This year, winter was refusing to let go, endlessly dropping rain in the Bay Area and dumping fresh snow in the mountains; however, it unfailingly raised hopes with a few spots of sun and warmth. It was the first week of May and the weather continued to tease and taunt. My boyfriend, Misha, and I were keeping an anxious eye on the weather reports that week. Our first real climbing trip of the season together was depending on it and we were desperate to get out. Early to midweek, the weekend weather looked depressing. Suddenly on Thursday, it started to look promising, so we madly packed that night and dashed off after work on Friday to our “second home,” Yosemite.
The weekend started unbelievably optimistic: traffic was extremely light for our commute to The Valley; we snagged one of the last spots in Camp 4; we found out that more friends than expected had made it that weekend; and Misha and I woke Saturday morning to clear skies and warm weather. Perfect! Misha staked out a new spot for us with Carolyn, Bonita and their friend TL. As we searched for empty space in the bear lockers, we immediately identified which held their things. The 3 bottles of wine were a pretty big giveaway. We knew that a campfire party was in store for the evening!! After a hearty breakfast at the trusty ol’ cafeteria, Misha and I went to satiate our hunger for some climbs. We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend (though fewer gawking tourists is always a plus.)
First stop, the base of El Cap. These first few climbs were uneventful. We did a couple of warm up lead laps on Pine Line, then top roped (half of) its next door neighbor, a 5.10d/5.11a face. Halfway up we both threw up our hands and said “Huh?!” So, then off to Church Bowl we scampered. First on our list was Uncle Fanny, a 5.7 squeeze chimney. It looked a bit daunting from the ground, but hey! I am always up for a challenge. So, I optimistically started up the climb. The lower part of the chimney wasn’t so bad, until things started to get serious...fast. Grunting, scratching, groaning, clawing, wiggling…body cam/hip wedge, rest (pant, pant, pant). Repeat. Somehow I was withholding the obscenities. This did not last long. Thrashing and moaning and, yes, cussing, I worked my way up on sheer stubbornness. Any sense of fun and wanting to be there had long since worn off. Every foot of advancement felt like an excruciating eternity. It would be so easy to blame it on the polished, greasy chimney, but, obviously, my squeeze chimney technique was seriously lacking. Humbling. Misha was doing what he could to advise me, but all that I could say in response was a frustrated, “why don’t you come up and show me then!” I finally made it out of the chimney and was in the corner about 20 feet from the top. I placed my piece and oomph, made a couple of moves. Feeling exhausted and unstable, I placed another piece, a number 2 Camalot, and shakily continued on. Time for a third piece. I reached for an Alien and was working on placing it when it happened, so fast that it is hard to know exactly what and why.
I let out a yell as I started falling over backwards. The world was tumbling around me just as suddenly as it stopped…on the number 2 Camalot. I was hanging upside down as a throbbing, searing pain went through my right ankle. Uh oh. I heard a voice from above at the belay station calling out, “Get yourself upright!” which I promptly did. My ankle and foot were already madly swelling. I also heard a voice from behind, “Are you alright? Do you need to be lowered?” Looking down behind me I saw Misha sitting on the ground, his break hand tensely gripping the rope and a young man casually FREE SOLOING nearly up to where I was. Yikes. Yes, I was fine except for my ankle and yes I needed to be lowered…a mere 6 or so feet from the top. He asked me about the placement of the cam. I couldn’t see it from where I was hanging, but remembered it being a solid placement (plus it held my fall, right?) So, as Misha carefully lowered me, the climber escorted and advised me all the way down. The climber who had called out to me from above, cleaned all our gear on his rappel down. How fortunate that both of those climbers were there to assist us, simplifying the situation.
Luckily, Church Bowl has literally a one minute approach from the road, so Misha brought the car around. I grabbed his shoulder to hop to the car. On our way out, another climber insisted on helping. As we approached the road, we were eyed by a rescue helicopter and paramedics in the field across the road (I later found out that there had been a cardiac arrest there). After affirming that I was OK and everything was under control, they let us go. Thanking the climber for lending his shoulder, I plopped into the car and Misha drove the few hundred yards to the medical center. I was rolled into the center and was warned that it might take awhile since there was the cardiac arrest patient, a little girl needing sutures, a man who had dislocated his knee and there had just been a 3 car crash. Waiting, waiting, X-rays were taken, more waiting… The doctor walked in with a lighthearted air and the first words out of his mouth were “The good news is that you didn’t break your ankle!” Phew! Relief washed over me…until he continued. “The bad news is that you broke your foot. Your talus is broken” Damn! My heart sank as he told me he couldn’t tell the extent of the fracture. They put me in a splint, handed over crutches, charged nearly $800 and gave a bottle of Vicadin. They then sent me on my way with horror stories of personal experiences and strict orders to see an orthopedic surgeon right away. Being my first real injury, I was terrified.
So, back to Camp 4 Misha and I went. He went to explain to the girls what had happened and to clean up camp. I was dozing, trying to ignore the pain and dreaming of Vicadin. Suddenly a headlamp was shining into the driver’s window and knocking on the window. Startled, I thought that it was a ranger who had come to scold me for our illegal parking. As I fumbled to explain the situation, Carolyn’s friendly voice piped out. She climbed into the driver’s seat and TL and Bonita quickly joined the “party.” They cracked jokes, lifted my spirits and brought wine that I swigged from the bottle to accompany my Vicadin. All too soon, I was fading and feeling anxious to get home. It was already late and Misha had a slow drive ahead to make it as smooth a ride as possible.
Although it is easy to feel like I had a bad stroke of luck that weekend, in reality, I feel that I was actually extremely fortunate: based on the route of the fall, it would have been easy to have had a much more severe injury; Misha did an awesome job of stopping my fall; my pro placement was bomber; due to the shortness of the route, I was able to be lowered off of the route and the location of the rock couldn’t have been more ideal for an injury; there were so many climbers anxious to lend a hand; I had a “cheer me up” squad at Camp 4; I had lots of Vicadin; and, on Thursday May 19th, I found out for sure that I don’t need surgery… and so far, I got away with a relatively small medical bill. Finally, I am very lucky to have such a supportive boyfriend, mother and friends. Everyone, please climb safe and smart!