Rescue on the Prow, 5/13/10 (long)


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Trad climber
State College, PA
Topic Author's Original Post - May 16, 2010 - 06:11pm PT
(This is a long TR. Short version: I fell on the Prow last Wednesday and needed a rescue. Everyone involved was extraordinarily skilled and helpful - many, many thanks. If you want the long version, just read on.)

This trip got started in January at the AMS meeting. I posted here to meet other mathematicians who are climbers, and as a result got together with Aaron. A few beers later we had a plan to climb the Prow in May.

I flew out to California last Monday. The Sierra landscape was socked in under cloud westward from Mono Lake, but the weather was forecast to brighten up. We sort gear in Berkeley on Monday and set out for the Valley early Tuesday morning. The rocks are beautiful under a fresh dusting of snow as we shoulder the pigs in the Ahwahnee parking lot and prepare to toil up to the base of the route.

When we get there it is early afternoon. One party is retreating from the Prow - they must have had a miserable night up there in the late-season snow. We fix pitches 1 and 2 and then head back to the base where we share the bivi spot with a party of three getting ready to head up to Dinner Ledge.

Next day we jug and haul and then Aaron leads pitch 3 to sloping Anchorage Ledge. We plan to climb a couple of pitches above and then spend the night on the portaledge here. After a break for energy bars and Gatorade I set off up pitch 4. This begins with a slightly overhanging bolt ladder (one bolt hangerless) and then continues up some C2 terrain to a rib and the belay. The first placement above the ladder seems to be a flared pod, with what looks like a bomber green alien placement about three feet out of reach. I place a #1 camalot in the pod - three lobes look good - and bounce test it gently, moderately, and then really jump up and down on the daisy chain. It holds. Damn. Better move up on it.

Transferring my weight to the #1 I try to "float smoothly up the aiders" as instructed by CMac. But not smoothly enough! I guess I must have leaned out on the piece a little, there is a soft pop and I am weightless. There's no time to think - but if I'd had time I would have told myself that this is a short, clean fall, factor maybe 0.4, down slightly overhanging rock onto a bolt. Mathematically, nothing can go wrong. Right?

My right foot hits the wall and I scream. "BRING ME DOWN, AARON! I'VE BROKEN MY ANKLE!" A fast lower and I am lying on Anchorage Ledge again in an almost fetal position. The angle of the ledge, which seemed so inconvenient a few minutes ago, is now suddenly comforting as it folds me into the wall and away from the edge. I clip a daisy chain and another sling from my harness to the power point. My right foot is splayed out unnaturally and wedged against the haul bag. The ankle is grossly deformed and feels like jelly - it seems to have no stability and any movement causes me to cry out in pain. Aaron and I discuss what to do next. With one person unable to move, three pitches up the route and then a lot of fourth class terrain and talus slopes back to the trail, we are going to need some help. Aaron gets his cellphone and calls 911.

The response is instant. Within minutes Aaron is talking to Moose to plan the logistics of the rescue, and we're told that a team is making speed up to the Column. Aaron fixes one of our lines, ties both together and throws them slightly into the wind. The double-length line sails free, falls cleanly and lands exactly at the base of the route. One of the blessings of the day.

An hour later we can see a team gathering at the base. Aaron is catechized by phone about his climbing experience and the methods he has used to fix and join the lines. I guess the answers must have been satisfactory because within minutes rescuers are jugging up to us. The first to arrive is Jesse McGahey, trailing a long static line, followed by Matt Stark bringing the medical kit and the blessed morphine. By now the initial adrenalin is wearing off, I'm shivering and in shock despite putting on every layer I can find, and the pain is getting worse. I need that stuff.

