The last few weeks have been quite the roller coaster to say the least! First, vacation in North Conway, NH. Ahead of a wedding in Maine, we decided to treat ourselves to a little climbing trip and time with some good friends in North Conway. There was a definite heat wave in effect that week, with afternoon T-storms in the forecast each day. Because of the lackluster forecast, we never made it out to Cannon. On our first day in in the area, we did go out to Humphrey’s Ledge to sample Wanderlust, which did not disappoint. As we started a second climb though, we heard some pretty loud thunder, checked the radar, and decided it was Moat- thirty. We got some lunch and beer at the Moat and an hour later, realized that the storm had never materialized. As we sat there, our buddy Dave told us the story of a barstool-to-barstool ascent of Upper Refuse in 58 minutes. They didn’t even close their tab before they left!
I’m pretty sure that was before Dave becamw a dad though, but a new challenge was on the table. Could all three of us go climb this 3 pitch climb and be in the car and on our way to pick up Dave’s son from daycare on time? Challenge accepted! We clocked a car to car time of 36 minutes for the three of us. Thankfully Dave has guided that climb so many times, he can carry a rack of only 5 cams and two slings and knows exactly how to stretch the rope to just make it. Only this time, he had us on the other end of the line, so we simul-climbed up to the first good ledge, giving him enough rope to run it out all the way and belay off of the fence. I felt giddy like a child at play as we ran down the climber’s trail and scampered across, up and over rocks with a minimum of gear. J was tied in on an alpine butterfly about 20 feet above me on the rope and ever the guide, he could read my face and if there was a section that I had even a modicum of doubt about (there were one or two) he gave me a quick down and dirty belay via a Munter on the carabiner of one of the cams. Luckily, there was only a small section or two that needed this and the climbing really is pretty straight forward. It was a fun time!
The other highlight of the trip was my first 5.9 lead! They Died Laughing at the North End, which apparently is everybody’s first 5.9. It was a bit slick on the first 15 feet from a rain storm the previous evening, but that section I managed to cruise. Though I climbed it clean on top-rope just before, I did hang on a piece or two at the cruz to rest. The crack there is just a bit off hands for me and with the humidity, I was slipping a lot in the crack. Enough that I wore tape gloves for the actual lead to give myself a bit more friction. That did help, but I think my mind was still anticipating the slipping. Anyway, I definitely wouldn’t call myself a 5.9 leader now by any stretch, but I found in past seasons that it’s easier for me to take on the mental hurdle of a new grade on the infinitely protectable vertical cracks of NH granite. Usually by the fall, I feel ready to start trying some cherry-picked climbs of that grade at the Gunks. So even though it was a perfectly clean ascent, I was super proud of myself for taking on the mental challenge and even more excited about going on a rampage this fall when good temps returned to the Gunks.
And then IT happened.
At the end of the week after we returned from vacation J was at working, guiding of course, I was getting back to my routine at the office as well. They previous day, we had had a wonderful time taking my nieces to the AMC Slabs for their first experience outdoor rock climbing.
I was in my office when he called. “Don’t freak out, just listen to me, and listen carefully. I fell. I have an open compound tib-fib fracture. Andrew is on his way and they’ll have me out of here soon. Don’t come to the cliff, just go to the hospital. Meet me at Mid Hudson Regional. Bye.”
I was shocked and stunned. And instantly in triage mode. I called my afternoon patient and informed her that I had an emergency and would have to reschedule. I called my folks, still on their drive home from their visit, and told them there had been a bad accident. I walked out of my office, forgot something, walked back in again, repeated that cycle three times before actually started to drive. I thought about stopping by the house to let the our dog out, but decided to just drive straight to the hospital. On the way, I called friends who came to pick her up and let her stay and their house for the next 5 days.
Along the drive to the hospital, my phone rang off the hook with friends calling to let me know what happened, make sure I knew what had happened and offer their support. Some where along the way I got a call that he was just being placed in the back of the ambulance and I knew I could finally take my time because I was going to make it to the hospital before him. Since he was supposed to take his AMGA Rock Instructor Exam the following week, I started to make calls on his behalf to cancel those plans while I wanted for the ambulance to get to the hospital.
I waited in the ambulance bay for what seemed like forever in the hot August sun. Then the bus finally backed in and I opened the door to greet them. Him, really. I needed to see with my own eyes that it wasn’t any worse than what I had been told and I knew once he was in the ER, the doctors and nurses would be swarming him and making it difficult for me to be with him.
Speaking of swarming, that’s apparently what happened. He was starting to lead the second pitch of a climb in the Nears when suddenly he was been swarmed by something stinging him. His client was getting stung as well, so he made the decision that rappelling would be the safer option and the one that would get them away from the swarming insects the quickest. He had not yet placed a piece, so he started to climb back down to his anchor. He had thought he had grabbed the cordelette and made a controlled jump on to the belay ledge. We’re still not sure what he grabbed, but it wasn’t that. He hit the ledge with more force than calculated and his ankle bore the brunt of that extra force. Despite the trauma and the pain, he decided to use the limited adrenaline-fueled window of time he had to rig a rappel off of his anchor (the insects are still swarming and stinging through this as well), then set up a stacked rappel so that he and his client could both get down safely. He then proceeded to direct his own rescue until our friend, the head climbing ranger, showed up. Pretty badass, no? The word ‘hero’ has even been thrown around and I don’t disagree.
Speaking of heros- let me just say, we have an excellent team of trained climbing rangers on staff here in the Gunks. These guys and gals have your back.
Two hours of surgery and few pins & a plate later, my husband was back in one piece. He was ordered non-weight bearing for 5 weeks while the bones healed. Then at least 3 months of physical therapy. The accident happened two weeks ago now. Since he can’t stand on that leg, I’m at home a lot these getting him food, meds and generally watching after him. I barely get out to run these days, let alone climb.
I don’t know if I will get my Gunks rampage on this fall or not, but I can honestly say, I don’t really care one way or another. I haven’t climbed since the day of my lead in NH. I’ve just got way too much other stuff on my plate. Not too mention, a lot of my future plans and goals were dependent on J being my partner for them- and I feel like I have to do a bit of mourning to release those. Times like this do have a way of reminding you about what is truly important and readjusting priorities. J is in one piece and will make a pretty full recovery. We have each other. And we have a wonderful community around us who have offered so much love and support. In the end, I think that’s truly what keeps me coming back to climbing- not the grades, nor chasing them, or even the rock itself, but enjoying a nature, engaging in that shared challenge with good people.
when it falls down, who you gonna call now?” -Kanye West
Well, it did all fall down. And I do know who I’m gonna call now.