Sustained good weather, finally! It was going to be a big weekend. North Twin on Friday, the south buttress of Cutthroat on Saturday, and Big Kangaroo on Sunday. Natasha (Summitpost member seabadge) and I left the house at 4am Friday morning, the car loaded with gear and food. Little did we know, our plans for the weekend would be changing.
After hiding the bikes in the bushes, we followed the spur road to the subsequent boot path which terminates in class 2 terrain at which point the west ridge narrows. Class 2 interspersed with class 3 moves quickly turned into solid 3 scrambling. Olivine rock is the most grippy stuff I have ever set my hands on. Good holds seem hand-crafted and just about everywhere. This is what makes the Twin Sisters range my favorite scramble playground, this being my fourth trip to the area. We used mechanics gloves to protect against the rough sticky rock.
As with the South Twin, difficulties on or near the crest can be avoided by traverse-scrambling slightly lower on the south face. Natasha joked around by faking tough bouldering moves on the easy terrain while I recorded numerous short clips for a video montage. Occasional cairns hinted at the route as we followed exposed ledges and crossed numerous ribs and gullies high on the south face. Eventually we came to an obvious end to the lower traverse options. What appeared in front of us was a drop-off. It was time to go straight up, back to the ridge crest.
Natasha asked me if she should stay further back in the gullies in case of rock fall. My reply was that sometimes it's better to stay close behind, so that if a rock gets going, it doesn't have time to build up speed. Overall the rock was very solid but a few loose pieces were present in the gullies. She stayed close behind and I was careful not to dislodge anything when I was leading.
I was just mentally congratulating myself for not sending any rocks down, when I heard Natasha yell out in pain. I turned around and she said, "I just broke my finger". What!?! She was in the middle of a class 4 section which looked precarious from my vantage right above her. "I think I broke my finger, I really need to get through this tough spot". She struggled to get through the difficult move without the use of her left hand. Eventually she made it through and rested on a small ledge next to me. She told me that I had dislodged a fist-sized rock and that it had fallen just 4 feet and landed squarely on her left index finger.
Damn it! I felt terribly guilty and also worried about how we were going to get her off the mountain safely if she couldn't even use her left hand. Scrambling back down the west ridge would be impossible for her. There was only one option. We would have to descend the very steep snow slope on the north ridge. Thankfully we had the gear for it. But if a fall occurred, would she be able to arrest it without a strong left-handed grip? I knew the snow on the north ridge was extremely steep at the top and accidents have happened there before. Better not to think of such things.
First things first. We had to finish this present route before we could even reach the north ridge snow slope. Natasha was temped to take the glove off immediately and examine the damage. I thought it was a bad idea and said so. I didn't want the sight to freak her out, and furthermore we needed to finish this exposed scrambling before the swelling got worse. In my estimates, we were only a few hundred feet below the summit. I offered to let her lead at her own pace and without any more rockfall danger, but she preferred to follow me. Natasha fought through the pain and made it to the top.
We found a spot out of the wind and gingerly removed her glove. The finger was ruptured, split open from the nail to the second knuckle. On the under side, a sliver of bone appeared to be protruding from a small hole. A compound fracture? I could also see signs of some internal bleeding. There was another hole at the tip of her finger where blood had actually exploded out from the pressure of impact. I gently wrapped the finger in gauze and then gingerly helped her put the glove back on, for some minor protection.
Traversing down and to the left was not easy for her since she couldn't hold the ax in her left hand. After some struggling, we came back to the boot path and then finally the spur road. At the main logging road we decided to trade bikes because the brake lever on my bike is easier to squeeze than hers. It took us another 25 minutes to ride 7 miles downhill back down to the car. Our round-trip time was 12.5 hours.
I drove quickly to the emergency room. The doctor had to cut the glove off because of major swelling and dried blood which was like glue. An x-ray revealed a fracture, but what had appeared to be exposed bone was merely soft-tissue poking through. Thank goodness it's not a compound-fracture, I thought to myself! We were both very relieved about that. They cleaned the wounds with an iodine soak, trimmed off the dead skin, and then wrapped it all up. She was given a script for Vicodin and Doxycycline, but she opted not to fill those since we already have doxy left over from our recent Nepal trip, and as for pain, she would rather just take ibuprofen. Throughout the whole ordeal I was amazed by Natasha's good attitude, despite her suffering. I wondered if I could have handled the situation as smoothly if it was me in her shoes. Probably not.