Matt sets up an IV and calls the clinic for morphine authorization. Given the OK, he injects 4mg via IV. At first I don't notice anything and then, very suddenly, there's a strong reaction - slow, deep, gasping breaths, weird feeling in the chest...apparently this is not supposed to happen. The faces around me look seriously alarmed. Matt injects an antiemetic. Slowly the reaction passes, to be succeeded by a pleasant wooziness. Time to realign and splint the leg, says Matt. I know we have to do this, though I'm not looking forward to it. Between them, Matt and Jesse pull a little traction, straighten my foot out, and secure it in a temporary splint. There's a fair amount of screaming during this process but as soon as they have me stable in the splint, I can manage the pain.

We have two choices: either an assisted lower now, or bring up a litter. If we do the assisted lower, can I keep my right leg from swinging into the wall? I reckon that it's worth trying. The lower is set up with Jesse lowering, Aaron belaying on a separate line, and me clipped in a few feet higher than Matt. I scoot around on my butt to try to get myself over the edge and we're off.

The lower is easier than I'd feared. It's important to forget the standard technique of leaning back against the wall. Instead, I swing sideways to the wall with my good foor on the inside, so that I'm always able to fend off any contact with the broken foot. This works pretty well and it is not long before we are at the base where Werner and it seems a dozen or more other rescuers have gathered. I wasn't able to catch everyone's name but I wish I had so that I could thank everyone personally here. The whole team was encouraging, professional, and just amazing. I am so grateful to all of you.

The high angle part of the journey was over, but maybe the wildest ride was yet to come. For the next hour or two I am lowered in a wheeled litter over a thousand feet of fourth class, talus slopes, and boulder-strewn forest. For the whole way there are two ropes belaying the litter and about six people maneuvering it down, with other teams running on ahead, setting up the next anchors, scouting the line as darkness falls, and switching with litter-bearers who need to rest for a spell. Down on the bike path we are met by an ambulance which takes me to the clinic, where X-rays confirm a bimalleolar fracture. The next day the ankle will be reset at the hospital in Modesto using a plate and 8 screws. Time to start the rehab process.

A lesson for me is how unpredictable aid falls are. There was nothing to indicate that this would be a bad one and I still can't think what it can have been that my foot caught. Perhaps I swung out from the wall and slammed back in, or perhaps my foot caught on a little edge or even on a bolt. Anyhow, I didn't switch quickly enough from the body tension needed to move up on aiders to the relaxation needed for a safe fall. With muscles relaxed I might just have shrugged it off.

Oh, and another lesson is that YOSAR are awesome. Of course I knew that in theory already, though I'd hoped never to experience it in practice. But I'm glad it's true.


Trad climber
Nevada City, CA
May 16, 2010 - 06:25pm PT
Nice report. YOSAR rocks again!
rick d

ol pueblo, az
May 16, 2010 - 06:27pm PT

hey- that does not sound right???????????

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
May 16, 2010 - 06:45pm PT
After the very sad news of last week this is a very welcome rescue story.

I bet you must be spinning the seconds over and over in your mind wondering how such a minor fall could be so devastating. Makes us all think a bit...
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
Full Silos of Iowa
May 16, 2010 - 07:24pm PT
John- Thanks for posting up.

Now you just need to heal. Quickly. So you can get back on that horse. Bad horse!


Social climber
Across Town From Easy Street
May 16, 2010 - 07:51pm PT
Good job on getting yourself down. I know that must have been a difficult decision, but it probably saved everyone a lot of effort. Props to Werner & YOSAR for another job well done.

Hope you heal up soon! Thanks for the report.

Social climber
May 16, 2010 - 07:57pm PT
hey there john.... say, oh my... i am soooo glad you made it through all this....

i can not read it now... got to walk the ol' pup-dog, but i will be
back to do so...

just wanted to put in my best wishes to you...

god bless...
get well soon...

*cheers to werner and the rescue team...

Mountain climber
May 16, 2010 - 08:19pm PT
t*r, he mentions he's given an antiemetic which makes it sound like it wasn't a hypersensitivity reaction...

i would guess then they weren't trying to interfere with the morphine or with an immune response at all....

