I Have Fallen: A Near Death Climbing Accident in the Canadian Rockies

I Have Fallen: A Near Death Climbing Accident in the Canadian Rockies

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 51.20110°N / 115.68987°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 25, 2014
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Summer


“If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder” - The Place Beyond the Pines

After waking up from a nightmare I slowly came into a reality that was far worse than what I had just experienced. “Did I get hit by a rock?” I asked several times and kept forgetting each time I asked. For the life of me I had no idea what country I was in or what I was doing. Incredible dizziness and much disorientation made it difficult to stand up. I was covered in blood and knew I was in a serious survival situation. I tried not to panic and did everything I could to make it out. “I don't know if I'm going to make it” I screamed in my mind as I felt like fainting while feeling very fatigued. Never have I had a descent as scary as this one.

Due to extensive injuries this trip report has been delayed a few months. My injuries consisted of a bad concussion, broken collar bone, shattered pinky, spinal compression, neck and back fractures, side puncture wound, lacerations, and cuts/bruises all over my legs. Now that my arms are out of a sling and cast, I have most of my fingers to type with. Before heading out on the trip I said “Back in the day I used to chase adventures, now adventures chase me“. Be careful for what you wish for because you just might get it all. This was my worst mountaineering experience to date. I wish the following story was an exaggeration of bad events but instead became a nightmare that to this day haunts me. I'm very lucky to have survived this accident.

I was re-living the old days going on adventures all the time. From ice climbing in Peru at 19,000 feet to glacier covered mountains with excitement around each corner. After my big trip I was so satisfied that I decided to not to make an effort to go on trips. On the flip side an adventure maniac like myself cannot decline them either when offered by other people. It was getting so ridiculous that I was becoming over booked for climbs thanks to my passionate partners (seriously, I very much appreciate this).

Gimpilator had invited me months before the trip to join with to the Canadian Rockies. The plan was to climb for up to 15 days depending on the weather and how we felt. Gimpilator unfortunately fractured his rib on Warrior Peak before the trip, hence delaying it until August 24th. He picked me up from my house early in the morning and packed a few bins of gear/food. We drove for many hours to the Canadian Rockies.

Sir Donald from the Highway
Sir Donald from the Highway
Mount MacDonald's Northwest Face
Mount MacDonald's Northwest Face

Mount Tupper from the Highway
Mount Tupper from the Highway
View from Rogers Pass
View from Rogers Pass
View from the City
View from the City
A Slight Dusting of Snow on the Rockies
A Slight Dusting of Snow on the Rockies
View After Rogers Pass
View After Rogers Pass
Mount Rundle During Evening
Mount Rundle During Evening

Navigating Mount Cory

After driving for a bit we had a little bit of trouble finding the right trailhead, but after a few careful observations we found it. As we approached the mountain, something did not look right. The side of the mountain we were looking at vs what the route diagram showed looked totally wrong. We kept going back and forth with the evidence, finally we decided to pick a route that seemed doable. “For an easy peak this is looking kinda tough” I thought to myself as I look up the cliffs above us. It reminded me of a scene from “Lone Survivor” which didn't give me a good vibe. The route was questionable looking, I would have been perfectly fine turning around and picking a different mountain. It was tempting, but I also happened to be in a playful mood. Unfortunately it turns out we were off route.

Morning View Before our Climb
Morning View Before our Climb
Coming in For a Landing
Coming in For a Landing

The Canadian Rockies rock is loose just as others have said. It wasn't terrible, in my opinion no worse than what I've seen in the Cascades. As the terrain got spicier, we had to weave our way through the cliff bands and do some class 3 scramble work. I noted the loose rock as we went up and did my best not to knock anything down on Gimpilator. I used solid tactics like staying close, careful foot placements, and picking routes that had less hazards. Gimpilator is usually pretty fast, but was a bit slower due to his rib injury. It was a little concerning to see him in pain when taking a rest stop. Speed wise he was going at a decent pace.

Scrambling through the Woods
Scrambling through the Woods
Peaks Across the Way
Peaks Across the Way

Unless I'm mistaken from my concussion, I believe I did a little bit of class 4 work to bypass a scummy section. We were finally getting away from the cliffs into more friendly territory. After getting out of the woods we had to cross under a cliff band (above and below) and onto the south ridge. Shortly after this we found a trail that pretty much led to the summit. The south ridge suddenly became much friendlier now that we were on route. With about 2 hours of hiking and light scrambling, we arrived on the summit of Mount Cory.

Assiniboine With a Fresh Dusting of Snow
Assiniboine With a Fresh Dusting of Snow
Hiking up the South Ridge
Hiking up the South Ridge

Heading up to the South Ridge
Heading up to the South Ridge
The Cliff Band Above
The Cliff Band Above
Gimpilator Scrambling Above the Forest
Gimpilator Scrambling Above the Forest
Mount Rundle with Banff
Mount Rundle with Banff
Looking Down on the Valley Below
Looking Down on the Valley Below
West Towers of Mount Cory
West Towers of Mount Cory
Myself Hiking Along the Ridge (Gimpilator)
Myself Hiking Along the Ridge (Gimpilator)
Mount Aylmer Covered in Fresh Snow
Mount Aylmer Covered in Fresh Snow
Shadows over the West Towers
Shadows over the West Towers
Lower South Ridge of Mount Cory
Lower South Ridge of Mount Cory
South Face of Mount Cory
South Face of Mount Cory
Heading to the Summit
Heading to the Summit
Upper Ridge of Mount Cory
Upper Ridge of Mount Cory
Myself at the Summit (Gimpilator)
Myself at the Summit (Gimpilator)
Summit Views to the East
Summit Views to the East

