|"Before the first serious goring,
fear can sometimes be remote, but after that no man can fool himself."
James Michener - Mexico
We were climbing at Owen Sound bluff. At least I was climbing; Cinta was belaying for me since she was recovering from a broken finger that she sustained from a fall on wet rock at Bon Echo about a month before. We decided to quit early and go for a swim. Normally, I throw the gear into the packs in no particular order. I have never in the past arranged the gear in any order and have never done it since. However, that day I was compelled to arrange the bags in an order that a boy scout would be proud, with soft shoes lining the back of Cintaís pack and the climbing rope lining the back of mine. Hard metal objects were placed carefully. I took some time to do this and I worked methodically. At one point my mind questioned why I was doing this but I couldnít stop. Cinta gave me a strange look but said nothing and waited patiently.
The Walkout was about one half-hour and involved a 35-foot climb up a 5.0 corner/chimney system. We had done this walkout a number of times before. Near the top of the corner, about 35 feet up, I grabbed a small block that I had used previously to get established in the final chimney. This time it moved. I thought that to be strange, as it had never moved before. I looked up and saw a huge block that made up one wall of the chimney about the size of three refrigerators sliding toward me. I pushed with all my might but had no effect. I thought that I would be crushed. But just as I was to be crushed, the rock veered and both the rock and I shot into space.
It was there that I decided that I would die. In a fall, time moves differently and events slow down. I seemed to have a lot of time to think about things. Everything was dark. In retrospect I had my eyes closed. My ankle smacked into something and then my head hit something also. I was falling for what seemed like a long time, twisting and somersaulting through the air beside the block, which was doing the same thing. Cinta joined us in flight. She had been climbing up the corner about 15 feet below me and I may have knocked her off while falling.
I thought about my life and my family. I experienced a feeling that I never had felt before or since. I can only describe it as an intense feeling of regret. It was a feeling more intense than I have ever felt before or since. In an article written by Mark Twight that I read many years ago and have since lost, Marc described a feeling that he experienced in a fall that he took. I recognized it to be the same as I experienced. I have not seen it described since. The intensity of this feeling overwhelmed me, and I still remember it, yet I cannot find words that describe it any better.
I eventually hit the scree that was composed of 2-ft square chunks of rock. I miraculously landed on my back and my fall was broken by the pack. The pack, with the gear arranged so perfectly, saved my life by absorbing the impact and protecting my head from hitting the ground. I lay there for what seemed like a long time debating whether I was alive or dead. I remember thinking that since everything was dark that I must be dead, but shortly came to the realization that my eyes were tightly shut. I opened these and found that I could see. I saw Cinta land in the scree a few feet to my left. She also miraculously landed on her back. The pack broke her fall. She bounced and did a backflip due to the layer of 4 pairs of shoes in her pack that sent her flipping down the hill. I recall thinking that I didnít know Cinta could do a backflip. At this point I decided that I was alive.
We both stood up. Cinta miraculously had almost no injuries. She had a sore neck. I wasnít so lucky. Within a minute the left side of my face swelled out about one half inch in an area of about 4 sq. inches. My left shoulder was bruised and bleeding. My right ankle was very swollen and had sustained 5 injuries. Both shins were bleeding. Of more concern was an intense pain through my chest and the fact that I was spitting blood. I had a concussion and I felt searing pain through my back and chest.
We decided to try walking out. We picked up our backpacks, not wanting to die without our gear. We climbed out at another spot down the cliff. I became very weak further down on the walk out. I eyeballed a tree about 30 feet ahead and focused my concentration on getting to it. I repeated this over and over until I came to a gently downward sloping hill that led to the road. I no longer had the strength to walk and I crawled down the hill. Cinta ran ahead and brought the car around and came back for my pack.
At the hospital I went into the early stages of shock. Surprisingly, I had no bones broken but had soft tissue injuries that took a few months to heal. When I woke up the next day, every part of my body ached. The only move I could make was to roll on my side. But I lay there with a big smile on my face since I was in the land of the living. Cinta recovered from her sore neck within a few weeks. Within three months, I had recovered substantially and was climbing just as badly as I had before the accident. I will never admit to a full recovery as this affords me an excuse for not climbing hard. However, I do admit that I am somewhat wiser than I had been before the fall. Like the Matador, the first goring a climber experiences often changes his outlook. I still take risks in my life, and enjoy and need this type of stimulation but I believe that I am more calculating and pick my spots. I have become better at recognizing and trusting the intuitive process that took place that compelled me to pack my packs so carefully that day. This has saved me and /or my partner a few times over the years.
"You can never have real courage until you have lost courage, lost it completely, bolted crawled. And there is no exhilaration equal to courage regained. This is why it is almost always fatal." WB
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