Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Close Call

Please Read This!!

About two weeks ago I went out to Eldorado Canyon for a mid-December day of mellow cragging. Starting out on a few easy climbs, the fresh air filled in my lungs, and the sun warmed my back. What a perfect day for climbing. I led up another easy route, and lowered down a harder climb to the right that I wanted to check out. With an 'R' rating, i wanted to make sure I could place enough gear that I wouldn't get hurt. (I smashed up my knee pretty fierce last year and cant afford a bad fall on it). Satisfied and psyched, i told my partner to dirt me. I settled into the rope as he began to lower me. Suddenly i was dropping faster than I would like, thinking the rope was just slipping through the grigri too fast. I expected to be caught at any second. Horror set in as i realized that i wasn't stopping, but rather gaining speed, falling faster and faster. I hit the ground full force. Pain shot through my pelvis and low spine as I screamed out in pain. I still had no idea what happened.

People ran from all directions. The pain blinded me, searing through the core of my being. A rescue team was called in, and before I knew what was happening, i was being taken down the side of the mountain in a litter. The ride down was not as comfortable as I was told. The 'bean bag' cushion that they tried to pump up with air and place under me had a hole in it. I felt every bump and jolt, and by the time we reached the ambulance my entire body was numb with pain.

After reaching the ER and having a few rounds of X-rays, I was cleared to stand up and walk out on my own accord. I could fight through the pain, at least knowing i wouldn't end up paralyzed in a wheelchair.

I am incredibly lucky that I didn't break any bones. I did spend over a week straight in bed on pain killers, wincing in pain with every move and every breath. It hurt to just lie there. I had serious whiplash and deep bone bruising of my pelvis, sacrum, and lower vertebrae, where i had landed on a rock jutting up into my back. However, i had landed in the only little 'flat' spot possible. Had i fallen a foot to the right or left, or kicked out from the wall at all while being lowered, or if I had been dropped from even a few feet higher, the outcome could have been much more critical, if not fatal. I was not wearing a helmet.

My partner and i had climbed regularly for a year and a half and I had no reason to question his ability. However, one day, one climb, one mistake is all that it takes. He had noticed that we probably would not have enough rope to lower me all the way to the ground. (I could have easily downclimbed to the ground). He had thought about tying a knot at the end of the rope a few times ... but never did. He simply let the end of the rope slip through the grigri and sent me plummeting into the unknown.

Please, take my experience as a cautionary tale. No matter how long you have climbed. No matter how much experience you have, always remember that your partner's life and safety is in your hands. All it takes is one bad decision, one skipped safeguard .... and things could end in tragedy.

I'm am still quite sore and stiff. I am sure it will take awhile for all that to work out of my body. However, I feel so blessed to be walking and starting to climb again. I wanted to share my story as a reminder to everyone to take this sport that we do seriously. A level of comfort is definitely a good thing, but always double-check yourself and your partner.

Also, in the future, I will be much more ready to wear a cumbersome, dorky-looking helmet to protect my noggin, because you really never know what might happen.


Anonymous said...

Glad you're OK, Sarah. This happened to me once, in Italy, and I landed on top of my belayer and we both rolled down the hill and got banged up pretty good. We'd become distracted by a guy one route over giving the full Beta-down for the whole crag. He was friendly, but the verbal torrent took our minds off knotting the rope end...

Heal up!


Anonymous said...

The bulk of my climbing experience is ice climbing and on Alaska Chugach crud rock. You would be nuts not to wear a helmet climbing either so I don't understand the no helmet thing, PROTECT YOUR SQASH!

I got dropped by a rookie belayer from about 15 feet top roped. Took a couple months for my knees/ankles/feet to get back to running shape. Doesn't take much of a mistake climbing to result in injury. GLAD you're OK Sarah

Mike C