Humbled in High Places
As I reflect on this summer's guiding season in Washington, I crack a weak smile out the rain stained window at my local coffee shop in Bozeman, Montana...
I reminisce on moments high on Washington's tallest volcano; the thousands of steps it took to move up and down it's flanks time and time again; the full-on focus required of me to safely guide others in an environment completely foreign to them; the mind numbing hours spent walking head on into a bone-chilling wind in the middle of the night; the glaciers, how they carried on creaking and groaning into the night to the tune of a changing climate; the countless sunrises painted with the promise of a new day; my friends, new and old, who shared countless laughs and adventures along the way; the overflowing psych in myself to get lost in the fires of my heart and live each day passionately alive and with purpose.
The fire that burned then is still burning now, but with a different energy. The changing of the seasons has delivered me from the sunny, crisp days of being immersed in the Washington alpine, where my stoke for exploration was electric --- to a much more steady pace of life in Bozeman, where time seems to pass by with a slower cadence of the clock.
I welcomed the change for the first week of being home, and allowed my body time to rest and recuperate after a summer of alpine wake-up calls, long days on my feet, and very few moments of true relaxation. The rest was good for me, but soon my mind began to wander onto planning the next adventure. I could feel the restlessness building as I sensed my body urging me to move.
Onto the desert. Within a week, I was off on another adventure. My partner and I spent two half-days driving until we arrived at the base of our first climb. My energy was beginning to edge on 'electric' once again as I packed my backpack with my rope, rack, helmet, layers, water, and snacks. The hour long approach breezed by in quick 45 minutes and there we were, at the base of the climb, roped up, racked up, and ready for action.
As I gazed up at the beautifully carved fist-wide cracks in the burnt orange sandstone, my hands began to sweat with excitement and I felt the usual tingling in the tips of my toes as I slipped into my 5.10 Anasazi rock shoes. In the shadow of this enormous tower, somehow I felt unintimidated and fully confident in our ability to make easy work out of the pitches that laid ahead.
After cruising through the first 90 feet of fun, easy climbing I arrived at the crux (the hardest part of the route). Being about 15 feet from the anchor, I could taste victory and was psyched to push through the awkward movements unfolding before me. Looking into the obvious fist crack at my waist I realized I did not have the size gear I needed. It was then that I became aware that my last piece was a decent 15 feet or so below me. I quickly searched around and found a good spot for a small 0.4 size cam in a crack right above me. With all the confidence and ease of mind in the world, I pulled into the move. As I was wiggling onto the blocky ledge, I noticed that my arms were slightly fatigued and I was not quite sure how to maneuver through this section, so I decided I would take a fall on my 0.4 cam and retry the move after contemplating it a bit more. ---- First of all, I don't know why this was my mental process. Never have I 'wanted' to 'willingly' take a whip, but for some reason, I was SO alright with not climbing the pitch clean, and fully game on taking a tiny whipper to warm up my head game. --- I made a few moves to down-climb within a few feet of my piece of gear and called out, "Falling!" to my belayer.
I let go of the rock and felt the gentle tug of gravity pulling my body into freefall. I saw the rope gaining tension and waited to feel the familiar snatch of my harness....
Until I didn't....
Simultaneously, I witnessed my 0.4 cam ripping out of the wall like a bat out of hell --- hitting me square on the forehead ---- and felt the rope go slack; with all the momentum of terminal velocity yanking me downwards.
And then, lights out....
The next thing I remember is opening my eyes to my climbing partner, and two strangers, running their fingers up my spine and neck and pressing into my shoulders and legs asking if I felt any pain. I felt none. All I felt was fatigue and slight confusion about the aftermath of my fall. But I knew where I was and the general gist of what had happened.
When I asked them to tell me the sequence of events, they told me to look at my shirt...
My left shoulder was soaked in my blood. I could see it slowly dripping onto my pants as I stared into my lap.
I felt okay.
I looked around at the ground and saw a splattering of my blood everywhere.
I looked up at my climbing partner in curious confusion.
He said I had flipped upside-down during the fall and that my head took the majority of the impact with the wall. When he had repeatedly yelled my name, I did not respond. I hung there, against the rock, limp and unresponsive for a handful of seconds until he decided to lower me to the ground.
This all made sense to me. But how was I okay? What was the source of all this blood?
We rinsed off the side of my head where blood had matted in my hair and saw that I had a small gash above my ear. The possibility of a concussion was definitely present, but the bleeding had stopped all on its own. My helmet was in much worse shape. Smashed on the temple and top of my frontal lobe, this piece of lightweight ingenuity quite literally saved my life. (More on this in my gear review of the BD Vapor at https://jahaholder.wixsite.com/mysite/gear-reviews)
In a dreamlike state, I walked away from the tower. Glancing back, we rejoiced in our ability to descend on our own as we watched ravens circle the tower in pursuit of the warm blooded mammal whose blood had stained the rock. One hour of loose sand walking and rock hopping landed me at the door of my Subaru. And while that's pretty much it for the adventure tale, I guess I should add that I made a stop by the Emergency room, and got four staples in my head along with a CT scan that concluded that the innerworkings of my skull were miraculously, just fine.