Over the holidays, I went to Utah to do some ice climbing with a friend of mine. Ice climbing is like rock climbing yet on frozen waterfalls. Yes, water does freeze into water falls. Of course, in cold places. Here’s a picture of one of those climbs, The Fang, Provo Canyon, Utah, 400′ tall, pitch one of three:
Some of the climbs we did were 650′ tall, so imagine pulling yourself up an icicle for 650′ vertical feet. Now add in the cold, limited sunlight, snow, weather, changing ice conditions, and you can see the importance of moving quickly, AND EFFICIENTLY. After spending the majority of a day hiking into and climbing a large icicle, without much option to back out other than down climb (which is never fun), efficiency is paramount to preserving energy and moving quickly thru a climb. My point, efficiency is important everywhere in everything we do.
While I try to keep these blog topics focused on energy ,sustainability and data center topics, when something significant happens in ones life, it seems prudent to share it. This last weekend, I went ice climbing at Eagle Falls, which is a small ice climb near Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe. I’ve climbed there several times before, led routes, set up top ropes, and everything else. Here is a picture of me climbing the cliff from years ago:
However, this Saturday was different. Following the one hour hike in, I arrived with my party of six and two other about equal-sized parties at the base of the climbs. With so many people to climb on a few routes, I rushed to lead a route up one of the steepest sections, setting up the route with ice screws, which my partner, Tony, would remove upon climbing up after me, and then we would establish the route as a top rope for others to use. Here is a picture of me on the route:
I quickly climbed up the 40-50′ cliff to the snowy ledge at top, which was very precarious to crest, proceeded up to a tree in which I was going to set up an anchor, upon which one of the other climbers (Blake) offered my use of his anchor already set up around the same tree. This anchor was ready to go, so I intended on clipping myself into it and belaying Tony from atop this snowy slope above the cliff.
As I sat about 15′ from the edge of the cliff, up a snowy slope, I tied in to protect myself while setting up an anchor system to protect me and Tony while he climbed. However, I rushed, and quickly put Tony on belay without properly tying myself in, doubling up the anchors into one system, and then double-checking it, as I would always do. I rushed because there were so many people at the climb, I wanted to be sure they all had time to climb. I rushed on their behalf but certainly not at their request, while not-fully completing my own safety check list. I goofed, and I goofed big. I realized the error as Tony had already climbed for a few minutes, and, since he couldn’t hear me nor we could see each other, and stopping his climbing to down climb was dangerous for him, I asked Joe, who had just reached the area atop the cliff where I was via a different ice route, to use a rope I had to tie around a tree and bring it to me to clip into my harness while I belayed Tony, keeping him safe and me from getting pulled off the cliff should he fall. I also dug the heels of my crampons further into the snow, creating an alpine-style anchor with my body in the fresh snow in case needed, hoping it would be enough to hold Tony should he take a fall.
Before Joe even got to the tree, I felt myself getting pulled down the slope at amazing speed. I pressed my crampon heels into the soft snow, trying to stop this rapid, sliding descent, but to no avail. Not realizing at this time that I had tied into the anchor in a spot that would not protect me following the beginning of my belay of Tony, I kept expecting the anchor to grab my harness, pulling me and Tony to a stop. As I slide within a few feet of the cliff’s edge, I dug my right elbow into the slope in an alpine-style arrest in hopes of arresting my slide while continuing to brake the rope with my right hand for Tony, expecting the anchor to stop me, and then Tony via me, at any moment.
Next thing I saw was what looked like the icy cliff flying upward to my left, realizing that I was falling over the cliff. Still expecting the anchor to stop me at any moment, I continued to brake Tony’s rope with a tight fist, expecting an abrupt stop to slam me into the icy wall, bracing for the collusion and the pulling weight of Tony as we both got stopped by the anchor, with Tony hanging from my harness. I wondered why wasn’t the anchor stopping me? I thought this many times during this 2-3 second journey towards the ground. I couldn’t figure out why until about 10 mins later. But about a second later, I came to a very immediate stop. I was dazed, confused, and looking up at the sky. I wondered what happened for about a second, thinking I must had stopped on a snowy ledge of the ice slope, only to realize I had collided with the ground in nearly the same spot I left merely 10-15 minutes before to start my climb. I worried about Tony, looked around, saw him 6′ away looking at me with a confused look. I asked him if he was OK; he replied, thankfully, that he was fine, and asked how I was. I responded, I think, that I was OK but hurt. (Very thankfully, as guilt would ride me for my entire life, Tony was perfectly fine, with my slide at the top slowing his descent until he was about 10′ from the ground, landing softly into fresh snow.)
