Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mt. Tallac's "The Nut Cracker"

Mt. Tallac’s “The Nut Cracker”

It was July 19th, 2011. I had spent the last four days hiking and climbing small peaks around South Lake Tahoe in California. I planned to spend seven days around Lake Tahoe, climbing and hiking pieces of the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) and the Tahoe Rim Trail and take one day to climb the tallest peak in the area, Mt. Tallac. The eighth day I would drive south to Yosemite and hook up with a few buddies to do some hiking and climbing there for a week.

Mt. Tallac stands 9,735 ft and almost anywhere you stand in Tahoe, this mountain dominates the southwestern sky. This particular winter provided record snow falls for Yosemite as well as Tahoe, and even in mid July, many of the peaks were still heavily laden with snow. Wild flowers of every color dotted the rocky slopes and grassy meadows only missing noticeably in snow fields that could be four feet deep in places. The skies all week had been cloudless; the temperatures in the seventies during the day but dropping to the forties at night even in the lower elevations. It provided perfect weather for my agenda.

The trails and peaks I attempted this first week were relatively tame. The only one that I would have considered difficult was Mt. Tallac. I consulted the rangers at one of the many ranger stations as to the trail conditions, amount of snow I would encounter and up to date weather forecast before I took off for the trail head of Mt. Tallac. The rangers informed me that even though there was still plenty of snow on Mt. Tallac, especially above 8,000 ft., it was passable and I shouldn’t encounter any problems. Hiking and climbing by myself, I feel more comfortable when trail conditions and weather are in my favor.

It took me a full day of strenuous hiking and climbing to reach the summit and to work my way back down the snow and scree fields on the eastern slope. It turned out to be one of the most difficult climbs I had ever done. Once I had reached 8,000 ft elevation the trail would disappear, being covered by four foot deep snow fields the size of football fields. I would cross the snow fields then have to zig zag on the other side till I found the trail. Then I would find myself facing a series of scree fields which I would have to negotiate my way across, doing bouldering across the larger rocks and then find myself scrambling up steep slopes of loose scree, which flowed down the steep slopes below my feet as if it was lava.

Once I reached the upper most ridgeline, about a mile south of the summit, the hiking and climb became much easier. There were grand views to the east and west and the snow fields became almost non-existent, giving way instead to huge alpine meadows filled with wild flowers. It was about this part of the hike that I realized that somewhere on the way up I must have sprained my left hand. My left index finger and knuckle was swollen substantially and throbbed with pain. There had been a very precarious traverse across the face of a bowl on the eastern slope of the mountain. The slope was close to a 45 degree pitch and the snow was very unstable. Where there was not snow, there was loose scree. I had fallen several times during this section and eventually found myself mostly on my hands and knees as I inched my way across the difficult section. It was probably during this traverse where I had injured my hand. I figured it was probably just a bad sprain and continued toward the summit.

Once on the summit of Mt. Tallac there were tremendous views of Lake Tahoe and Fallen Leaf Lake to the northeast. The two huge lakes appeared to be two small drops of royal blue amongst a range of snow peaked mountains layered across the topography below. The view gave no hint of any civilization. I knew from my angle of view where South Lake Tahoe was, and with its many high rise Casinos, one would have thought these would have been visible, but as hard as I tried, I could only imagine.

I sat there amongst the jagged rock outcroppings at 9,735 ft. looking down, imagining the sidewalks of South Lake Tahoe, busy with tourists, gamblers, honeymooners and families stopping and staring at the huge, snowcapped peak to their southwest, looking so close yet so inaccessible. They no doubt stared at the peak and stood amazed at the grandeur and the beauty that Mt. Tallac portrayed, yet as I sat on the very top and looked down, the massiveness, the grandeur and beauty was even more impressive. The actual size and the personality of the mountain becomes evident only when one climbs it, immersing oneself into the actual parts of the mountain, the individual rocks, standing knee deep in it’s snow, crossing it’s many streams, and resting in a meadow of wild flowers that appears to dance to the silent song of a soft breeze. So as I looked out to where the casinos were, I couldn’t see them, and as hard as they might try, they couldn’t even begin to see the real Mt. Tallac.

The climb back down Mt. Tallac was not any easier than the climb up. The difficult traverse across the eastern slope full of soft snow and scree was not any easier and maybe even more difficult as the snow became softer as the day’s heat worked at melting. My left hand continued to swell and nothing seemed to give relief from the throbbing pain. I fell many more times on the way down, scraping my arms and legs. Bruises began to appear on my thighs and forearms from falls that I could not identify because there had been so many. I steadily worked my way back down to the bottom, slipping, sliding, and falling most of the way till I finally reached the end of the trail, which had been the beginning ten hours before.

