Another Dumb-Ass Flatlander Proves Darwin Right
Tonight I feel a cold coming on, the seasonal, yep welcome-to-winter-runnynose-cough-and-generally-miserable-feeling-cold. I don't often get sick but sure as shit every winter I'll get the bug. And I'll be the first to admit I am a lousy sick person. I hate the feeling and I show it, fortunately it usually only takes me a few days to get over it but let me tell you during those days I am a wuss bag. I am never sure if I am to sit around and sleep or run more or drink whiskey (well that one is a given) or pray or what, so I think I probably do a bit of it all and end up feeling better and getting back focused on my life. That being said, tonight on this annual eve of misery I decided to put on my climbing shoes and think. There is something cathartic and clarifying about getting in character, gearing up and just mentally wandering into a place you would rather be.
It is odd I chose the climbing shoes, because although in years past I climbed quite a bit, I was certainly never a phenom. Hell I was middle of the pack at best. But I loved it, I loved working a problem all day until I bled or my forearms were so pumped they felt like they would burst. But with my life's path thus far some of my decisions have worked against me. Some ten years ago I was working my way up an old avy chute with out proper gear and I welcomed a perfect storm. I got out into the middle of this chute looking towards the summit of Humphreys Peak in Northern Arizona when I thought I would have better luck at reaching the summit if I toe picked my way up the glazed chute instead of staying in the relative safety of the trees.
Now anyone that has been exposed to a glazed 30 degree sheet of crusty snow surely must understand the error of my ways. So here I was slamming my toes through the top layer of ice to find a purchase that would get me to the top. Step after step, kick after kick slowly picking my way to the top. Eventually I realized that my feet were not boding well and as I felt the toenails on my big toes separating from their beds with every kick I made the first wise decision of the trip. I decided to bail on the bid. As I assessed my situation I decided to move back across the chute towards the nearest tree line which just happened to be in the opposite direction that I needed to return. Once I made it I thought well hell my feet hurt so let me check them out and figure out what I need to do next. As I pulled off my boots I realized that they had delamed, that is the soles had separated from the uppers allowing snow to fill the boots from the sides! But that was not my first concern, so I pulled them off and instantly noticed that my wool socks were now a bright red from the abuse I had given my toes. Upon further inspection I found the toe nails in horrible shape both bent, cracked and dislodged as during this toe picking adventure I had kicked so hard that I had jammed the toe nails back up my toes. So here I sat 5 miles from the trail head, the majority of which I had posted holed through waist deep snow, a few hundred feet on the up hill side of a very glazed of avy chute with shitty boots and busted feet. But I had no choice I had to get out. Now at this time my backcountry experience had been simple day trips and I was obviously woefully ill prepared for anything of this magnitude and not knowing any better I went into survival mode which meant get out of here NOW! Slapping my bloodied socks back onto my battered feet and then squeezing them into my worthless boots, I fashioned to walking sticks out of aspen and made a mad dash across the chute. Can you hear the thunder building in this storm? I made it a good 20 feet before I lost my footing and began the slide, building speed I could see the headlines "Another Dumb-Ass Flatlander Proves Darwin Right" careening towards the jagged exposed rocks left from avalanches long ago I was desperately trying to find anything to grab a hold of but there was nothing just amazingly fast and smooth polished ice. I flipped from my but to my belly and back again I really felt like a skydiver with no chute, I must have dropped my makeshift aspen poles when I initially fell because I remember thinking man it would be great to have them now. Not that I would have known what the hell to do with them, it would have been more of a mental teddy bear giving the illusion of security. Now these next few details are a bit blurry but I'll give it a go, as I was rapidly reaching ludicrous speed I noticed a stand of three lone trees about ten feet from the treeline, two aspen and one pine, they were in a place that made me think I might be able to grab a hold of them if I could just get a bit closer. I then proceeded to expertly wiggle my way over their way eventually ending up face first sliding towards them and just as I was about to pass them I managed to leap across and snag them with my right arm now this rapid deceleration was welcome aside from the fact that in doing so I had ripped my arm out of its socket. (lightening). Now barely able to hold on with my aching mind numbing pain in my shoulder and unable to stand with out wincing in enormous pain here I was stopped on the slope, alive. After a few minutes of colorful language and a quick check to see if during all of this excitement I had soiled myself I began to laugh at this ridiculous situation. During this time of glee I told myself "well hell it can't get much worse so get off your ass and get across this stupid hill and back to the car!" To which I promptly stood up and whoosh out went my feet again I returned to gravity's call. This time I was bloodied beaten and dislocated coming ever closer to my deserved death and some how I managed to catch a lone sapling with my left arm, the velocity I had gained on this second slide was in no way terminal and as such I simply tweaked my left shoulder instead of ripping it out as I had with my right. I am not real certain what happened next or how I got across the hill back to the correct side of the chute. But I do recall post holing back through the woods on once numb and now painful feet wincing in pain from my shoulders and absolutely lost in my own mind. I was in drive and nothing was going to stop me. It was a long trip back to my car and as I arrived I remember plopping down in my seat debating on whether or not to remove my boots and contemplating how I was going to work the pedals and change gears on the icy drive home. In the end I lost four toe nails, a bit of skin to frostbite and dislocated my right shoulder but all in all I learned the damning truth of ignorance. And yes I'd do it all again, but this time I know I would not ever get in this situation again I have learned many painful lessons and to this day between the shoulder dislocation as well as even graver injuries suffered since then I am constantly reminded of my own limitations and faults.
So tonight I put on my climbing shoes and thought of how cold my toes get due to that adventure, and my shoulder aches just a bit which reminds me that those decisions are the reason it has been years since I have climbed worth a damn. I will never be young again and there is no way to undue the damage I have done, but with each ache and pain I am reminded of the youthful life I lead and I smile knowing that this life is one that follows a path of great adventure and triumph. This will be the path to my death but trust me that is many many adventures away!