Saturday 8 August 2015

CDT early exit

Sometimes hikes just don’t turn out as planed and unfortunately that’s been the case with the CDT. Regrettably I’ve been back in the UK for 3 weeks, with a fractured foot, after only covering 307mi of Montana (around 1/10th of the total CDT). Things had been going so well and I was already a couple of days ahead of schedule, conditions were perfect with snow levels throughout Glacier National Park the lowest they'd been for years. 

My problems began with a decision to stick to the official CDT route around Benchmark Ranch as I wasn't resupplying there, unlike 99.9% of other CDT hikers. That decision proved costly and took me on a section of trail that was rarely hiked. It was plastered with blowdowns (fallen trees over the trail) and it was crossing one of these, on a particularly treacherous and steep section, where I stumbled and jammed my foot hard between some branches. One of those branches pierced the upper of my right hiking shoe, I cursed but as there was little pain I thought I had got away rather lightly… fast-forward 30 minutes and I felt this unusual pain from the piecing site… If you hike a lot then you get to know your body and its aches and pains rather well, there are many that you know to safely ignore and they will soon be walked off, others you recognise as more serious and know they will need care for a while. This was different from anything I had experienced before though, it came on rapidly and at times was intense, any flexing of the foot, even through normal walking was particularly bad. Rough ground that twisted and flexed the foot simultaneously was almost unbearable, and the CDT is always rough in Montana. Still, with the aid of my hiking poles, I limped on for a further 100 miles hoping that I could walk this off. Deep down I feared the worst and suspected it might be fractured. Over the following days the pain intensified, as did the swelling, and it was obvious this needed attention. In the trail town of Helena, and after frantic emails exchanges with a doctor friend of mine (thanks Max!), a visit to Helena Urgent Care was recommended and X-Rays confirmed my fear, a fracture of the 3rd metatarsal and the end of my hike. However, a followup appointment to the Orthopaedic Clinic the next day threw a spanner in the works when I was told that is wasn't fractured after all and that the X-Ray was just showing an artery hole in the bone. This was completely normal and their diagnosis was just a badly bruised foot that needed a few days rest and I would soon be fine to continue. This was excellent news! The medical staff were so keen to get me back out on the CDT they even offered to drive me the 15 miles back to the trail in a few days time! Pleased with this new diagnosis I returned to my motel and negotiated a deal for 7 nights which should be more than enough recovery time. 7 days of doing nothing in a motel room wasn't much fun but luckily the tour de France and Wimbledon were on so I even got to watch some of my favourite sporting events, things were looking good! Problem was after 7 days there was little improvement and it was obvious that I would not be getting back out on the trail this year. One of the issues with hiking the CDT southbound is that you are always racing against the seasons and if you don’t clear Colorado by the end of September then winter will likely overtake you. I had no chance of doing that when I could barely walk 1/2mi at this stage, and that was in considerable discomfort. A tough decision was made to abandon the CDT and return to the UK for further treatment. Back in the UK a new set of X-Rays clearly showed an un-displaced fracture of the 3rd Metatarsal, right below the knuckle, and clean through the bone. This fracture hadn't been visible at all on the initial X-Rays. The good news was that it was healing nicely but sill needed around 3 further weeks, there was no way I could have completed the CDT. 

I’m writing this blog post 2 weeks after the new X-Rays and now feel almost fixed, there is no pain from the foot and I’m even cycling 20 miles most days. I return to the hospital next week and hope to get the all clear so that I can go away and salvage something from what remains of the year. Of course I’m bitterly disappointed not to have finished the CDT on my first attempt, but me and the CDT are not finished and as Arnold Schwarzenegger would say “I’ll be back!”.

I will leave you with some photo’s of my, rather shorter than expected, CDT hike of 2015. Enjoy!