It still appears in my mind as occurring in slow motion. It is every climbers worse fear; that which we train ourselves from thinking about too much. But it happens to most of us after a long enough time of trusting gear, and we hear about it around the campfire after a few beers, as told from it’s survivor. But this is a personal account of my gear pulling, the 40 ft pendulum-whipper that resulted, and the process of getting back at it.
Climbing and fear adhere to a delicate balance. I do not climb because I am an adrenaline junkie, but because I like to keep the fear I feel when I’m climbing controlled. At some points it is a thrill, but only if something has gone wrong.
On this particular climb, I was being safe…or at least I thought I was. Placing a cam right before the crux roof would allow me to make the moves with confidence before I could relax and place another piece. But, as fate has it, things did not go to plan. In retrospect (which can be a dangerous game in itself),there are several reasons why my cam came out, but for these purposes the real lesson to be learned, is that I had trusted it. I remember thinking before falling…it’s okay, it will only be a 8 ft fall, and then after some difficulty, letting go. This is where the slow-motion plunge takes place. My feet are out ready to take the impact of the wall as I come past the roof, but then, I watch as the cam rips out of the wall and I keep falling, looking far to the right where the bolt is clipped another 15 ft below-I knew things were going to be bad.
The next thing I remember is hanging at the end of the rope yelling at my partner to lower me. Luckly, we were on the first pitch, and even more luckily, I had fallen on a 3/8″ bolt. I was instinctively cradling my left arm. Of course our new rope was twisting into giant knots as I was being lowered, and when I arrived at a small ledge about 6 ft up, I was taken off belay because of the chaos. Needless to say, I tried to walk, promptly falling down the slab onto my arm…I guess he was telling me to stay still! The minute my harness was off I started running down the trail, from that moment my pain had to take a back seat and allow my mind to be clear, amazing how powerful shock can be. Just get to the store, and get to Doug.
I had worked at the Portal Store for years at this point, and never quite understood the comfort it provides to those who epic on the mountain…now I do. They knew things weren’t good the minute I entered the building. The Thompsons, as always, kept their cool. It was as if we were talking about the preparations for dinner, rather than my obviously broken arm. It wasn’t time to let go of this guardian of shock that had been with me since I got on the ground…there were still things to do before I could let go. Myles showed up after pulling the rope and stashing the gear to me laid out in the front seat of the car, insurance cards in hand, ice bag on, in the middle of a hypnotis session with the old guy.
As much as I love my town, don’t go to a small town ER if you get injured in the mountains. Or if you do, go somewhere else once you are stabilized. The breaks in my ulna and radius were small, and maybe could have been set and left to heal. I should have known when they let me walk out of the hospital with the IV still in my arm! In the few days I waited to get into the ortho in Mammoth, it was too late to reset my bones. What was supposed to be a 2 hour surgery and 1 plate, turned to 5 hour surgery and 2 plates, and some of the most intense pain I have ever felt. Days of nothing but sleeping and narcotics had me feeling like the walking dead; it was time to start moving.
I’m not a very good injured person: I hate laying around unless I am physically exhausted and I don’t really like being taken care of in an obligatory kind of way. In fact, the last time I was injured I got frostnip on my knees from crawling through the snow to the Ashram with a plaster caste and crutches. Needless to say, I was itching to get moving. Having Doug Robison as my rope-gun, I spent many weeks in tuolomne meadows doing the classics with my brace and single tape glove… I just wanted to be outside with my friends climbing, anything. Going to my awesome physical therapist and quiet crusher,Julie, we were both surprised by the increased range of motion and strength that climbing was bringing back. A few weeks of shameless toproping, and it was time to get on the sharp end.
In 6 weeks, my climbing hadn’t degenerated so much in strength, but in confidence. I didn’t want to fall…especially on gear. I started sport climbing, which I hadn’t done much of in the last 5 years. Then I began to lead on gear things that I might have soloed in the past, placing each piece meticulously. Each time I went out, I increases the difficulty a little bit, and then sometimes a little bit more. As I stated earlier, I don’t want to feel fear when I m climbing, I want to feel focused. Soon though, I was confidently leading what I would have in the past, regaining the trust in my ability to place equipment that will keep me safe. I thought I was going to be scared forever, that it was going to ruin my enjoyment of climbing things that push my limits. Instead, the experience made me a better, safer climber, and one who enjoys it even more.
I love climbing. Honestly, I don’t think I can get enough of it! Appreciating it at different levels throughout my life is what gets me through. Just as quickly as I regained my head, my body started fighting back…tendinitis. The timing was good, however, I had gotten my quick fix of fall climbing and was heading back home to see the family for Thanksgiving. I had decided that sooner was better than later for getting the hardwear out, so three days ago (11-14-13), I went under, yet again. To my surgeon’s credit, he was amazing, which made the decision to rid my body of titanium really easy. But now I sit again, waiting for the few weeks until I am frolicking on the rock once more:)