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Attempt on Taylor Peak and thoughts on gear I chose.

I'm less than nine months out from open heart surgery.  I had a defective Aortic valve replaced.  I'd hoped that, after the surgery, I'd be able to hike and bike like I could twenty years ago.  That doesn't seem to be the case.  At least not yet.  Is it the beta blocker I have to take the rest of my life, or something else?  I don't know.

Yesterday I made an attempt on Taylor Peak.  I'm not sure my cardiologist would approve.  I know the ladies I worked with at cardiac rehab wouldn't.  They seemed to think I should spend the rest of my life doing laps around the mall.  To make a long story short, I didn't make it.  After hiking up Flattop and over the shoulder of Hallett, and losing quite a bit of elevation, I found myself at the base of Taylor and looking up a very long, steep slope to the summit.  I was already feeling very tired.  I decided it might be too much for my heart.

I new I would be pushing my limit, so, to increase my chances, I used my lightest day pack and I wore trail runners instead of boots.  I decided to take along a pair of regular straight grip trekking poles, thinking they might help too.

The trail runners worked fine.  They caused me no problems and probably helped.  I normally use cane style, T-grip trekking poles, but I thought straight grip poles were probably better for uphill.  I think I was wrong about that.  I think cane grip poles are better for uphill too.  I don't know why so few people use them.  In my opinion they are far superior to the more popular straight grip poles.  Especially my new Leki with the ergonomic grips and clamp style locks.

Taking my full size SLR camera didn't help, but I just can't deal with not having all the control it gives me.  I'd rather not take a camera at all than to take less.

OK, I've rambled on enough.

Randall.  There is not much help out there.  Be careful what you attempt. 

Your trip probablyy had little to do with equipment.  It had a lot to do with you.  Maybe you need to get in better shape first. 

I can't climb hills like used to as I approach 70.  I also take beta blockers.  We just need to keep going out there. 

Weight and lack of it is Essential. Ounces add up...quickly.

You were smart to stop regardless of your past/current medical issues. Too many others don't do that and get in trouble.

As ppine said; get in better shape, take longer moderate hikes and work up to  your goal and you may well see Taylor's summit yet.

I heartily agree with the above comments.  i had my aortic valve replaced about nine years ago and gradually worked up to normal activities, all with the advice of my cardiologist.

You should definitely consult with your cardio guy.  He has, or should have, the equipment, knowledge and facilities to assess your physical capabilities.  There is no virtue in winging it on your own.

I remember taking my first tentative steps around the recovery ward.  When I was released from the hospital, I walked around the neighborhood, increasing my distance by 10% increments, eventually resuming my normal biking and hiking activities.  It just takes time.   Gear choices, type of trekking poles, weight of backpack, etc. are all trivial and have little or nothing to do with the real issue - your basic cardio fitness.

But I must caution you - you will not be the same as you were twenty years ago but you can still be capable, sure in your knowledge of your ability.

I take a much lighter camera than my old dslr now. That helps me so that is a consideration. You know my stance on hiking poles, two standard and correctly using the straps are best so I don’t share your opinion there. I do share your opinion not to stay at the mall. Going to the base of the mountain is still getting out on a good trip. Go your own pace and enjoy.

I used to climb hills for a living.  In the winter I played in basketball leagues and x-c and telemark skied. 

In those days I wore 5 pound logging boots and heavy equipment.  It made little difference, following the path of the trailblazers that came before. 

Now I use lighter equipment, to help make up for the reduced muscle mass and lower level of activity.  My uncle is 92 and just recently stopped playing tennis 3x a week.  He came out for my 65th birthday party in the Pine Nut Mountains a few years ago when he was 88.  He went hiking with us at 6,000 feet. 

Randall, I feel your consternation.  

I used to play division 1 football, do competitive road cycling, ski trekking and high altitude mountaineering.  A real cardio/adrenaline junkie.  I always took care of myself, but seem to have lost the genetic lottery.  My arteries are blocking up, and bypass surgery is not an option.  I have sustained two heart attacks and a stroke in the prior ten years.  The latest heart attack definitely degraded my vitality, and now I find myself at my very limits, when going high.  Yet in my early 70s I still can summit some of the tallest peaks of the Sierra; last summer I summited Mt Langley (over 14K’) with my daughter.

A beta blocker will definitely limit the amount of exertion you can muster at any given moment.  It is like a governor on a carburetor.  Age has a similar effect.  Cardiologists recommend folks your age to keep maximum heart rate to under 135 BPM – that means you can’t get up the head of steam your memory fondly recollects.   You can still get to a tall summit, eventually, but at a reduced pace.  That means the number of miles and vertical change covered in a day are limited, but not necessarily the ultimate height you can ascend or the total miles covered if enough days are allotted to the task.   Taylor Peak is still a possibility, albeit may require a long weekend instead of a long day.

It is another question, however, what stress you can place on a replacement heart valve.  The specifics of your repair may impose limitations that go beyond your own physical and age capabilities.  You will need to research this.   

As the others all suggest, the mall is good for a post cardio event recovery, but if you aspire to do more than totter about town, then you have to incorporate walks into your week that include a fair amount of elevation gain.  My weekly routine includes four walks, each about two hours long, each including about 500’ elevation gain.  I ramp up the effort in the 4 weeks preceding a High Sierra trip, to include 2000’ elevation gain on each walk, and throw in another walk or two that cover 7-10 miles.

Lastly, contrary to others’ suggestions, I find a full length staff preferable to trekking poles.  Mine has a sure grip surface covering its top half.  It is especially superior when negotiating tall steps in the trail, as I don’t have to bend over to reach a step below, or settle for a less optimal hand placement when addressing obstacles.  There are commercial UL staffs out there today, that are far superior to their heavy broom stick or solid wood predecessors.  I made mine from carbon tubes; It is well balanced and I can carry it with almost no perceptible effort by two fingers when not in use.  Keep in mind your limitation is your heart, not your knees or ultimate strength potential of your legs.  While many find that poles can be used to assist lifting you up over steps and such, our arms are much less efficient than our legs for this task, and that will impact the overall performance you can get from what energy you can generate.  If you are having trouble stepping up, I suggest leg strengthening exercises, over relying on your arms and shoulders to ascend trails.


whatever the limiting factor is - weather, terrain, your fitness - it's worth heeding what you see & hear and what your body is telling you. You made the right decision by not forging ahead from how you describe the hike. I don't know Taylor Peak, but it's the Rockies, nothing to fool around with if your fitness isn't where it needs to be.  

My dad (over 80) has pushed recovery limits most of his life. means two torn rotator cuffs had to get re-repaired after he got too active too early after surgery. did the same (but didn't need more surgery, it was just a setback) after back surgery.   

Cardiac stuff? work the rehab, get your fitness back.   

September 25, 2020
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