Trad climber
The state of confusion
May 16, 2010 - 10:43pm PT

Wow, John. Great report. Too bad about the
circumstances. Hooray again for YOSAR!!!
Hope you heal up soon and get out there again!
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
May 16, 2010 - 10:49pm PT
Gotta love YOSAR, eh?

Trad climber
Mountain View
May 16, 2010 - 11:02pm PT
WOW- lord bless YoSar. Heal well and soon.

A long way from where I started
May 16, 2010 - 11:09pm PT
Hi John

Sorry to hear about the accident. But what can you do? Not climb?

Thanks to Jesse and crew and the Yosar guys for bringing another brother back to safety.


Social climber
May 16, 2010 - 11:31pm PT
Geez, every time I hear a well written story on a rescue it blows my mind how good YOSAR is. What an incredible thing to have them in our little playground??

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
May 17, 2010 - 05:54am PT
Bummer John,
glad you made it down ok, best wishes for a quick recovery!

May 17, 2010 - 06:14am PT
Good job keeping your sh#t together. Good luck with the recovery.

Unless in a loose or expanding placement (even then situational), there's hardly ever a reason to test a cam like it's fixed or hammered gear. When the orientation of the cam is key in solid rock, successive weighting and unweighting usually only serves to move the cam into an undesired position/configuration. Just a body weight-plus bounce with no slack in between weights for the cam to move is usually best.

Trad climber
May 17, 2010 - 06:59am PT
I left the Valley on the 13th. While there, I said hello to John Dill and Werner. John was working; as always- a happy workaholic. We all owe alot to the Yosar team! Hope you heal up well.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
May 17, 2010 - 10:07am PT
Yow! It only takes a second. Happy healing.Glad everything went right for you.
Ken Zemach

Trad climber
Redwood City, CA
May 17, 2010 - 10:29am PT
I've had an allergic reaction to morphine before. The problem is: you don't know you're going to have one until you get morphine, which is not something most of us go out trying on purpose. For me, the shot was in the arm (collapsed lung, about to get chest tube). My arm turned prickly and red, and red bumps started moving up my arm as the morphine went through. They administered epinephrine and that did the trick. Since YOSAR had something in the bag, I'm guessing maybe it isn't all that uncommon?

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
May 17, 2010 - 10:41am PT
woo hoo YOSAR!

Trad climber
Josh, CA
May 17, 2010 - 10:46am PT
Allergic reactions to opiates can be very, very serious and even life threatening.
Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
May 17, 2010 - 10:54am PT
Thanks for the story! Heal up. YOSAR and the climbing rangers: two thumbs up.

Trad climber
May 17, 2010 - 11:00am PT
Heal quick; thanks for the report, and glad you're ok. Sounds like a bad bounce!

Social climber
May 17, 2010 - 01:31pm PT
Great TR John,

Glad you are doing OK. How did the surgery go? Make the best of your recovery time, and get back on the rock when you feel good again!


May 17, 2010 - 02:11pm PT
My friend Mike Jackson broke his ankle right off a ledge while doing the Prow as well! It was @ 1985 or so I'd bet. They'd slept higher up on the wall, what ever that ledge is. He said it was a mental error, like 3rd piece up of the day and it was because he wasn't quite awake. They finished the climb that day, Mike jugging with a single leg, and crawled down North Dome Gully. Then got a cast. I was cringing as he told the story. He had a remarkable partner who basically did all the sh*t except the jugging and crawling - his feeling was rescues should be reserved for when the sh*t really hits the fan.

Congrats on the learning experience and on having a cell phone!
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
May 17, 2010 - 02:11pm PT
"The next day the ankle will be reset at the hospital in Modesto using a plate and 8 screws. Time to start the rehab process."

Ouch. That sounds painfully familiar. Do you have a bimollalular fracture, whereby the ends of each of your tib and fib have busted off [those are the "bumps" on the outsides of your ankle] and that's why you need the plates and screws? That's what happened to me.

