Management Director Butch Knowlton, who was among the first on the scene that day, said that, “it was a typical broken day, like any other summer day in Durango, meaning there were scattered thunder showers.” (Pic of Trail map highlighting Stacy’s Loop and Telegraph Trail where she was struck)

Knowlton remembers, “We recognized immediately that Stacy was critical and did everything we could to revive her.” Knowlton called in a helicopter for immediate transport, but to no avail. Stacy was gone. Today, a host of bikers, hikers, joggers and even horses enjoy the loop daily. (Pic array of Stacy’s living memorial with bikers, horses, jogger with dog and Spring Lupine)
Horses grazing along Stacy's Trail, photo by Donna Stewart
As sweet as that is and as much as we all love Stacy’s loop, you’re probably wondering how to keep that story from becoming any part of your own.

Well that gets complicated. Here’s the thing, according to Knowlton, “Lightning is absolutely impossible to predict. You can stay indoors all your life, but even that is no guarantee you won’t be struck.”

It’s pretty rare, but there are plenty of stories about people being struck by lightning that came in through windows, electrical outlets or even plumbing. Inside a building or car is your best bet, but who wants to live trembling behind a curtain?

Ready to live life anyway? Here are some steps you can take to minimize your exposure. If you’re inside, stay away from windows, electrical outlets, tubs, faucets and other plumbing during a storm. Check the weather before you head to the wild. Generally, in Durango, the earlier the better, especially during the June/July monsoon season. If you get caught “out there” stay away from water, wire fencing (or wire of any kind), and exposed high points. Do not shelter under trees, boulders or cliffs, while at the same time, don’t be the tallest thing out there. If you’re in a group, spread out so if someone gets struck someone else can perform CPR and/or run for help. If you can safely keep moving out of harm’s way, keep moving til you can reach a metal topped car or a building. If you have to stay put, get low to the ground with the least contact to the earth as possible (lightning squat method). There are no studies showing that really helps, but it’s worth a try if it’s all you got.

Ron Corkish, President and Mission Coordinator for La Plata County Search and Rescue told me, “Remember the fundamentals of Know Before You Go: If in doubt, don’t go. Going out is an option. Coming home isn’t.” For more information visit: https://www.fs.fed.us/visit/know-before-you-go/lightning
Donna Stewart is a freelance writer and the award-winning author of Yoga Mama’s Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls. She’s chocked full of character and cautionary tales.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

How to Not Get Struck by Lightning - Published in Elevation Outdoors, June 4, 2019 as Lightning Strikes

When the mountains called, they hadn’t mentioned anything about getting struck by lightning being part of the plan. They beckoned and I got my boots on and headed for the Bear Peak trailhead, only to find it swathed in heavy gray clouds.  

I should have listened to second thoughts. Colorado averages 500,000 ground strikes a year, most of those in June, July and August. Since I was hiking in October, I thought it would fine. More importantly to me at the time: I’d recently relocated to the Front Range from the rural Southwest and the city streets were closing in on me.

Besides, at 8,500 feet, Bear Peak was just a wee mountain and, though I’m not usually one to follow the crowd, I saw plenty of people who looked like they knew what they were doing heading out and I lemminged right after them. Right into one of the most hair-raising experiences of my life—literally, once I hit the peak, the hair on the back of my neck stood up and I immediately turned to go. Within five minutes the storm unleashed with a terrifying assault of sleet, hail, thunder and lightning.

That’s when I realized my mistakes. For one, I’d hiked, on purpose, to the second highest point in the Boulder Mountain Park when it was completely socked in. Though I hadn’t witnessed any lightning or thunder up to that point, as weather.gov points out, the first lightning strike is just as deadly as any other and we all know how much lightning just loves high points like ridges and trees.  Second, once the storm let loose, jabbing lightning fingers all over that mountain? I had no idea what to do. I knew I couldn’t hide under a tree, but what about a boulder? Should I just run? I ended up running which, turns out, Runner’s World Magazine highly recommends if you can do it without plummeting off a cliff.

When I asked Patrick Kerscher, operations manager for El Paso Search and Rescue, about the best to-do’s, without hesitation he said, “Be aware and avoid the situation to begin with. Climb early to avoid the afternoon storms. Get out of the situation as quickly and safely as possible. If you’re in a group, spread out so a strike won’t take everyone out and there will be someone who can go for help or perform CPR.”

If you just gotta go, check the forecast. Dave Christenson of Rocky Mountain Rescue told me, “The weather service does a good job of predicting lightning.” Once there’s lightning, its behavior is almost impossible to predict. It can strike from clouds ten miles away or travel along the ground far from the original strike. NOAA, weather.gov,  and several other sources state, usually with an exclamation point at the end, “There is NO safe place outside during a thunderstorm!” So there’s that.

A study by the National Weather Service on lightning fatalities between 2006 to 2017 found that most people who get struck had shelter nearby, but waited too long to seek it. Trees, dugouts or picnic awnings aren’t shelter, they’re lightning rods. For true safety, nothing beats a car or building. Check out Weather.com for more lightning information.

