melissa i strong

rock climber, writer, photographer, working on life daily

Australia, Picking Up The Pieces, A New Hat, and Awaiting a Diagnosis- Elbow Enlightenment

July 28, 2016


Australia was an escape--something to look forward to after getting the news that our IVF (in-vetro fertilization) attempt was not a success.   Also to give us a break after my knee surgery foiled any other vacations this year.   Neither one of us were in tiptop shape but if we waited until that happened it could be a long while.

It was a challenge--half assed climbing on an international climbing trip but that was the state we both were in at the Grampians.  Me--with my healing knee, elbow still suffering and Adam’s elbow tendinitis resurfacing.  But we were in a lovely country completely new to us, surrounded by stunning sandstone boulders, charming scenery, a old friend and not a lot of crowds.  Since Australia is not as premier of a destination this time of year as the Rocklands is in South Africa we were able to book the trip last minute style found accommodations easily.  The rock is just as quality as S.A. but less concentrated.  My knee handled the moderate approaches quite well and we sought out low climbs with landings where I could fall on my butt verse impacting my knee.  Australia itself made this trip exceedingly easy.  Flying across the world I have become accustomed to getting off the plane and being thoroughly confused and a bit stressed with the language barriers and general lack of knowledge of roads and the area.   But being an English speaking country filled with very pleasant people Australia was easy.  Also making it exceedingly easy was having friends who had already found the boulders.  Taking the days of wandering about with crash pads lost while looking for boulders out of the equation for us.  So it was exactly what we needed a fun no-brainer vacation stress free and far away.  Despite the challenge of not being in top form on a climbing vacation it was an awesome trip.


Then back to home and reality. I hit the ground running.  After landing on the third of July I managed the restaurant on the fourth and had a full workweek ahead.  I felt so normal in Australia I figured my knee could handle it—work and hiking to the park.  I also started my role as a climbing volunteer in Rocky Mountain National Park, RMNP.  I am the first climbing volunteer the park has allowed (bouldering specific)!  I am working and climbing with the climbing rangers in Rocky helping the rangers reach out to the bouldering community keeping access unhindered while spreading the word of leave no trace and outdoor bouldering ethics.



























View from front door

A massive fire raged through the Grampians in 2013.  The lush vegetation is growing back strong and produces a brilliant contrast to the burnt remains.  This is a gigantic burnt eucalyptus tree and the back yard of our rental house

A new hat—RMNP volunteer hat.  An aside background story as to how this came about.  I was skiing with a group of friends in January for a few morning runs.  One of them is a law enforcement ranger in the park.  We got to talking as we were skinning up about how the higher ups in RMNP are looking at the impact of bouldering in Chaos Canyon over the next few years and that there was mention of them closing the area while they do this.  Obviously this got my attention and I said I did not agree with the decision to close the park to bouldering (which did not happen) and offered any assistance as a nongovernment employee but one who has worked with and on climbing access issues in Hueco Tanks since 2006.  I was encouraged to put this in writing.   I did about a week later and this ranger passed my words along.  After a few meetings to see what ideas I could offer and help I could bring to the table regarding bouldering access in Rocky they got approval for the first climbing--bouldering specific “Romo” volunteer.  I did some training before we left for Australia and came home exited to get the ball rolling.

Help keep access great in Chaos

Things to consider while bouldering in RMNP:

Stay on the most well established trails and rocks and talus when applicable.

Pad on durable surfaces and don’t drag pads.

Leave no trace!

Pack it in, pack it out.

Chalk awareness—brush off tick marks and pick up spills


There is a voluntary closure of the meadow boulder this year that will last for a bit.  We all love that pristine meadow in upper chaos canyon, that little green oasis in the sea of talus.  Because it is such a chill spot and well loved, the grass is disappearing so the climbing rangers are asking people to give the meadow a break and pick a different warm up.


Second week back I went on my first patrol with claiming rangers Max Berlin and Quinn Brett.  We had a great day circuiting around and trying hard – with low good landings of course still being very careful of my knee.  I was elated to be back in the park, climbing in one of my most favorite places and helping the cause.  Then add in 5, 8-10 hours sifts at the restaurant of being on my feet constantly and a slip behind the bar and I’m out the game once again.  Ugh another set back.  Not what I needed.


Picking up the pieces.  With these physical challenges I am also attempting to pick up pieces of my emotional self—the shattered dreams of not becoming a mother. Coming home and knowing IVF did not work I am realigning my expectations on life.  For the past four years I have lived with the thought of, I might be pregnant, when I look to our future.  I never gave up on me keeping fit, climbing, running, yoga, hiking and having fun as these years of trying passed by.  But our future, in my mind, had us with our baby in it.  And now it does not.  This is a challenge that weighs upon me daily but one I could identify and work with.  I am understanding my sadness, accepting the vision of our new future while growing closer to the man who loves and supports me like no other.  Keeping in the back of my mind I could always try another round of IVF if I was ever ready (however, those expectations and hopes are another world of mental obstacles if they don’t come to fruition and I am not sure I want to go through those hopes and dreams not being met again and again).




Awaiting a diagnosis--elbow enlightenment.  In Australia I learned I could climb, with pain in my elbow, but manage the approaches 3 days in a row.  When I came back I learned I could not handle a similar day in Rocky – approach and climbing - while working many long hours five days a week on my feet.  I had to reel things in a bit and get through work without the demands of a day in the park.  This reality forced itself upon me and I slowed down attempting to remember I was only five months out of surgery.  Climbing on plastic and getting some strength back in our garage was what I figured I had in store for me this summer.  While accepting this truth I decided to get to the bottom of this stubborn elbow tendinitis.   I ate up all of my deductible I might as well get an MRI on the elbow and see what exactly is going on in there. Just last week I found out the sad truth and the jury is still out as I wait to see a specialist at the Steadman Clinic in Vail on August 17.  It appears according to the radiology report, yes I have tendinitis but also a lot of other things going on including compressed ulnar nerve, bone growth in soft tissue and tearing to the ulnar ligament.   This explains why the PRP, 16 weeks of rest and countless other therapies have not touched my elbow distress and pain.  Afraid to further tear the ulnar ligament my reimmersion into climbing is now put on hold until I hear what the doctor says.   Even though this is bad news and frustrating it is good because I can finally address the actual problem rather than trying everything I can do to help ease the what I thought was tendinitis and failing.


As I continue to carve my definite path through this life I realize that there are a lot of good times but also many challenges that come our way.  It is easy to know what to do with the good times but it is how we handle the challenges that define us revealing the lasting actuality of who we really are.


In the meantime no one has given me some truly horrible news.  So I will push on.  Hoping to heal the knee while I find effective answers to fixing my elbow.  We are plugging away at the record breaking busy season here in Estes Park.  I can still wear my new hat acting as a bouldering steward to RMNP helping spread awareness regarding bouldering access to RMNP including leave no trace ethics and helping people understand what we all can do help keep access open and amicable in RMNP.

Mini vacation to wine country.  Adelaida 5 hours west for a long weekend. Beautiful vineyard views from our cottage.

After we went back to the Grampians for a final 8 days of climbing before home.

Home to Cassidy and Fiona.  The new mudroom finally done!