Injured? Can’t climb or trek? There’s still a future for you according to MM guide Sean McNally
Some injuries are minor, and others not so much. Hard work and dedication will get you back on track if you’re recovering. Read more about Sean’s road to recovery and getting back in the mountains.
Up until February 2020 I had never broken a bone in my life. I don’t think I ever properly appreciated what it was like to be totally sidelined with an injury for any significant time. I probably could have leaned more sympathy to friends in the past who were recovering from things like surgeries, broken bones, or torn ligaments — the types of events that put a stop to your physical activity abruptly and completely. But I didn’t truly understand what it was like until I broke both of my ankles in an ice-climbing accident and started the long process of recovery.
The first thing that flashed through my mind after the accident was, “How am I going to work?” As a guide, you rely on your body to make a living and a full-time Summer guiding season in the Pacific Northwest can cause a lot of wear and tear. I needed surgery on one of my ankles to repair my shattered Talus bone, and a mandatory 3 non-weight bearing months to heal. That only gave me a short period of time to strengthen the muscles and ligaments in my ankle before the busy season in Washington.
With a ton of hard work and physical therapy, I was on the Sulphide Glacier of Mt Shuksan in July with some of my favorite guests: Ian Sutton and Jason Lynch. After summiting Glacier peak in 2019, they were back for more and had Mt Shuksan at the top of their tick list. My ankle held up well for my first climb of the season, transitioning easily from hard trail to glacier to rock climbing on the summit. After being incapacitated for so long, it felt incredible to be back to doing what I love: sharing climbing and the mountains with good company.
The next few weeks saw me guiding on the glaciers of Mt Baker, the Spires of Washington Pass, and the alpine valleys of the North Cascades. Between trips I iced and stretched my ankles obsessively to keep them strong and rested for the next climb. My freezer was stocked full of ice packs that I rotated through endlessly.
The real test for my ankles came at the end of August with two trips in quick succession. The first was a 2 day ascent of Mt Baker’s North Ridge — an incomparable alpine ice climb on one of Washington’s finest peaks. The second was a 2 day climb of the Fisher Chimneys on Mt Shuksan — a mega classic of the Cascades offering every type of climbing experience including rock, snow, ice, and glacier.
The two climbs felt like a perfect capstone to my recovery process. Both were physically taxing routes in a pristine setting that require the strength and security afforded to one who possesses strong ankles. It felt good to be back moving in the mountains, and I certainly won’t soon take the experiences for granted.