Sometimes you just need to yell. Sometimes you just have to belt it out and swear, eyes clenched shut, suck it up, and take a look at what you’ve done. I yelled what I needed to yell. Three quick, concise, curses. Eyes shut. They let the world know I was still alive.
On September 27 2008 at 4:30PM, I sat on the side of a hill blanketed with shattered rock. My legs were oriented downhill, and my hands supported me from behind. The sun waned behind the clouds. About thirty feet below at the base of the hill ran a small turquoise river with light rapids. Little patches of white signaled tops of boulders jutting up from just below the surface. Dotted across the face of the hill were similar boulders of greater magnitude. The largest in my immediate area was to my left, a good ten feet away. It’s face jutted up about 40 feet from the ground. I liked this rock when I first gave it a look-over. It’s vertical face was significantly broken up by hand-sized depressions, crags, and the like. It was the kind of cliff I was looking for –a risk and a challenge. It is the one that I chose.
Sitting at the bottom, I allowed my head to nod forward slightly. No pain. Good. At least my neck isn’t broken, and I can move it – I think. I slowly open my eyes to survey the area where the pain comes from. As I follow the line of my right and left legs I detect no abnormalities. They look straight. No bones sticking out, okay, that’s a good sign I guess. Now to my feet. Bare and bleeding, they look back at me too. Yeah, that left one looks pretty weird. And oh… yeah, I’m bleeding from my right. It hurts more too, that one’s definitely worse.
Zach came running over, frantic about what he had just witnessed. Exasperated, he looked me up and down. “Are you all right- Are you all right!?” he gasped. I turned my head and looked up at his face. His eyes told me that he was afraid. “It would probably be a good idea if you called 911,” I said, sitting there, blinking.
More people came. Emily held my bleeding foot in a blanket. Others just gathered around. One man, a paramedic, was walking across the bridge when he saw it happen. He was able to supervise and direct until the ambulance came. He told them that I had just fallen from about 35 feet. I was almost at the top – if I could have just found a better handhold. Oh well, I thought, that’s not what happened.
Two weeks later I was discharged from the hospital. Now 17 pounds lighter, I weighed in at 118. I had undergone two surgeries, the second leaving the lower half of my left foot completely numb. Pins, plates, and screws were implanted to keep everything together. The plates were permanent. I was just happy I didn’t die or have brain damage.
The healing process was, and is, ongoing. I spent three months in a wheelchair. Another month and a half on crutches. I couldn’t run for another year and a half after that. They told me I would always walk with a limp. They told me I may never be able to run again. They told me I will live with the results of my decision for the rest of my life.
That was before I knew how to climb. What I decided to do that day was arrogant and stupid. I did not understand the basics of climbing. I did not use equipment. I climbed farther than any experienced climber would recommend I go untethered. But now I know the risks, and how real they can be.
This accident – the “great risk” that I took that day inspired me to continue climbing and learn how to do it right. I was looking for a challenge. I accepted the risk. The challenge I got in return was far greater than I had anticipated and yet far less than I deserve.
I climb today in spite of what happened because I love the challenge, I know the risks, and I’m learning to minimize them. What I did was reckless. What I do now is not. This is because I take measures to reduce my chance of injury. I watch others climb, ask questions and seek advice. I learn from those who know what they’re doing, and now I definitely use equipment.
It has been quite the journey, but one well worth it. Each day I climb is a reminder to me that I am still alive and able to do things I like with people I love. Others would often say to me as I sat in my wheelchair, “well no more climbing for you then huh?” I’d just sit back and smile, thinking to myself: you don’t get it -this is just the beginning.