By the time I drove back to the hotel where I was staying, my body was aching all over. Every joint pained with the slightest motion and I was tired beyond belief. I limped into my room, throwing my pack onto the bed and grabbed an ice cold beer from the mini fridge. I circled my left hand around the ice cold can, attempting to use it as a cold compress, treating the swelling and pain of the sprained left hand. I started the shower, allowing the room to steam as I took off all my clothes. I stood looking into the mirror examining the surfaces of my body, noticing the numerous scrapes and bruises that appeared in places that I couldn’t imagine how they occurred. As the mirror began to become opaque with the warm steam from the shower, I noticed that not only my left hand was significantly swollen but also my left scrotum.

As I studied the swollen sack, I was relieved to realize there was no pain, nor any discoloration to the area. I wondered to myself what may be the cause for the significant swelling. Could it have been caused by one of the falls? Could it be the result of over exertion resulting in some form of a hernia? No answers came to me immediately and since there were no other symptoms, I simply gulped down my cold compress (my beer) in two lengthy gulps and climbed into the shower.

After the shower I felt somewhat better and continued to use cans of beer as a cold compress for my left hand and taking the beer internally for my swollen nut, brings new meaning to beer nuts!. Even though the swelling in both my left hand and left nut did not seem to be reduced by the effort, I did begin to feel better.

Over the next ten days, I continued to ice my left hand and to monitor the swelling of my family jewels. Actually it was only the left jewel that seemed to have a problem. I continued to hike and climb, eventually hooking up with several buddies and spending a week in Yosemite. None of my injuries seemed to be debilitating in any way and I continued the trip as I would have done if no injury had occurred. Once at Yosemite I did briefly consider seeking medical attention for my left hand, but I didn’t want it to interfere with my trip and I knew I already had a scheduled physical exam with my family doctor the week after I returned home. I decided to ignore the injuries and once back home; I would address the issues with my family physician.

Thirteen days after the climb of Mt. Tallac, I was home and on my way to my appointment with my family physician for my annual physical exam. I must admit that I was a little anxious about bringing up the issue of my swollen left nut. I realize that I should not be embarrassed. I should simply explain what happened, let the exam progress and listen to his findings and possible treatment. My left hand had finally returned to normal and I had decided not to even mention that injury. Once at the physician’s office the receptionist informed me that my regular family physician was out, but Ann, the physician’s assistant would see me. “Have a seat and she’ll be with you shortly.” The receptionist said as she went back to schedule book and answering the phone.

I sat in the waiting room with a whole new level of anxiety. Not only was I going to have to drop my drawers, show my manhood, have them poke and prod what I consider my privates but it would be done by a female that I hardly knew. I don’t want you to think that I’m some sort of prude, because I’m not. I have no inhibitions when it comes to nudity. I’ve gone skinny dipping, frequented hot tubs and routinely parade around the house nude and I have no concerns doing so. Somehow, in a clinical setting it’s different. I began to formulate the verbiage I was to use when I discussed the swollen appendage with Ann.

“Hello Mr. Morgan…… let’s see….. last physical exam about a year ago. Blood pressure good, pulse good, we’ve taken some blood for the lab, and we’ll get those results in a few days. Any problems?” Ann said as she looked up from the chart.

“Well kind of……….” I stopped as she stood and put her stethoscope to her ears and told me to take a deep breath as she moved the device across my back.

“Lungs clear….. what’s been going on?” Ann said.

I began to explain the last three weeks, where I had been, what I had been doing and began describing Mt Tallac in detail. I explained how difficult the climb had been, how many times I had fallen and the severe swelling that occurred to my left hand due to an apparent sprain. She grabbed my hand and I waved it off saying that the swelling had eventually gone away and the pain was almost gone.

“What did you do for the sprain?” She questioned as she began to feel my neck, probing for unseen glands and other things I assume.

“I found that an ice cold can of beer worked perfectly as a cold compress. I simply held it in my left hand. Seemed to help.” I said almost proud of myself for thinking of the ingenuity of the treatment.

“Hmmm…. that works.” Ann said as she stuck a tongue depressor in my mouth and told me to say ahhhh. “Any other problems?”

“Yeah…… After I came off the mountain I noticed I had a significant swelling to my…..” and I just simply looked down to my crotch, hoping that she could read my mind, preventing me from having to say, “My left nut magically grew to the size of a baseball, you want to see?”

“A swelling to the groin?” She questioned. “Any pain or discoloration? Let’s take a look.” She said as she sat back down on her little round stool and asked me to stand.

I realize that these professionals, these physicians, physician assistants and nurses, routinely see the different parts of the human body; parts from female, male, old and young. To them these examinations of the anatomy are probably not much different than an automobile mechanics viewing a blown head gasket or a leaky carburetor. They simply look at our parts as just that, parts of a system that they have to make work correctly. While waiting in the waiting room, I gave this much thought, and I rationalized that my problem was just another part, on another patient, that must be fixed, but as I stood in front of the physician assistant, I was sweating and shaking with embarrassment as I prepared to reveal my blown head gasket. At least it wasn’t a broken crank shaft!

