May 20, 2015

Hike to Rannerdale Knotts

Images and words by Liam Grant

In 2007, I graduated from a course in photography and set about making a career from it. Sadly a few years later, I was bed bound and very ill. With my camera bag collecting dust, some time later I was finally diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS) and Type III Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS).

EDS is a heritable disorder of the connective tissue, which affects the body’s joints and internal organs, among other things. In my case it leaves me with chronic joint pain and regular dislocations. When I stand, my veins don’t constrict properly to get the blood back to my heart. As a result, my heart goes nuts in a desperate attempt to do the work itself, and this in turn causes the PoTS. Neither condition is curable. The symptoms left me unable to walk, and, resigned to the idea that I would never shoot again, I ended up selling all my camera equipment. It was only after some time that I learned to deal with the symptoms, enough that I could push myself to walk every day. I made the decision to avoid using my wheelchair, suffering through the pains. To make myself take at least one photo a day, I set myself on a 365-day challenge using my iPhone. In 2014, my application to Stocksy was accepted, which was a much-needed boost. In spite of all the difficulties, I became motivated enough to work on resuming the photography career I thought I had given up forever.

Cut to an afternoon in late 2014, and you would have found me standing at the summit of a hill that I had climbed by foot, photographing the scenic waters below. It sounds like a story of triumph over adversity—and it was—but it was far from perfect. It was in the Lake District, and I was there with my brother Nathan and his Border Collie to photograph the autumn. I had wanted to challenge myself to summit a peak, and we settled on Rannerdale Knotts, a modest-sized peak with good views over Buttermere Lake and Crummock Water. It was a strenuous hike for me, to say the least. There were steep sections before the ridge, as well as wind and rain. By the time I had reached the top, my joints were in great pain, and generally I was feeling terrible. It was all I could do to hold in the nausea, and my heart was beating violently.

It’s difficult to describe the mix of emotions I felt. On one hand I was elated that I had gone from being bedridden to achieving this; on the other hand my body was spent, the pain was impossible to ignore, and there remained the overwhelming reality that I still had to travel all the way back down. From there it only got worse.

We chose a steeper path down because it would be faster and there were better photo opportunities–it seemed like a no-brainer. At first, things were going well. The wind had died down, and my two hiking partners led the way so I could follow behind and shoot them against the view over the lakes. Then it happened: I set my foot down wrong and put my knee out. Seeing that Nathan hadn’t noticed, I remember thinking, “This is great. If I’m quick, I can get it back in and he won’t know.” Suffice to say it didn’t work. I half screamed when I tried to put my knee back in unsuccessfully, and soon I was just wrestling with my leg and thinking, “Please let it go back in,” not wanting to be one of those people who have to call out mountain rescue.

Thankfully I finally felt that satisfying feeling in the joint when it sits right. I gingerly put my weight back on it, confirming it was realigned properly, and then we finished the descent, albeit cautiously. Back at the car we looked at each other, forming a kind of sibling pact: Let’s not tell Mum about this, okay? (If you’re reading this, sorry, Mum.) It was definitely a memorable shoot for many reasons–the achievement and the torture combined. If it wasn’t for photography and my thirst for adventure, I don’t think I’d be able to deal with the daily symptoms and push myself the way I do.

These days I’ve gotten enough control over my symptoms that I can hide them pretty well. I no longer take pain medication, and I get an amazing buzz when I can abandon my wheelchair and blend in with the crowd even when all hell is breaking loose on the inside. I did catch a nerve that day at Rannerdale Knotts, causing me to lose sensation in that leg for a few days, but overall it was a significant victory, mishaps and all. I’m already planning my next trip!

Liam Grant is a photographer based in Norfolk, England, who embarks regularly on photographic adventures across the UK, striving to document nature’s most stunning moments. Explore more of his images >>

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