I flew home to Canada for surgery, where it's "free". As well as the plate and screws, they also put a diastasis screw in my upper calf, just under the knee. This was to prevent me putting any weight on anything.

This break happened to me in May. The diastasis screw came out in August. "Go use it," said my bone Doc. "Just don't break it again, cuz I won't be able to fix it very well a second time."

One week later I made a 24-hour caving trip in Kentucky. Four weeks later I climbed Son of Heart on El Cap. In February the following year, I asked them to take out the plates and screws, which they did.

I have been pretty good ever since. It doesn't really hurt, and I can run, schlepp and [aid] climb. I have lost mobility, but that's about it. How much do you care if you can't press your knee to the wall when your toe is touching it?

I'm *really* careful aiding above ledges these days....

Trad climber
State College, PA
Topic Author's Reply - May 17, 2010 - 02:45pm PT
Thanks for all the support and encouragement on this thread. The surgery was on Thursday and went well, I was discharged on Saturday and will fly back to PA tomorrow. In the "allergies" section of the discharge form, the hospital wrote "Math professor". Still trying to figure that one out.

I can post up some x-rays when I get home. Also, I think Jesse took a few pictures while we were up on the ledge and, if he wants, he is welcome to post them.

Jesse, congrats on your LF ascent, I hope that the speed jugging practice was helpful :-)


Trad climber
Fresno CA
May 17, 2010 - 04:19pm PT
Thank you for the TR, John, and Thank God for YOSAR, and that your recovery looks to be well on its way. I hope you recover quickly, and I hope all of us realize how fortunate we are to have such marvelous emergency resources in Yosemite.


Ice climber
Ashland, Or
May 17, 2010 - 05:09pm PT
Hey couchmaster,
That may be easy for you to say, but unless you've had a mangled limb before...perhaps you don't know what it's like. If Johns ankle was as trashed as he claims, he didn't have a choice and did the right thing. Shock is the real deal and can kill you if not lead to a more serious accident. So don't flip him sh#t for calling a rescue.

I skied into a tree this winter and broke my tibia plateau. I sat in the woods for thirty minutes alone waiting for someone to stumble on me because I was totally imobile. It was humbling.

Trad climber
Lake Tahoe
May 17, 2010 - 05:26pm PT
Wow, John, what a story!
After you heal up, then give
it another go!

Social climber
Traffic Jam Ledge
May 17, 2010 - 06:30pm PT

Last summer, we met on Traffic Jam ledge at Seneca. I hope you recover quickly.


Trad climber
May 17, 2010 - 06:46pm PT
I wanted to chime in and thank everyone for this outpouring of support for John!

Indeed, when I lowered John back down to the ledge he was pretty banged up. His ankle was deformed and obviously broken: the foot was medially rolled almost 90 degrees. Even being in shock, he was in *a lot* of pain -- I'm amazed he didn't pass out -- thank god for the morphine yosar brought up. . .

John had an amazing attitude throughout this whole ordeal -- he's one tough guy!

And again, a HUGE THANKS to YOSAR, and in particular Jesse and Matt, who I got to spend quite a bit of quality time with on Anchorage Ledge.

(And Jesse: I hope you ripped up Lurking Fear this weekend!)


Trad climber
Dont look at me like that
May 17, 2010 - 07:32pm PT
way to gut it out dude. We can learn from every accident, so your post is a community service. Best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery.

Big Wall climber
Lodi, CA
May 17, 2010 - 11:00pm PT
Hey John, glad to hear your ok. I wondered how you did after meeting you at the base. I was part of the team that came down named it...a miserable night in the wicked snow storm. I was hoping you would be okay with unpredictable weather, but it sounds like you got another ride. Sorry you didn't get to top out after the efforts to fly out here to do that. At least your safe and you got an awesome story. Sounds like YOSAR really has some effective systems. I hope I only hear about them and never get a first hand impression. Heal quick.
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
May 17, 2010 - 11:36pm PT
C'mon, dude - read my post, and give me the technical beta on your ankle fracture!
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
May 18, 2010 - 12:00am PT

I don't think couchmaster (Bill)'s post about his friend Mike's broken ankle was meant as a critique of John's need for a rescue. I think he was saying there are occasionally some stubborn people out there, most likely with a much more minor break, who are able to continue OK. (Or self-rescue, etc.). Not everyone is so lucky, of course.