Layers Across the Canadian Rockies
Layers Across the Canadian Rockies
Mount Edith Near By
Mount Edith Near By

It was neat to look across the Canadian Rockies and see the layers of rock travel through what looked like much of the range. A few of the peaks near by were coated with fresh snow, especially Assiniboine. After snapping a few more photos, we began the descent down. Clouds were rolling in, we did not want to get rained. Heading down the ridge went quite well, finding our original turn off was pretty easy to find. As we descended into the woods, the route finding suddenly became trickier. Further down we began to question the route. I quickly scouted out the ridge across the way as well as the cliffier side of Mount Cory.

The Horrific Accident

I started to become nervous about the situation, I had strong evidence for both ridges. Only one of them was the right way. We both figured that the right ridge had to be identified or else there would be a great chance of getting totally cliffed out. After much debating we figured out the ridge that we had taken on the way up. Unfortunately the other ridge was the real route, but from our angle had a cliff feature that created a reasonable doubt. It was late in the day which meant that we had to make good time if we wanted to get out before dark. Down climbing loose rock with cliffs below in the dark doesn't sound like my version of fun.

“Finally a familiar land mark” I announce as I scramble down a 4th class section. Gimpilator took a different way. For a while I let Gimpilator do much of the leading for fairness sake. The terrain began to get more tricky than usual, this is where I took the lead. I navigated a dicey section that had very loose rock with mini cliffs running down it. I began encountering things that were questionable at best. Weaving through the cliffs took some well thought out navigation. Some how we were barely off our original route. Below us I could finally see our original route which made me excited. I carefully face in once again to down climb another sketchy spot.

After getting out of the dicey terrain, things were still tricky, but at least a lot better. After waiting for Gimpilator I decided to scope out the section up ahead. I didn't break my rules by much, perhaps I was 15 feet ahead. Gimpilator suddenly accidentally knocks down a 3 foot wide boulder. “ROCK!” he screams (much louder than usual). I hear the roar of the rock coming my way. Even though I was on loose class 3 terrain, I figured I was much better taking my chances running on the slope than getting nailed by the boulder. If I recall right, I did my finest alpine dodge running across the slope to do my best to avoid mayhem. A second before impact I remember having the sensation of being thrilled that I had avoided a serious danger. Unfortunately I was dead wrong, the rock had bounced in the wrong direction. A second later I was clocked in the side of my head by the boulder. I don't remember getting hit due to instantly getting knocked out. I was instantly in a state of euphoria followed by a nightmare. I fell over and started tumbling down the mountain. Gimpilator watched in horror as I disappeared beyond the horizon. He thought I was dead and had every right to believe so.

Gimpilator's Point of View of the Accident:

"I almost lost one of my best friends on this trip. Josh has an enthusiasm for life and for the mountains which has always inspired me. I will always feel a sense of panic and sick to my stomach when I recall the accident. Anyway, here it goes…

Josh and I were descending from the summit of Mount Cory on the SW ridge route as outlined in the SCRAMBLES IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES by Alan Kane. I recall during the ascent telling Josh how I thought it was a scumbag approach and nothing like any of the other peaks I have done in the area. It was steep, very loose, and there were numerous small cliff bands. We were regretting not bringing our helmets. Based on the information I had gathered online as well as in the guide book,we had estimated that helmets would be overkill. The guide book has3 categories, Easy, Moderate, and Difficult. Judging from previous trips in the area, all the peaks in the easy category had very little scrambling or rock fall danger. Cory was listed as easy. So we made the choice to leave helmets behind and it turned out to be a mistake.

So near the bottom of the ridge there are steep loose slopes and minor cliff bands to avoid or scramble through. We got to one nasty loose narrow spot. Josh was leading at that moment. I told him I would wait for him to proceed below me until he was out of the rock fall zone. He went down about 15 feet and then over to the right. When it appeared that he was far enough to the right, I started moving down. With my right foot I barely touched a large boulder, 3 feet by1.5 feet by 8 inches. It took off down the slope immediately like it had been set with a hair trigger. I yelled "rock" and watched in horror as Josh moved quickly back to the left, directly into the fall path. It all happened within a few seconds. The rock bounced a few times and struck him in the back of the head and then plowed over him. He fell down and tumbled out of sight, 30 or 40 feet below.

I couldn't believe what I had just seen. For 2 seconds I was stunned and reeling mentally, not wanting to accept it. Then I went half out of my mind with fear for him. I started screaming, “OH MY GOD!” and carefully scrambling down to look for him, yelling “JOSH”. I was yelling and he was not responding. I kept screaming for several minutes, not even sure of what I was saying. I’ve never been so insane with fear for someone.

When I got to him after a few minutes, he was sitting up and covered in blood. He had just regained consciousness. His injuries were numerous. I knew there were a lot of dangers now and I needed to prioritize. My main concerns were 1) How much blood is he losing from the head wounds? 2) Are his legs broken, and can he walk? 3) Can we get down before dark in the next 3 hours? Under different circumstances I would have inspected and dressed each of his wounds, but since there were multiple factors to consider, I decided that if his legs were functional and he wasn’t losing too much blood, we had to try to get down before dark. Alternatively I was prepared to leave him with all the water and warm layers, to go get help, and mark his location with my GPS if he was unable to move on his own power.

