On 7/15/2010, as I was climbing a snow couloir in Wyoming's Snowy Range, I suddenly lost purchase, and, before what had happened really registered, I was sliding quickly down steep snow. Self-arrest attempts didn't work, nor did attempts to seriously slow myself with my feet, and as I picked up speed, I had to wonder how long, and how damaging, the fall would be.
In 0.05 miles, (that's 0.05, not 0.5) I lost about 160 vertical feet, and I braced myself for eventually crashing into a small rock island that finally stopped my fall. The crash and the fall ripped the crampons from my feet and bent some of the points, and the crampons were the culprits in one small cut and seem the likely ones for the nasty gash on my elbow seen here.
The original wound was more open and much deeper than it is here, and I left a lot of blood behind in Wyoming. Probably, I should have left and headed for Laramie to get it cleaned and closed, but I used snow and Band Aids as wilderness first aid, finished the day with climbs of two rock faces and a little more snow work, and gave the wound a better cleaning once I got back to the car, to the mixed amazement and revulsion of some picnickers nearby. And then I just went on my way.
I still don't know exactly why the slip occurred or why self-arrest failed and have thought about this a lot since, but my prevailing theory has to do with the fact that the snow, though not steeper than other snow I'd climbed in the Snowy Range before, was much harder (icier) than it had been in past years when I'd climbed there, making purchase harder for hands, ice axes, and crampons alike more difficult and more tenuous.
The worst that happened was an ugly cut that will turn into an impressive scar, but it could easily have gone much worse than that, and I feel lucky not just to be alive but also not to be seriously injured, and I am still amazed that I walked away from it with no broken bones at the least.
It also reminded me that every one of us is always vulnerable in the mountains, no matter how well-equipped we are, no matter how experienced, no matter how familiar we are with the terrain.
So be careful out there.