I dropped my drawers and stood facing her as she adjusted her eyeglasses and stared at the area of appendages, that hung unresponsive to the coolness of the room or even to the attention they were receiving.

“My…… there is a lot of swelling to the left side. Is there any pain or discomfort?” As she gently felt the surrounding area searching for I don’t know what.

“No…. not at all. As a matter of fact I thought about letting it stay as it is… I’ve never looked better in Speedos!” I said in an attempt to lighten the stress I was feeling.

Ann, the physician gave a little chuckle at my attempt at humor and continued feeling the area of my lower abdomen. “Can you have sex?” She questioned as she continued to probe.

This question took me off guard, and looking back I probably should have expected it, but for a brief moment I was speechless. Let me say that like most men, I am very uncomfortable in any type of clinical setting, especially when I’m the patient. It becomes very uncomfortable when there becomes discussion as to my ability to perform. Not that I’ve ever felt that I’ve had problem, but when questions are asked about performance there is no easy answer. If you say…… “Oh no not at all.” Then you become a braggart. If you say “Sometimes..” Then you become a wimp of sorts. There is no easy answer.

Enough silence occurred to cause Ann, to question me once again, “Sex…….. can you have sex?”

“Well…… I’m happily married to a wonderful woman that I love very much, so I better not…. But thanks for asking.” I said this on the fly, another attempt at humor and it worked for me, because I was beginning to feel for once at ease. Ann glanced at me as if to say “What?” Not able to fully understand my remark while at the same time holding my swollen left nut in her right hand.

“I mean…… can you……you know….. perform……. With your wife?” Ann said as she grinned, albeit was almost to herself, wanting to maintain some amount of professionalism.

“Yeah…. No problem.”

“Have you taken anything for the problem….any cold compresses….Advil or Motrin?” She questioned.

“I used the cold compresses on my hand….. you know the ice cold beer cans…. Then I would drink the beer…. Seemed to help that some.” As I pointed to the issue still in her hand.

“Well…. Probably wouldn’t hurt any…but I doubt it would help either. Let’s set you up with an urologist. Make sure nothing else is going on there. They’ll probably set you up for an ultra-sound. Ok?” She said as she rolled herself on the little round stool back to the counter and started writing notes in the chart.

“Ok.” I said as I began to pull my pants back up to a point of respect.

The next couple of weeks went by with me seeing a variety of physicians, and ultra- sound technicians and the same scenario ensued with embarrassment and concern on my part and concern, interest and embarrassment to a degree on their part as they decided my fate.

Surgery! That was the final prognosis. The details were explained in vivid detail but I elected to ignore the details then reluctantly signed for the necessary procedure. They explained that what had occurred was merely due to trauma and that the only way to correct the problem was surgery, controlled trauma?

I was lying in surgery pre-op when everyone who was the least remotely employed by the hospital seemed to show up and come in, introduce themselves, and begin asking me questions. What’s your name, what’s your date of birth, Why am I here, Which side…. Left or right and it went on and on. The anesthesiologist, an Indian lady, came in and began asking a series of questions. Date of birth? Any allergies? Any problems with anesthesia in the past? Then she asked, “Mr. Morgan any heart problems?”


“Any history of heart attacks in the family?”


“Any history of Tachycardia or Bradycardia?”


“So no issues with the heart?”

I stopped, and once again I could not help myself, “Once……..” and I waited to measure the physician’s response.

Nothing was said; the physician simply brought my chart closer to herself as she prepared to make the necessary notes for her protection.

“My heart was broken once in high school….. Still have the scar….. you want to see?” I said this so matter of factly that for a moment I thought she was going to expect me to pull my gown up for her to view the grotesque scar.

Instead she made a few notes in the chart and briskly walked out of the room, apparently pissed at something.

If she had looked….. noticed the enlarged appendage…. And understood how it had happened….maybe she would not have been so pissed. Maybe she would have understood how I felt. Embarrassed, worried, and apprehensive, but she was gone in a flash, on to the next patient with their own concerns and insecurities.

The surgery went well. No problems. And after several days had passed, I was back to normal. The swelling was magically gone. There were a few stitches and a little pain, but thinking back on how I felt on Mt. Tallac, the pain, the concern, and the worry; this was minuscule. It made me think about the view from the summit, looking down on the valley below. The tourists, the families below were unable to see the full grandeur of Mt. Tallac before them. I on the other hand became a part of the mountain, struggling and pushing myself to its limits. I was able to fully realize the beauty, the grandeur of the mountain. I find it strange that the only way to view a mountain is from a distance, but one must climb it, suffering, feeling the aches and pains, dealing with the exhaustion, to be able to see the mountain in its entirety. I think that’s why I and many others do what we do, to see the mountains in their entirety. They brought a wheel chair to wheel me to my waiting car, and I stood, took a few tentative steps, and thanked God that I was going to be able to climb the next Mt. Tallac.