His legs were cut up but not broken. The deep lacerations on his head were caked with dirt and bleeding only slowly. He started asking me every 30 seconds. "Where are we? What happened? Was it a rock?". I answered these questions over and over for about 15 minutes until he returned to his senses and retained the answers. I started leading the way down until he complained about the weight of his pack, so I strapped his pack to my pack."

I was unconscious for at least 4 minutes. I don't entirely remember everything that happened at first when waking up. Gimpilator had to get my shoe that fell off, I could see my camera case was busted and my trekking poles were gone. “I'm so scared for you!” Gimpilator yelled to me. I couldn't quite figure out why he was saying this. Then I saw that I was covered in blood, my finger was really messed up, and I knew I had broken something around my other arm. I had many other injuries that I was too concussed to know about. Looking down the mountain I realized that I was in another country, but for the life of me could not figure out where we were. All this took place in a short amount of time.

Getting on my feet was a struggle, I was extremely disoriented. I asked perhaps 15 times “did I get hit by a rock” and kept forgetting each time Gimpilator responded. While I was really messed up in the head, I was able to figure out that I was in a survival situation. Rescue was not an option, it was getting dark in a few hours and there would be no way they could get to me in time. This would mean they would probably wait until the next day. I knew that there is a good chance I wouldn't make it if that happened. Self rescue was the only option. I dreaded the idea of heading down on tedious terrain with neither hand being good and being super dizzy. I was completely reliant on Gimpilator to lead the way down.

After a moment of heading down I complained that my pack was feeling too heavy (it was pressing directly against my broken collar bone) and that it would slow me down big time due to the intense pain. 15 minutes in to gaining consciousness I was able to think and understand the gravity of my situation. I would often space out while scrambling and not know what I was doing. My head felt like it was wearing a very heavy helmet strapped on tight. I was pretty sure I wasn't wearing one, but asked just to be certain. More blood was leaking out of my head as we scrambled down. I started to become very faintish and fatigue. “I don't know if I'm going to make it” I screamed in my mind. I was not panicking, but was very aware that this could be the end. “Lord please save me” I cried aloud. Gimpilator said a prayer and told me loved me as I struggled through another section. “I love you too” I said while trying not to cry. It was once again another very frightening time.

As we went on what felt like an endless descent, I was lost in thought with ideas of how I would not want my life's work to go to waste. With taking big risks such as climbing one has to come to terms with whether it's worth risking their life. It took a big situation like this to make me realize that I was not okay with dying here. There was way too much at stake. If it was just the loss of myself and my future experiences I would be okay with that. Sad, but not nearly as big of a loss. But to have my wildest dreams taken away is far beyond what I consider acceptable.

Suddenly I broke out of the trance as the rocks got loose all around us. I was struggling to not go tumbling down. I was now in a predicament that I now had to be very careful not to knock down rocks onto Gimpilator. After getting past the stressful section, he went ahead to scout out a way down. “Don't leave me” I weakly said as he disappeared beyond a set of trees near by. I was a bit disparate. I could not afford to get separated. The good news in the troubling sections was that Gimpilator had formulated a bypass from our original route up. This meant that there was not much class 3 scrambling due to his careful route finding. The way we went up would have been much harder with all my injuries.

Not Feeling So Well
Not Feeling So Well

An eternity later we get near the bottom of the mountain. Gimpilator took a photo of me with my permission for documentation purposes. While I knew I was still in a survival situation, I appreciated him doing this. Mosquitos were biting me as we neared the dense forest. “These guys never let up” I said annoyingly. I managed to take out a few of them. Shortly after this, my backpack falls out of Gimpilator's rigged pack attachment. My camera tumbles down a little ways. “I know I'm in a serious situation, but that's one of my favorite possessions that I own in this world” I told Gimpilator. It probably only took a minute or so to rescue my camera and put it into his pack. Due to us taking a different route, there were a lot of bushes around. I was in no position to do any bushwhacking. Fortunately Gimpilator found a way through by traversing downwards to bypass a lot of the trees.

With a bit more scrambling and a little bit of walking the terrain suddenly became very friendly. After a few more minutes of walking we arrived at the car. I was quite ecstatic. “I think I'm going to make it” I thought to myself with a smile. I quickly changed out of my favorite hiking shirt because I knew the hospital would cut it up. After getting everything packed, we hurried over to the Banff hospital. On the way there I called my brother and explained the situation. At the hospital they let me in real quick as soon as they saw that I was literally “a bloody mess”.

The Hospital Ordeal

They quickly rolled out a hospital bed for me to lay down onto. They stripped me of all my clothes and put me into a gown. They wanted to rip up my hiking pants, but I told them they are stretchy. My pants were spared. This was the beginning of another long term ordeal. Multiple doctors worked on me at once. One was removing all the clumps of dirt, pine needles, and blood from my face/body while another was sticking a needle in my arm. They got the IV fluids rolling in pretty quickly. After inspecting my entire body, the doctors knew that their facility did not have enough staff members or resources to treat me. They transferred me into another bed by rolling me onto my side (temporarily) and into a stretcher. I was rolled out to the ambulance, the AMT nurse layered me with blankets. This was the most claustrophobic I have ever felt in my entire life. I was completely helpless and could not move.

