Since coming home from Europe this last spring, my climbing time has been limited. Between summer classes and work at the restaurant, I have found it hard to get out one, maybe two days a week. 12 weeks of French class for three hours a day, four days a week, has been brutal. After three months of full time climbing and traveling, that is a rough transition. But I’m broke and have to pay rent and want to get graduated as soon as possible, so that’s how it goes.
A couple weekends ago, I had a Sunday totally free and had a full climbing day planned. I was going to spend the morning with my girlfriend and her friends climbing moderates in Big Cottonwood canyon, then drive to hardware wall in Cache Valley for the remainder of the day. But it didn’t go that way.
Sunday morning we rolled out of bed and up the canyon. We found Amber’s friends at an area just up canyon from the challenge buttress. They had already started up a route when we got there, I noticed a few bolts in a line just to the left and up I went. I still don’t know what the route actually is or what it is called, but it couldn’t have been harder than 5.6. I made it to the chains, went straight, threaded the chains and tied back in. The chains were a ledge farther away than I thought they would be from the ground, but I didn’t register that as a possible problem at the time. Amber started lowering me back to the ground and all was going well. I was maybe 6 or 7 feet from reaching the ground, in mid conversation with Amber, and next thing I know I’m crumpled in the talus with my wind knocked out muttering “what the fucks.” The first thing I looked at was the gri gri with no rope in it, and I knew what had happened. I felt so stupid. The ground at the base of this slab was far from level, more like a steep talus filled gully, and it hurt like hell. I had neglected to tie a knot in the end of the rope, and somewhat ironically I had chopped six feet off the end of that cord two days before. All I would have needed to get me to the ground. I never even considered that the route was long enough that I wouldn’t have enough rope, but I guess it is easy to quickly cover more ground than you think you have on a slab like that.
Anyway, on to the damage. Every hard part on the right side of my body (knee cap, hip, elbow, shoulder) got dinged pretty good. I’ve got some prize -winning bruises to show for it, along with an assortment of scrapes and cuts on my hand and forearm. The hand gash was a real beauty. But the most troublesome thing was my shoulder which was somewhat dislocated, really really painful and even more worrisome. I was immediately thinking surgery and recovery time and what a bummer that would be. I have had problems with that same shoulder for the last five years and felt like I had maybe finished off whatever damage was already in there. The next day I felt like I had been hit by a truck, and was angry and still felt stupid. Simple safety precautions (like a knot in the end of the rope) can prevent this type of thing from ever happening.
Although falling and getting hurt really sucks, as in most nasty things that happen in life, you get to learn from them. So these are the lessons learned. Recently I had reflected that although climbing is considered an “extreme” or “action” sport, it can be made really incredibly low impact. Making a label like “extreme” seem kind of funny. Especially compared to something like downhill mountain biking or motocross or that downhill full impact ice skating stuff I’ve seen on TV where those guys are just asking to get fucked up. Anyhow, I learned that although climbing can be really safe, it can get ultra fucking dangerous in an awfully quick 32 feet per second. It is easy to become complacent and forget that falling onto rocks hurts and it will kill you if you fall far enough. I fell a total of 8 or 10 feet and it hurt a lot. Our generation has been spoiled with giant crash pads that have fooled us into believing falling from 20 feet is not a big deal. Props to those who came before and did high balls with spot pads, these were real men. The moral of the story is to always maintain a healthy respect of what you are actually doing when you are climbing, and let that respect influence your safety practices.
The other lesson is that when we are healthy we quickly forget how lucky we are just to be able to go climbing at all. When healthy, we are rarely satisfied with our performance and fitness and allow ourselves to complain about a multitude of minor issues. Getting hurt a little is a quick reminder of what a blessing it is just to be healthy enough to go out and attempt climbing at all, regardless of whether or not I do my silly little project.
After an MRI and an appointment with a shoulder specialist that revealed fluid in the shoulder socket as well as a damaged labrum, I have decided physical therapy is the best option. Hopefully I can make a swift recovery and get back out there. After all, climbing is the best medicine.