Scaling new heights with ulcerative colitis

Mark Scherle rock climbing
Photo by Mark Scherle | Words by Rasheed Clarke

A rock climber and photographer, Mark Scherle wasn’t going to let inflammatory bowel disease get in the way of his adventures.
Mark Scherle is always looking up.
That tends to happen when you’re rock climbing as you search for places to take hold, and possible lines to guide your ascent. Mark has tackled his share of challenging rock faces, so when the 33-year-old from London, Ontario was presented with the challenges of ulcerative colitis in 2012, he kept on looking up.
“I remember waking up a little loopy after my colonoscopy and the gastroenterologist telling me that I had ulcerative colitis, and giving me a pamphlet explaining the disease. To be honest I was a little confused as I had never heard of the disease before, says Mark.
“I hoped that with the diagnosis we’d be able to fix the problem, but reading over the material I quickly learned that would not be the case. Ever the fighter I decided pretty quickly that I would not let the disease control my attitude or life.”
Even with his positive attitude in place, life with ulcerative colitis hasn’t been easy been easy. Despite trying multiple medications and diet adjustments, the hallmark symptoms of the disease have persisted: frequent and urgent trips to the washroom, blood in the stool, and abdominal pain.
That being the case, Mark tries to stay one step ahead of UC, both in his daily life, and on his trips into the wilderness.
“Having active colitis while travelling requires a bit more planning. Having baby wipes is a huge bonus, and learning where the nearest public washrooms are also helps. In the backcountry, there’s proper etiquette involved in burying your waste, and keeping it away from the trails,” he says.
People living with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis can tell you that the disease can hit you even when you put preparation plans in place. That happened to Mark during a climb in Squamish, British Columbia.
He and his climbing partner were headed up a 500-meter-tall route. Tethered on a sheer rock face, 100 meters above the ground, Mark had the urge to go.
“Lowering to the ground was out of the question as it would require three rappels. But luckily I spotted a perfect ledge about 15 meters away from the line we were taking. There was soil and even a little tree on it,” says Mark. “I could safely remove my climbing harness and do the deed there. So I made my way over to the ledge. On the way back I realized the climbing was actually not that easy.”
Narrowly avoiding accidents while hanging off a cliff hasn’t dampened Mark’s desire to get outdoors. In fact, it drives him to keep exploring.
“Adventuring for me is about getting away from civilization, and doing something that involves a bit of risk,” he says. “This may involve hiking in the backcountry, paddling some wild rivers, or climbing a mountain. Without the risk aspect, it’s just exercising.”
Going a step further, Mark has combined his love of adventure with his professional skills as a photographer. He’s in the midst of two major projects to create stories and photographs that capture the spirit of nature, adventure, curiosity, and passion. His projects have him travelling across Canada to climb, hike, write, photograph, and open up conversations about Crohn’s and colitis.
“The main goal for my projects, in terms of the IBD community, is to allow people to realize that the disease does not have to limit what you’re capable of doing. You can still live a very active and full life,” Mark says.
As he seeks out new adventures, Mark has also started a new treatment for his UC, and he remains optimistic about its ability to get the disease under control. While the challenges of inflammatory bowel disease don’t always make it easy to keep a cheery outlook, Mark knows the importance of trying to stay positive.
“Ulcerative colitis is a change in your life, not a death sentence. And there’s a great community that’s there for support.”
Follow Mark Scherle’s adventures, see his photographs, and learn more about his projects at

  • Canada has among the highest incidence rates of Crohn's and colitis in the world.
  • 1 in 140 Canadians lives with Crohn’s or colitis.
  • Families new to Canada are developing these diseases for the first time.
  • Incidence of Crohn’s in Canadian kids under 10 has doubled since 1995.
  • People are most commonly diagnosed before age 30.

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