After a while the layers of blankets made me very warm, it was getting quite uncomfortable. Lucky for me I happened to have one of the coolest medical staff people I've ever had. She uncovered part of the blankets. I was still quite hot. Even though she was in a t-shirt, she turned the air conditioning on which I'm sure had to be cold for her. The 1 hour and 20 minutes to Calgary felt like so long, I was becoming very thirsty. I was finally starting to notice my spinal injuries.

When I arrived at Calgary, they loaded me out of the ambulance and rolled the stretcher swiftly into the hospital. I heard rumors of having to wait before arriving, fortunately this part went over quickly. Due my concussion and inability to walk around I can't remember the names of the room types I was transported to. I recall being kept up very late that night with many questions, endless doctors, and examinations. They placed me into a neck cast due to fracturing my neck.

“How did I get this messed up?” I half joking said to myself. I wasn't allowed to laugh due to my side puncture wound going in deep. Laughing would literally make me bleed. I was pleased to see Gimpilator walk into the room as I was laying there in much pain. For over a day I was not allowed to drink water and about two days without food. They were supposed to give me IV fluids, but often times they would forget, or at least I hope they forgot (I know, sounds like a silly thing to say). I have very mixed opinions about how I feel about the hospital experience. Sometimes they were good at assisting me, and other times I would be in a lot of pain, super dehydrated, hungry, and wanting assistance. I finally understood what it was like to be too weak at times to be able to tell someone something really important. My fatigue finally caught up to me. Eventually when I mustered the strength to press the help button, no one came (this happened much more later on).

The next day they did a bunch of scans and inspections. To do the scans they had me lay onto my side considering that I was not allowed to walk at all. Every time I received news, it was almost always bad. My situation kept getting worse with reports of what was broken. I would hear things like “your pinky is badly broken”, “you have multiple fractures in your back”, “you have a spinal compression”, “you have a complete break of your clavicle” “your neck sustained some injuries too”, and it just kept going on and on. Word got out that I had broken my back and neck. While it is true that I had fractures and a compressions in my spine, I wasn't paralyzed. But I did stiffen up pretty bad, I was not able to turn my head much. Gimpilator had to spoon feed me (at the 48 hour mark) because I was completely incapable of helping myself. They also placed a catheter into me which was a bit unpleasant.

Gimpilator stayed at a friend's house that evening. Night time started feeling longer, I became thirstier, I was becoming quite constipated from the drugs/lack of water, hungrier, and felt a bit lonely at times. I would often call for a nurse with no reply. I was too weak and too hurt to get assistance. After waking up I would stair at the ceiling for a long time (or across the room) wondering “when will this be over?”. This experience put things into perspective of why some people would rather die than live in a hospital their entire life. It's sad, but I certainly understood why.

After enduring another terrible night, I was pleased to finally arrive at “the big day”. They started by examining me and figuring out that I no longer needed the neck brace on. I was quite pleased to have it removed. Turning my neck however was very painful, I would hear popping noises which made me feel uneasy. Then they started working on my lacerations. “It's about time” I happily thought to myself. They placed in some stitches and did some cleaning. “All done” the doctor said in a happy tone. “Uh, no! You missed the big laceration” I replied. He looked over at the impact zone and realized that someone messed up pretty bad. “Unbelievable! How could we have missed this?”. I've never heard a doctor this angry before. It wasn't about what he had done, it was about the reports and how there was no record on one of the biggest injuries I had.

He quickly pulled out the clippers and partly shaved off the back of my hair. They pulled out the stapler and started going to town on the area. The doctor showed sincere concern for the mistake on the hospital's part. Gimpilator helped write down what I wanted for food for the next day. Turns out that you don't actually have any say in your meal choices, perhaps it's secretly a survey? The next day had the exact same dictatorship of “food choices”. Anyways, a lot of the food I was not a big fan of such as tuna with mayo along with black bitter coffee. Gross.

Next up was my pinky surgery. I knew it was going to be an ordeal, but I did not know it would be much worse than I expected. Part 1 was getting a “porter” to transport me to the surgery room. For the surgery there was the main specialist and an assistant. They started out by placing numbing agents into my pinky on multiple areas. The needle had to go in quite deep for a long time. A while later the area was numb enough for the specialist to get to work on my pinky. I got to catch as he cut open the skin and blood oozed out. He pulled so many fragments of bone that I think he lost count. After this was the scariest part, the drilling stage.

At first I could not feel the drill going in which I was pleased. Then I started feeling sharp pains that were quite intense. I tried not to cry, the doctor could see I was in a lot of pain. They had to inject more numbing agent. The needle went in much deeper this time, this is perhaps the most painful injection I had ever had even with all the numbing agent that had already been inserted into my hand. They continued the drilling, I would once again wince at the pain of the drilling. I began to wish that I was put to sleep for the procedure. I did my best to hold as still as possible while experiencing a lot of pain at times. The specialist had to do a lot of complicated measurements and threw around a lot of jargon that I've never heard before. It was obvious to me that he was more experienced than your average doctor in terms of extensive knowledge of dealing with injuries like mine. My break was worse than they had anticipated.