I broke a finger on El Cap once, and we continued up, with me not leading anything more. I think we both know the severity of breaks vary.

Social climber
Ely, Nv
May 18, 2010 - 12:22am PT
No whining, Pete. Homeboydudeguy is down now, he'll have plenty of time to revisit such things.
Good on ya, HBDG.

Trad climber
May 18, 2010 - 12:23am PT
Woah John,
That is some scarry stuff!
Good luck with your recovery. Take care,

Trad climber
May 18, 2010 - 12:51am PT

Yeah, it's a bimalleolar fracture.

Ron Raimonde

Big Wall climber
May 18, 2010 - 04:55pm PT
Hey John, Glad to hear you are OK. I climbed the route the next day and knew of your rescue but not the details. There was some blood on Anchorage ledge, so I figured it must have happened above there. I am surprised about the location of your fall, It is steep and pretty clean. Not the usual place you would be worried about ankles. There was a blown head higher up about the third placement into the strange dihedral,we figured it might have happened there. Kudos To YOSAR as usual. Good luck with the rehab. RR

Trad climber
May 19, 2010 - 05:28am PT
Hi John,

As many have said already, good work on keeping it together throughout the pain (and choosing a partner who also kept his cool). And of course YOSAR is just way too amazing.

n.b. In fact I do have listed in my medical records that I'm allergic to any drug in the family of functional analysis, while long-term exposure to synthetic forms of "higher-symmetries" has given me certain precious immunities.

See you State College side!


Ice climber
Thunder Bay, Ontario
May 19, 2010 - 07:24am PT
Great report, thanks for posting. I'm sure nobody ever wants to be in need of a rescue, props to YOSAR.

As a note, nausea/vomitting associated with morphine doesn't constitute an allergy. It is in the side effect profile of the drug along with respiratory depression, and a drop in blood pressure for some. The antiemetic may have been something along the lines of IV gravol. The mechanism of action for gravol isn't completely known.

There is another post from somebody who did have an allergic reaction (rash, itchiness, etc) With any kind of airway involvement being the cardinal sign that it warrants treatment with epi as a temporizing measure for IV antihistamines to do their thing.

Trad climber
Aberdeen Scotland
May 19, 2010 - 09:36am PT
Hey John,

Glad to here your OK, pretty epic. I took a 5' leader fall last year and shattered the talus bone in my ankle. Lucily I only had to butt slide a few hundred feet down to the car. Took about 9 months to be fit enough to get climbing again. Pay attention to your physio as it will be well worth it. Get a goal to focus on, it will make your rehab easier.

Rock on,


Trad climber
Josh, CA
May 19, 2010 - 10:03am PT
"As a note, nausea/vomitting associated with morphine doesn't constitute an allergy. It is in the side effect profile of the drug along with respiratory depression, and a drop in blood pressure for some. The antiemetic may have been something along the lines of IV gravol. The mechanism of action for gravol isn't completely known.

There is another post from somebody who did have an allergic reaction (rash, itchiness, etc) With any kind of airway involvement being the cardinal sign that it warrants treatment with epi as a temporizing measure for IV antihistamines to do their thing."

Thanks for the clarification. I should have been more specific!

Trad climber
State College, PA
Topic Author's Reply - May 19, 2010 - 01:26pm PT
made it safely back home again today. Here's a photo of the damage:

thanks again to all


Ice climber
Ashland, Or
May 19, 2010 - 01:37pm PT

Social climber
May 19, 2010 - 01:41pm PT

Glad you made it home OK. OUCH is right. Who was your surgeon at DMC? I have friends who cut there.