June is smack dab in the middle of Colorado’s busy season, lightning-wise.  I made it off the mountain that day only breaking my phone, but according to the National Park Service, “On average, eleven people die from lightning each year in Colorado,” and Colorado has ranked 4th in the nation for lightning fatalities...since 1959.  Last year was one for the records, in a good way: Colorado had zero fatalities in 2018. Don’t be the one to break our winning streak.—Donna Stewart

Donna Stewart is a freelance writer and the author of Yoga Mama’s Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls. She gets herself in impossible situations all the time. They make great stories!

To See the Article as Published in Elevation Outdoors:

Friday, October 5, 2018

Just A Little Bleeding

This is going to be a long read, but since you're on a writer's page, you might even be hoping for that. Still here?

Okay, So 2018 has been a challenging year for me, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I feel like I'm being shredded from the inside out, the soil from which I grow torn apart, sifted, examined...cleaned and enriched.

Over the last six months or so, much of which time has been spent recovering from various injuries I now know weren't random, I'm plundering beliefs, perceptions, experiences and...relationships. I'm sorting through all of this with as much authenticity, as much honesty as I can bare, ruthlessly tearing away noxious weeds, severing unhealthy relationships, while at the same time, trying to face my own mistakes, the darkness in my own heart, with a vigilance I've never braved before.

I never set out to do this. It was part of no resolution and I do not have a list I'm checking off. I take things on as I trip over them in my path.
At the same time, I face physical challenges that mirror the internal ones. In both cases, these challenges, once healed, could manifest a future so magical I can't even imagine. If I can pull off all this healing. It's all a marvel, really, to what end I can only theorize, but I see God's hand in all of it.
This morning, I came across my friend, Debbie Higgs,' post and was blown away by the truths, the messages, in myths. If you've got a moment more, read Debbie's post, which she credits to her friend, Chani Nicholas:
Your rage is sacred, holy ground. Proof that you are human. That the events that tried to break you have left their mark upon you. That the pain of your past, and that of generations past, is emerging through you. Wanting to be held by you. Brought to consciousness by you. Transformed by being spoken into existence by you.
Your rage waits for you to call it by its name.
Speak it. Translate it. Transcribe it. Plaster it up and down the halls that house abusers of power. In giant font. In wailing screams. In and through the vibrations true to you.
Pour your rage into your projects. Create ceremonies to honor it. Therapy sessions to hold it. Read the myths that contextualize it.
Find friendships that validate your rage. Communities that are galvanized by the conscious use of their own. Actions that channel it towards some kind of relief and release.
If your rage is showing up, if your pain is calling upon you, if the hurt that you have harbored for years is erupting, it trusts you enough to receive it.
Until we work with it, our rage, pain, and grief exists beneath the surface of everything we do. Seething. Soaking into and poisoning our best intentions. Contorting our hearts into shapes too collapsed to house the love we so desire. Wrapping itself around our life-force, strangling our creativity, staving off what is rightfully ours.
Stationing retrograde on October 5th, at 10° of Scorpio, Venus, planet of love, connection, relationships, women, femmes, femininity, and desire, reveals her other side. When Venus retrogrades we get to work with all that is in opposition to it. The experiences that evoke our most difficult emotions refuse to be ignored. One of Venus’s many retrograde lessons is that the abuse of all things Venus is old and deep. Wide and ready to be acknowledged. This goddess is hungry for justice too long withheld from her.
Retrograding every 18-months, the myths associated with Venus’s backward motion are of the goddess’s great descent. Venus was known as Inanna by the Sumerians. Her famous underworld journey is a tale of reckoning, awakening, and integrating the powerful material of the unconscious into consciousness.
Called one day by her sister, Ereshkigal, goddess of the underworld, Inanna descends to her realm. Ereshkigal is the opposite to Inanna’s beauty, glory, and adoration. She is the sister betrayed. Feared. Unloved. Alone. Rejected. Her pain has distorted her. Her hunger for love left unjustly unfulfilled. Ereshkigal is the aspect of Inanna, the aspect of us all, that lives just under the surface waiting for our consciousness to open to its call.
When she reaches her sister in the underworld, Inanna is met with a death stare that annihilates her. Her corpse is then hung on meat hooks, left to rot where no one can reach her. The only beings that come to her aid are two magical helpers who appease Ereshkigal by witnessing her pain, acknowledging it and mirroring her struggle back to her. These beings echo Ereshkigal’s cries and wails. For the first time Ereshkigal is relieved of her pain because she is related to. Accepted. Given some compassion for her struggle. In return for this kindness she gifts them Inanna’s body and the goddess is reborn. Ascending to the Great Above, Inanna is renewed, but is never the same. Now fully awakened by coming into contact with the pain of her other half, Innana is, for the first time, a Queen truly worthy of her crown.
Ereshkigal is the deep reservoirs of power that lay within the unconscious. We cannot come into contact with our full potential until we are willing to descend into our underworlds, reckoning with the truth of what has happened to us. The struggle of marrying the unconscious and the conscious, the Queen of the Great Above, and the Queen of the Great Below, is a process of transformation so intense and painful we can only do it in the underworld. We need deep caverns, incubators, and safe places to grieve and reunite with ourselves.
The collective rage that is being unleashed in this moment is incredible. Undeniable. Irreversible. Ancient. This has been a year of opening ourselves to the howls of Ereshkigal. We are all being asked to meet her, acknowledge her pain, and invite in the lessons and wisdom of this myth. We are not above the forces that threaten to pull us under, but we are undoubtedly made more whole when we can hold space for our broken and still beautiful selves....