After much investigating, they finally pulled out two large rods. Each one was placed into the drill hole area and then rammed back and forth. Each tug was very painful. I really don't understand why it has to be pulled up and down really far until the end snaps off. I was scared knowing that I would have to re-experience the rod bending all over again. The second pin was placed in followed by the usual pains of inserting it properly. Once the surgery was finished, they sent in an assistant to clean up most of the blood and start wrapping my pinky. Then they put in some padding and then placed a cast over an entire section of my arm with a buddy system wrapped to my ring finger. After this I was placed into the hallway for a porter to come get me. “You will never get full function in your finger. You'll be lucky to get some function in it after intensive therapy” the specialist told me. He said it in such a way that overwhelmed me.

“Code Red, Code Red” I heard from the announcement speakers. All the doctors left the building. The next thing I knew I was by myself in the middle of the hallway. “Anyone there?” I yelled. Silence is all I heard. It turns that that after having an unexpected fire drill of some sort, it was lunch break for the staff members (I was unaware of this at the time). “They forgot me” I mumbled to myself. The numbing agent started wearing off as well as other medicines. I was starting to feel pain through out much of my body. I began to wonder things like “will I have to quit mountaineering?” and “will my pinky ever work again?”. I was both physically and mentally feeling quite awful. A while later I heard “no one has helped you after all this time?”. She ordered another porter to come get me out of the hallway. This time it only took 10 minutes for them to arrive.

After getting back in the room, a social worker wanted to talk about some financial things. The guy happened to be pretty funny, which I very much appreciated even though I wasn't allowed to laugh. “So how much money do you have” he asked. “Seven dollars” I replied. “Ewwwww – Either you could set up a payment plan – or run like hell”. I wasn't sure whether to laugh, take it as a statement of deep trouble, or perhaps my situation wasn't as bad as I thought. “C'mon, we're nice in Canada” I replied with a cheery attitude. Later that evening Old School WB payed me a visit which was quite nice. It was a shame we had to meet while I was too messed up to do anything. Gimpilator took off to sleep at a cousin's house in Calgary.

Recovering After a Serious Accident
Feeling Better After Recovering (Gimpilator)

Before going to sleep they placed a heat compressor onto my leg to prevent clots. At first it was weird, but then I got used to it. As the night rolled through, I started to become very hot. I called in a nurse and wait 20 minutes. No reply. I call a nurse again and hear “sorry, we are on break”. I was sweating so much that I stopped sweating. It was a shame to finally get some what hydrated after a day and then have it all go to waste. An hour in to waiting I call again and request help. Finally someone was coming. “Can I please have water?” I ask with a whimpy voice (the following miss-spelled words is for accident pronunciation). “Noh Wattah fo Yoo” the assistant replies. “Please, they've let me have some. I am so thirsty right now”. “Sorree” she replies with hard to understand English. Before she took off I said “can I at least get this heat compressor off my leg?”. “I am naught sapposed too”. She could see the look of desperation in my eyes. “Ah kay, but only for bit” she replied. The compressor was removed and she walked away. The compressor was still running for many hours on the floor. I have never in my entire life been so thankful for someone's incompetency! While it was annoying that this prevented me from getting hydrated, but at the same time prevented the situation from getting a lot worse. I had to do everything I could to get out of the hospital as fast as possible.

The next morning I began the process of trying to get out asap. They finally let me attempt to get out of bed. It was very painful and difficult at first. I was able to take very slow and painful baby steps with an assistance at my side. I was finally getting a small dose of freedom. Getting back into bed was a bit tricky. A few hours later they let me slowly walk up a stair case which I was barely able to do. I knew I had to perform at 100% at their tests if I wanted to believe I would be out today (day 4). It was both for financial reasons and health reasons. They wanted me to sign some form, but I wanted to talk to my mom first before signing over to some major financial decision (I told them this). They never came back to me with the form (they called “patient declining to sign”). After signing some sort of release form, I was able to do get out of the hospital fast. At first it didn't look like they were going to let me go. Due to the border issue I went from Morphine to Ibuprofen for pain medicine.

Gimpilator drove us all the way back home. We stopped at his aunt's house part way back due to it being late. It was so nice to be out of the hospital. The border crossing back into America was pretty mellow, they had to ask about the accident and such. Once I was back home I immediately had help unpacking my gear and went straight to the doctors. While the worst was behind me, this was the beginning of the after math stage.

Surgery, Rage, and Recovery

My collar bone was broken pretty bad. The separation was so great that it was not going to recover on it's own. A doctor told me it was one of the worst breaks he has ever seen. “Watch that collar bone, it's very close to sticking right through the skin” the doctor warned me. Surgery was necessary to place the bone back together. I had 8 screws put in with a plate. The area around it to this day is partly numb due to cutting the nerves. I was getting so many pain killers that I had to tell my mom “no more please”. I was getting so dizzy from them, it took a while for them to wear off even after easing off of them.

Feeling Much Better
Feeling Much Better After the Accident
A Bit Out of It
A Bit Out of It (Days Later)

It was very difficult to have virtually no hands. I could type with a single thumb which was better than nothing. Don't even get me started with the restroom complications. At first I was taking the accident well thinking that eventually I'll mostly recover. It was sad to have the rest of summer and fall quarter of college ruined, but not too bad. As weeks went by I slowly felt worse as time went on. I became uncertain about the outcome. Walking a short distance was difficult. My back and neck made a lot of popping noises often and was quite painful. Maintaining good posture was much harder than before. When I went into bed I always felt like I was falling. The first time this happened it was very scary because it was as if my body was giving up on me. I had many sensations in my head that are comparable to being really scared even though everything was just fine.