EDIT: This thread is right under the Hilti vrs Bosch thread on the front page. After that X-ray, it seems appropriate to add Makita vrs DeWalt.
High Fructose Corn Spirit

Gym climber
Full Silos of Iowa
May 19, 2010 - 01:56pm PT
Spend more time on Super Topo. It'll help you through. Climb vicariously and participate at the fire. Philosophize your beliefs. Time well spent!

Trad climber
State College, PA
Topic Author's Reply - May 19, 2010 - 02:15pm PT
Gene, the surgeon was Dr Casey. Seemed pretty familiar with injured climbers being shipped in from the Valley.


Social climber
May 19, 2010 - 02:26pm PT

Casey is in the same practice as the guy who rebuilt my shoulder a year ago. Good folks.


Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
May 19, 2010 - 02:27pm PT
Heal up, John!

And, yeah, YOSAR kicks ass! (but everybody already knows that...)

Trad climber
Douglas, WY
May 19, 2010 - 04:36pm PT
My special walking-wounded regards and best wishes for a prompt and COMPLETE recovery!!

Trad climber
State College, PA
Topic Author's Reply - May 19, 2010 - 04:42pm PT
Woken from a nice nap by my daughter, just back from school, with her loving greeting

"Sit up so I can slap you."

my family are great, I am so blessed


Ice climber
Ashland, Or
May 19, 2010 - 06:20pm PT
Nice John, enjoy your family during the recovery, they will be your saving grace.

Big Wall climber
May 19, 2010 - 06:41pm PT
john, glad your experience with yosar was positive. i spent ten years with them in the 80's and 90's. this reminds me of when my wife and i were doing the salathe a few years back and i pulled a single piece on the right double crack and impaled my ribs on the arete 20 feet below. we were just able to self retreat, with me rapping first, and little heather wrestling the bags down.

also, my motto on rescues


Trad climber
Monrovia, California
May 19, 2010 - 07:14pm PT
Wow. That is a great account. I hope you recover well.

It seems lately there is a new approach to the accident reports on the forum. I have seen too many reports which are intended to protect the reputations of those involved.

Now, and perhaps Japhy really got the ball rolling with this although there were a few before, we are seeing really valuable and honest accounts.

I understand this cannot be easy but I applaude y'all.

Interestingly, I've taken some big flyers (almost 40 years climbing and only interested in doing it at my limits) but I have only been injured in short falls.

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
May 19, 2010 - 07:25pm PT
I'm sure Arron could have gotten you to the deck on his own, but with the pain it probly wasn't worth the risk. That must have been funny when Yosar was grilling him on his experience and if he fixed the rope right.

Getting from the base to the bikepath must have been epic.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
May 19, 2010 - 10:56pm PT
I got a call from John on the phone.

It thought "Cool, hey Bro, Wassup?"

Fortunately, I didn't start with "Yur gonna Die"

He told me he was on anchorage ledge and broke his ankle ...Dooh!! Too sad to miss his visit this time.

I acted appropriately compassionate, and maybe I even was, but I still like the family response

"Sit up so I can slap you."

Love you J-Roe Math Bro

Make the best of it, cause there's little choice

and pardon the irreverance, but such a sincere guy probably gets too much sincere sympathy and this is for balance. At least I didn't make any joke about "Being screwed"

Peace and good healings


Trad climber
State College, PA
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 3, 2010 - 10:17pm PT
6+ months progress report...

July - goodbye to crutches, using cane
August - started riding bike again. Fell off.
September - PT getting aggressive
October - climbing again at Seneca, need trekking poles on approach
November - meet with crimpergirl, brassnuts, tarbuster, stevew and others in Boulder
December - running again.

thanks to everyone on the topo for support, & be careful out there!

Captain...or Skully

Big Wall climber
leading the away team, but not in a red shirt!
Dec 3, 2010 - 10:23pm PT
Dude.....I heard a couple stories about you.
Glad to hear you're getting it all back together, man.
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