New book focuses on climbing injuries and how to prevent them in the first place
By Bruce Willey
FULL DISCLOSURE IS NECESSARY in both climbing and journalism. After all, it was the great Gaston Rébuffat, who remarked, “Climbing is, above all, a matter of integrity.” So let’s get something out in the open: I first met Mike Gable, author of Beyond Tape: The Guide to Climbing Injury Treatment and Prevention when he was my physical therapist more than a decade ago.
Gable was trying to wring out a pesky and painful frozen shoulder, AKA adhesive capsulitis, the result (I think) of a climbing trip to Sardinia pulling on one kind of stone for more than a month: Limestone. We met twice a week in the Northern Inyo Hospital in Bishop where he practiced at the time (Gable has a private practice now, also in Bishop) and he applied all kinds of treatments to the stubborn shoulder. I was at my wits’ end. I couldn’t much raise my left hand to the top of my head without feeling as though the shoulder joint was filled with shards of hastily ground pine cones.
Defying doctor’s orders, I was still climbing, reaching high with the good shoulder and using the bad to stabilize. I developed an awkward climbing style that was hardly stylish but it got me up things for over a year. I was starting to get used to it. Gable was the only medical practitioner who didn’t actively discourage me from climbing.
After a couple of months of PT with no apparent improvement, a sports medicine doctor suggested a surgery which would entail putting me to sleep and wrenching the shoulder free with brute force. This didn’t sound appealing in the slightest and so with all things that sound un-fun, I procrastinated.
Leading a mixed route on the Mammoth Crest one day, I placed a piece of pro in a fist-sized splitter that led 20 feet up the chains. Ten or so feet above my last piece my right foot slipped, while my left hand stayed solidly locked in the crack. All of this happened in slow-mo as most whippers tend to do, and as my body fell past my left arm I heard the grating sound of a frozen shoulder violently melting, then the hand finally popping out of the crack, and then at long last the catch of the rope. The fall was exactly – and not anything like – the surgery the doctor had suggested might cure the shoulder.
Once the adrenalin wore off the pain felt huge. But by the next day it was noticeably better. A few days later I was reaching holds high above my head almost as if I’d never had the ailment.
The frozen shoulder may have been beyond the scope of physical therapy, but I still held a lot of gratitude for Gable’s caring advice. So I invited him to climb Cardinal Pinnacle up canyon from town, his first multi-pitch climb. We’ve been friends ever since.
So the gist of the above cautionary tale and book review below is … well, had Gable written this book ten years ago I might never have met him because I might never have gotten a frozen shoulder in the first place because I would have read about the importance of warming up the joints before climbing and other helpful advice on preventing climbing injuries. All conjecture for sure, if for no other reason than Bishop is a small town filled with either climbers or mules—and those that fall somewhere in between the spectrum.
Skip ahead ten years later. Gable is now laid up from a climbing injury of his own and with a newborn baby that takes enough naps to get some work done. He sees a need for an all-inclusive book on climbing injuries and how to prevent them. So he begins researching the current medical sources on climbing injuries which has exploded in recent years, almost keeping pace, it seems, with climbing’s popularity. Well-documented mainstream sports like tennis and football may have gotten all the medical affection in the past, but now climbing medical research was taking off. Terms like “climbers back” and “pulleys” have entered the medical lexicon. There just wasn’t a book with all of the recent research in one place.
“My goal with the book was to put the current literature together in one place,” he says, “and provide people with simple treatments and prevention techniques they can use with minimal to no equipment.”
Beyond Tape features clear, well-organized, and understandable examples of warm-up exercises, stretches, and holistic treatments. The book is heavily illustrated with pictures, most often with the anatomical models being the author and his wife Lori. And it’s not often that you get to see an author in short shorts but this 300-plus-page tome is a book of love aimed at healing the climbing community and Gable graciously donated his modesty to the project along with any net profits from the book to various non-profit groups.
Gable thinks it’s important to “really look at the long game (of climbing) rather than the one boulder problem or long alpine ridge traverse.” The balance, he adds, is to “continue to strive for your goals while taking care of yourself.”
Though there’s nothing wrong with becoming an armchair mountaineer as we age, Beyond Tape is purposeful with the intent of keeping the armchair at bay for various sports enthusiasts. Many of the applicable treatments, preventions, and rehabilitations will easily apply to runners, surfers, mountain bikers, and the like. Hailing from Bishop, Gable has seen his fair share of athletes that are absolutely crushing it in whatever sport they are doing—long past what is supposed to be their prime. But it all comes down to moderating injury, whether catastrophic injuries or over-use injuries.
“Life always provides the possibility of life-threatening circumstances that are out of our control,” Gable says. “I think that trying to mitigate those as much as possible is where preparedness and critical decision making can really make the difference between being able to return to climb another day … or not.”