As I struggled into bed once again I felt my back aching again followed by more popping noises. Enough time had passed that I would have thought by now I would be better. After talking with my brother he figured I would never be able to ice climb again. I started to realize that if that was true, in the best case scenario I would not be able to do many other physical activities again. My thoughts started growing dark with ideas like “if my back never recovers, I will never be able to go mountain climbing again or feel physically good about walking to the store”. The doctors did not give me very much assurance, I became doubtful for my recovery. One night when going to bed I had a deep spell of depression. I started having regrets for climbing so much.

“This is not playing out well” I whisper in disappointment. The wall of tears start coming down, this time I cannot hold back. I attempt to stop myself only finding more sad evidence of my circumstances. Whether it be my struggles with school, family troubles, not having work, physically hardships due to my injuries, or having more difficulties remembering (these subjects alone would take many stories to explain). I imagine one of the Canadian guards telling me “see this is why we don't let poor people into our country”. I was in so much debt that there is no way I could pay it on my own. I had been told in my younger days that I should give up mountaineering and that it was a lost cause for me. After many major break throughs I have gone beyond my wildest dreams and have done an amazing amount of climbing. Now I was more beat up than ever before, I mentally hit rock bottom. My back felt so messed up that even laying down was very uncomfortable. Sitting up was worse followed by more popping noises. I had a sense of rage, raw emotions that made reality around me no longer mattered. I didn't care that my face was now soaking with tears or that I was straining my injured hand, I felt like I had so much emotional energy that I felt like I could do anything I wanted. In reality I was too hurt to do anything. I waited there in darkness feeling awful. Many weeks later my back and neck have come a long ways sparking a lot of hope into being able to do what I love.

I am currently in about $12,000 of debt to the Canadian hospital, far more than I could ever pay. The billing situation was quite frustrating. I wasn't allowed to get a grand total, but I was okay with that as long as I got all the bills. The problem was that I wasn't getting all the bills. “Can I know the name of the doctor who did surgery or the cost?” I asked. Financial department replies “Sorry, we are not allowed to tell you. Even we won't know!”. It took a combination of Gimpilator's mom and hours of investigating to get much of the information. As I got deeper into the calculations even several weeks later, there were big holes in the grand total. It wasn't until very recently that I finally received all the bills (hopefully) and have been able to calculate the cost. I'm crossing my fingers that insurance can help me out.

Important recovery dates:
  • September 17th my pins were removed from my pinky as well as a new cast that allowed me to use two fingers total. This also marked the beginning of my physical therapy sessions for my pinky.

  • October 4th I went for my first hike since the accident, it was very short but still great to get out.

  • October 16th my cast was removed, the doctor mentioned potential amputation if I don't work it hard. This scared me pretty bad. Full pinky permission was enabled (as much as I could).

  • October 21st my right arm was officially removed from a sling. This allowed me to have both hands completely free.

  • November 15th I go for my first moderate hike above Cascade Pass with 12 miles of distance, almost 4,000 feet of elevation gain, and 15 pounds of gear on my back.

Broken/Lost Gear:
  • Lens cap flew down the mountain.

  • UV Filter got scratched up (still works but is kinda iffy)

  • My awesome lens got chipped, fortunately is still functional

  • Camera body took a hit, manual controls are quite difficult to use

  • Trekking poles shattered or flew off a cliff

  • One of my favorite pairs of shorts broke on the car ride home

  • Camera case broke, the case got soaked in blood
I am very thankful to have survived such an ordeal. I would like to thank those who have send me positive vibes whether in person, mail, email, or even a forum post. Getting out of this was a second chance at living. I've come to the conclusion that I should climb less. That doesn't mean once a month, but doing it multiple times a week in some cases is pushing my luck. Hiking of course is pretty safe. Another factor in this is sun exposure, I don't want to get skin cancer some day. Unfortunately I happen to be more susceptible than the average person to this risk. Before the accident my philosophy on risk was that one should take risk to prevent life from escaping and that your body is meant to be used to do cool things. I still believe this, but will have to tone it down. I used a lot of caution the day of the accident in terms of using good practices. Good practices alone won't save you from catastrophe. As I write this story I'm still concussed and struggled to write. I may never fully recover from this, but at least I was able to tell the story of what I witnessed.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-20 of 27

gimpilator - Nov 3, 2014 12:28 am - Voted 10/10


First I want to say I'm sorry. I'm sorry I ever touched that damned rock that hit you. I was attempting to be careful and take precautions, but I failed. I've seen a number of accidents now in the mountains where people were badly hurt, but this was the worst and the scariest. It's changed the way I look at what we do. I've had to re-asses my list of goals and let go of a number of them.

From now on I don't care to climb loose steep terrain. Sometimes that might mean choosing a different peak. So be it. Furthermore I don't ever want to be responsible again for triggering a rock that injures someone I care about. Even if that means that I'm always the guy below everyone else where rockfall is a potential. So be it.

