Trip ReportFalling in Vegas
I wrote and rewrote this some years ago. I decided to share, but was not sure where to put it.
FALLING AND LUCK IN VEGAS
After 38 years of our sport, none of my friends have died climbing. I’m a Black Canyon good luck no bivy talisman with hundreds of vertical miles on stone. I’ve been seriously injured once. My partner Joe was an Emergency Medical Technician and a SAR team was practicing so close we could hear their helicopter. Luck. But, if I’m injured again, I quit!…. I think.
I met Joe in Okinawa. Boston Joe to my family, he enlisted in the marines after 9/11 and shortly afterward found himself confined to a Marine base in the Okinawan jungle, the victim of a Japanese/Okinawan/American pissing contest. I was his ticket off base.
Joe went on to Iraq and after surviving the worst of Faluga, settled down to an EMT/fire fighter’s life in Boston. I moved back to DC, and we got together every few months for climbs in the Gunks, Adirondacks, and Red Rocks. Our first trip to Red rocks was great and we made our second trip January 07. I decided to up the excitement with a 12R on the brass wall.
Coordinating our flights, we arrived together and shared a midnight ride to Bonnie Springs. Joe thought Rip Cord sounded cool and by sunrise I was racked up and leading. Rip Cord has a hard boulder problem start to a poor stance with a no longer available # ½ cam placement in a corner. Vertical miles in Yosemite told me the cam was solid, and I didn’t examine the rock. Above was a section of hard stemming with 10 ft to a green alien placement. I could see it well and got the piece ready before I committed.
After evaluating pro, difficulty and danger I climb silently or retreat, concentrating every drop of my ability on climbing. Danger is a memory enhancer, but this route to my brain is partially blocked and climbing memories are no longer vivid. I remember stemming hard thinking, “ohoh, it is cold, and the rubber isn’t adapting well. Go!” I got my finger into the crack and went for the green alien as my feet slipped and body fell. The corner cam provided a momentary arrest, followed by a loud crack as rock broke. The cam zinged and a 5 ft. flake flew at me, hitting me as I hit a ledge, causing severe pain in my heel and chest.
I did not lose consciousness but I was paralyzed from the rock hit. I saw Joe dodge the boulder then heard him yell for me. I could not speak. I struggled to breathe for minutes with Joe’s yells a fading distraction. Hanging limp, I wondered if I would die. There was no calmness and I fought desperately to gulp air. If I lost consciousness before breathing I was sure I would die. My life did not flash before my eyes, nor did I have any revelation. I can’t say if this represents vacuity or verity. Just before brown walls closed in, I sucked a few mouthfuls and signaled Joe—his yelling was bothersome and had taken a new edge.
After lowering I managed to sit, and since I was bleeding from chest and arm Joe stripped away clothes. Bruises were forming and I had deep lacerations. Joe put his ear to my chest and determined there was no blood filling my lungs. Ten minutes after the fall, I still wasn’t sure I’d live. I felt horrible, could not get enough air, and a section of my chest and belly was turning crimson under the skin. Although my foot looked OK, I put it on the ground and the heel screamed facture. Joe pulled out his cell phone and we were informed a SAR team and helicopter would arrive in 10 minutes.
The helicopter landed on a boulder. By this time I knew I wasn’t dying soon and the thought of a helicopter rescue made me sicker. In 2002 I had a balcony view of a botched Yosemite rescue. Erik Strom and I could hear bones break as a rescuer and a climber with a fractured elbow were pin-balled through trees on a gurney attached to a helicopter. For several years afterward I answered e-mail about the fatality. I did not want a helicopter ride; I wanted the rescuers to carry me out and I told them so.
“If we carry you, it will be a whole lot of misery for you and us.”
The helicopter ride was 10 minutes of agony. My clothes had been cut off, I was covered with blood, and my chest was bare but for my bloody down jacket drape. It was near freezing. After loading me beneath the helicopter, a rescuer hopped into the litter with me, avoiding the injured parts but putting severe pressure on my thighs.
An ambulance was waiting at the park entrance, and within a minute I was inside begging for heat. I don’t remember them turning the siren on. Maybe they did, or maybe they figured that the guy begging for heat wasn’t badly hurt. They chuckled. It had been a busy night in Vegas and I was triaged in the hospital parking lot. Lifting my jacket and seeing a huge bruise, the physician barked a few orders, and an ultra sound unit appeared.
“You are hemorrhaging inside. We may need to open you, but first we must determine with dye and imaging what is bleeding. We are going to put in an arteriole line too. Here is some Morphine.”
The arterial line wasn’t bad and the die was weird; strange going in, and later a metallic taste in my mouth. The magnetic cocoon for imaging slid over me and then back off.
A tall black man appeared. “I’m your surgeon. We are going to monitor you, but if you get worse, I’ll cut you open. Your liver is lacerated.”
The rest of the day and night was a haze of arteriole draws, hourly monitoring, morphine and my buddy Joe.
“How you doin Colonel”
“Kinda like I ate Cass Elliot’s sandwich and she tried to get it out by jumping on me.”
“Bouldering’s great, sorra for leavin but here is some Whole Foods premo”
“Its way betta than that hospital stuff in front of ya”
Somewhat later the police came for my roommate who was suffering from multiple fractures. He was accused of a “hit and run” which involved way more hitting than running.
Well, the bleeding stopped, and after two days I made it home reporting for duty as my commander requested. I hadn’t told him I had a fractured calcaneus and fractured ribs with internal injuries. I worked until noon, and then hobbled to the Emergency Room on crutches. The ER doc had a quick look, and said “You are seriously injured. What are you doing?” I left in a wheel chair with an escort.
As required by regulation, some weeks later my commander and a few colonels came to my office and gave me a safety briefing on rock climbing. By this time, laughing did not cause extreme pain.
Post script: “Hey Sukowski that felt like 5.12, do you think the fall was clean?”
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