Your ability to stay positive through much of this ideal was amazing to me. I'm relieved now to see you well on your way to recovery. I'm still hoping that the pinky returns to partial mobility. Don't give up hope on that. Amputation is not the solution.


awilsondc - Nov 3, 2014 10:32 am - Voted 10/10

Re: Cory

This has got to be tough for you too, man. I would feel just awful, but I'm sure it was simply an accident and not much you could have done differently. I've set off a rock just as you described one... set off like it was on a hair trigger. Mine was on the Big Gully route on Castle Peak, ID and it turned into a massive series of rock fall down the route. Fortunately I was going first as anyone below me on the route wouldn't have stood a chance. It certainly has made me extra careful. Don't be too hard on yourself though, experiences like these shape the people we are and you and Josh will both come out of it better people and better mountaineers. :)


albanberg - Nov 3, 2014 12:48 am - Voted 10/10


That's wild. I hope you're well soon Josh! Glad you were there to help Gimpilator! I've only skimmed this a bit, I'll have to come back to read it more.


wfinley - Nov 3, 2014 1:48 am - Hasn't voted

2 things

Two things... 1. Took a bad fall almost 20 years ago. My doctor told me I'd probably limp the rest of my life. I told him to screw himself and was walking without a limp in 6 months. Think positive and work hard (and see a PT) and it will go a long ways towards mobility in your fingers.
2. $12K is a lot of money but it's not something you can't pay off (most people pay double that for a new car). Work with someone you trust who can help you set up a payment plan and you'll eventually be able to put that chapter behind you.
Good luck!

And one other thing... If you don't have money find a PT who is willing to meet with you and give you a list of exercises that you can do on your own. I met with my PT and explained I couldn't pay for more than 1 consultation and he gave me a list of things I could do without having to go see him. It saved me a lot of money.


awilsondc - Nov 3, 2014 10:27 am - Voted 10/10

What an ordeal!

It's nice to have the story, thanks for sharing Josh, and I'm glad you're on the road to recovery and even hiking again! I've been sending you good vibes. Don't stress about the money, it will come. 12K sounds like a bargain to me! At an american hospital I bet that would be closer to 100K if not more for all you had to get fixed up. Keep working on your recovery and most important keep a positive attitude! I'll be in touch. :)


asmrz - Nov 3, 2014 11:16 am - Voted 10/10

Get well

We all know that bad things can happen, but never to us, right? This write-up is a confirmation that we all are highly vulnerable up "in the hills". So happy you will get to climb again. Stay positive, work hard on you recovery and good luck to you.


ROSENCLIMBER - Nov 3, 2014 11:49 am - Voted 10/10

Good Job

Excellent narrative. Thanks for writing it. It will help many other people get a more realistic picture of mountaineering and be able to better evaluate the RISKS as well as the rewards of the sport. So many reports just talk about the glory and fun, but we need information like this to get a more balanced picture. Best wishes for a full recovery.
P.S. Super photos by the way.

Bark Eater

Bark Eater - Nov 3, 2014 12:48 pm - Voted 10/10



So glad that you continue to recover. Hang in there!


Marcsoltan - Nov 3, 2014 1:37 pm - Voted 10/10


You are dealing with the aftermath of this accident in the right way. You are healing physically and emotionally and we are grateful for that.
Thank you for sharing the story and know that you have earned my respect and admiration.

Ejnar Fjerdingstad

Ejnar Fjerdingstad - Nov 3, 2014 2:07 pm - Voted 10/10


Thank you for taking the time to give us all this great account of your terrible accident. This will be a memento to many climbers who have perhaps become overconfident because nothing ever happened to them. It also makes me realize how fortunate my wife and I have been in that we have never had any injuries in the mountains through many years of climbing. (We came pretty close to being killed by lightning once, but of course that left no permanent marks on us).

I'm also impressed with how you reacted to this whole ordeal, I think you have been very brave during all your suffering. I feel sorry for you that you had to experience a seemingly quite sloppy treatment at the hospital, and that you are now left with a huge debt for hospital treatment. If something like that had happened to one of us while we lived in France it wouldn't have cost us a cent (nor would it in Denmark, but there are no mountains here).

I hope you will continue to recover, and that you will still have many beautiful experiences in the mountains. Taking it a bit more relaxed and being more careful, avoiding loose rocks (I personally hate the stuff) will not prevent this.

All the best!



Redwic - Nov 3, 2014 2:19 pm - Voted 10/10

Wishing you the best.

I want to wish you a full recovery as much as possible. Thank you for sharing this experience.
Enjoy the new trekking poles. ;-)

As for the hospital costs, I agree with an earlier comment that you got a bargain. You are an American who got injured in a mountaineering accident on foreign soil. Canada wants foreigners (especially foreign hikers) to have travel medical insurance. If the situation was reversed (Canadian injured in USA), I would guess that the cost could be well over $100K. That is the unfortunate side of the medical industry. Nothing is free but the value of your life is priceless. With that said, $12K is still a lot of money and I hope you find some assistance.

Your report does a really good job of demonstrating different aspects of risks and decision-making involved with mountaineering. This report will be very helpful to others.
I am so thankful you are still alive to share the story and learn from the experience.


markhallam - Nov 3, 2014 2:35 pm - Voted 10/10

There but for the grace of God...

I feel very fortunate to have got away with it over a sporadic 40 year climbing career - but I have had some situations which could so easily have ended the way yours did.
So sorry to hear about what you went through - and still going through.
Hope you heal quickly - one good thing about being your age is that things generally heal well.
Also good luck with the insurance.
best wishes, Mark


EricChu - Nov 3, 2014 7:12 pm - Voted 10/10


...for telling us your story in such detail and with so much openness, Josh! What happened to you is, of course, one of those things one can never forget as long as one lives...And it's nobody's fault - it was a gruesomely unlucky moment, for both you and Adam...But I can feel that you're strong, and also objective-minded, as to what you can do from now on and what not. And that's very good. Main thing: Keep on living - don't give up the spirit! But I don't think I need to say this to you - I can feel by the way you wrote your story that you won't let this incident and the changes it brought along bring you down. And there are so many ways to happiness - and so many ways to be in close touch with the mountains - that no matter what the odds, one can always find a way. And I think you see it that way, too.
Best wishes to you, Josh, and also with the insurance and the whole financial side!


EricChu - Nov 3, 2014 7:29 pm - Voted 10/10

P. S.:

Some of the other SP members pointed out the necessity of speaking about this side of mountaineering as well, about what can happen to any one of us if we are not careful, and oftentimes even if we ARE careful! I would like to second that by quoting a sentence I read from a German mountaineer: ""A mountain is only yours when you are safely back down in the valley, because before that, you are the mountain's possession!"


StartingOver - Nov 4, 2014 10:35 am - Voted 10/10

Scary Story

Thanks for sharing such a scary and personal story.

Though nowhere near as experienced a climber as you or others on SummitPost, I had my own ordeal after completing a failed attempt on Rainier in 2008. After I returned to my then-home city of Chicago, my lung collapsed, twice, and I had to have surgery. Nothing happened to me on the mountain other than the climb seeming even harder than I had imagined -- which makes me wonder if my lung had already collapsed on the way up, or if the climb is really that hard. Instead, it was just apparently my bad luck as being a thin young male in his early 30s (but not tall, another trait that makes one susceptible to spontaneous pneumothoraxes) and the dramatic change in pressure caused by traveling to high attitude. The lung collapses scared me off of all high-altitude hiking and climbing for some time. My surgeon told me I was fine to go to high altitudes after the surgery, but I was naturally frightened. It is only now that that I am getting the courage and enthusiasm to slowly, and I mean slowly, try hiking again while gradually easing up to higher altitudes. Thus my username "Starting Over."

I love mountains but will almost certainly stick to Class 1 walkups or have guides for all future mountaineering activity.

Sorry to make this comment about me. What happened to you is far scarier and I'm sure you are going through a lot of psychological torment right now. But please don't worry. You'll get through it. The mountains will always be there for you, regardless of what routes you chose to climb them.


Buckaroo - Nov 9, 2014 12:35 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Scary Story

The total altitude gain of Rainier catches many people unaware. It's not the peak altitude it's the total gain that gets you. Many come from 14K peaks like those in Colorado, with 6K high valleys, so only 8K gain. Then they climb Rainier where you start from near sea level, with 14K gain. The human body doesn't acclimatize that fast, anything above 11K on the 2nd day is pushing it. You especially don't want to sleep that high that early.


lcarreau - Nov 4, 2014 1:04 pm - Voted 10/10

Great true-life account ...

Accidents --- can't live with them and can't live without them !

Accidents will always happen ... to somebody. Survival and the strength to survive them are dependent upon each individual ... and the power to choose one's ultimate destiny.

Josh, you already know so. Best wishes for your recovery !

"For everything - turn, turn, turn ...
There is a season - turn, turn, turn ...

And a time to every purpose under Heaven."


mfox79 - Nov 4, 2014 9:20 pm - Hasn't voted

It will get better

Josh, Thanks for the report. I broke my back many years ago in a fall. shattered four vertebrae and spent over a year on my parents couch recovering. Before surgery I was told I'd be lucky to walk again let alone climb again. after physical therapy I am back to playing in the mountains again full time. you will feel some aches and soreness but it will get better. the recovery part is the most difficult, I guess that's where the term patient comes from. I hated the lack of water thing as well and remember allot about my surgery that I had forgotten about. best of luck healing and PM me if I can help.


Thinuwan - Nov 4, 2014 11:51 pm - Hasn't voted

Get well soon!

Glad to hear you are recovering!
Consider yourself lucky.. Could've been alot more worse..

Old School WB

Old School WB - Nov 5, 2014 12:09 pm - Voted 10/10

Rest, recuperate and heal up.

Seems strange to give a story of pain, sorrow and despair a 10 out of 10. I had the chance to meet Josh and Adam (gimpilator) under these unfortunate circumstances. Gimpilator and I have been discussing the opportunity to climb together for some time, and when I learned he was heading up to Alberta with Josh I had high hopes for a couple of cool climbs with the boys. I feel bad the boys had such a hard time at the border, and such a scary situation with their camping site.

Gimpilator had sent me a text about the accident when Josh was first in the hospital, I was having a hectic day at the office and when I first read the text I didn’t understand from whom it came, but when I replied I eventually understood it was Gimpilator and Josh; I felt sick and instantly very worried.

I was able to visit the boys in the hospital and give some comfort and aid to Josh. Poor guy was such a mess and all drugged up from his hand surgery. Considering the pain and dread that poor Josh was in, us three had a great visit, and of course, lots of talk of climbing.

Josh, I wish a strong and steady recovery. Take your time coming back to climbing; you are young and have many decades of adventure ahead of you, rest, recuperate and heal up.


Viewing: 1-20 of 27