Several people preparing to start their climb rushed over to check me. Before they could say anything, perhaps they too were dazed, I checked for falling debris from above, saw that I was fairly safe but too close to the cliff to be fully safe in case someone or something fell, yet, I was not ready to move yet and knew I needed to check myself for injuries before proceeding with movement. I wiggled my toes, fingers, moved my hands, my legs, and realized that they all felt fine. My helmet seemed in place, my neck and back did not hurt–was it that I could not feel them or were they OK? I thought about if this was what friend Kirk felt upon breaking his back following a mountain bike injury just five months earlier. As people checked me out and asked how I was, I knew I must had broke some ribs or hurt something on my left side, for it was in pain and difficult to breathe. The other climbers felt my neck, back, and rest of body for injuries. Remarkably, all seemed OK but everyone was unsure if I should move, including myself, but I did not feel safe where I was and wanted badly to walk around and see how I felt. I asked to be unconnected from this rope that just pulled me off the cliff, just to be sure it was not going to pull me along anywhere else. I asked for help getting up, and after several minutes of questions as to my status, everyone was scared but agreed to help me up. Thankfully, several of the climbers there were trained as Wilderness First Responders, like a back-country EMT, so they knew what to ask and what to look out for. I stood up with help from these fine folks pulling me up, seeing that my back and neck were kept relatively safe.
I moved down the slope about 25′ from the cliff bottom, where several fine folks (Mike, Ryan, Valerie, Jen, and others) checked me more thoroughly for signs of back and neck injuries, trauma, internal bleeding, shock, head injuries, etc. We exposed my chest, ribs, back and neck, while they prodded me and asked how it felt. Everything except my ribs seemed fine, and they hurt so bad it made it very painful to stand or walk, which I did to get to this spot. Still wanting to be sure, they had me lay down, made a seat in the snow for me, put some jackets and things down to keep my backside from getting too cold against the snow, bundled me up in hats, jackets and fleece neck gaiters to keep me warm from the briskly falling snow. While I lay there, they had four people walk quickly back to the trailhead, a one hour walk in deep snow and steep slopes, to call 911 as well as bring back a sled to carry me out in, as everyone was expecting to have to carry me out of there or have a helicopter rescue.
As I laid there, the folks listed above along with members of my own team, Tony, LiHan and Joe, brought me drink, food and more insulation to keep me warm. Here is a picture I took of my party as we hiked in:
The crew also tested my mental state with several challenging questions, including three unrelated words to remember, which I still do: equator, raspberry and bee-hive (I worked hard to remember these words amongst all of the action taking place). After about 20-30 minutes, I was getting cold laying in the snow, and felt it best to try to walk out to not only warm myself, but also speed the rescue effort back to civilization. The crew wanted to be sure I was OK to do this, after all, about 5 minutes after the fall, I did go into a semi-unconscious state for about 1 minute, and this was a 40-50′ fall to ground, a very serious collusion (traveling about 40 mph to immediate stop). However, it seemed I either had remarkable cat-like reflexes, bounced off an edge of the slope, the rope pulled me around, or I had several little angels fly in and turn me around, pointing my backside into a soft spot in the snow, for two people saw me my fall and said I went off the cliff face down, which would likely lead to much more serious injuries. I like to think it was the later of these possible explanations, for it took less than a second for me to hit the ground once I left the cliff-edge, seemingly not enough time to turn myself around midair.
So, I got up, tried walking, and it hurt like … as bad as could be imagined. On a scale of 10, with 10 being screaming pain, it was about an 8-9, and nearly a 10 at times. Plus, I could barely breathe, with even the shallowest of breathes being immensely painful. Nonetheless, I decided to walk out and everyone else agreed after much consternation and concern for my safety. So the crew donned me with snow shoes, bundled me up, provided water and other drink and fed me, and armed me with poles to aid my balance. Although my balance seemed perfectly fine, the challenging conditions could easily put me into a slide, or I could loose my balance and fall, causing great pain or more injury. The crew even had someone breaking new trail on the downhill side of the kicked in trail just in case I passed out and fell down hill, causing more challenges for me and my aiders. We walked out of the canyon, crossing the creek, thru the large boulder field with post-holes from our walk in, across frozen Eagle Lake, up and down hills, along slopes, thru deep snow, alongside steep canyons, ducking tree branches, and my crew stayed with me, in front of me, behind me and beside me, checking me along the entire route, asking me how I felt: “fine but it hurts like..(insert bad word)”. Even checking my pulse every 10 minutes and recording it. I did slide once down a slope, falling, and the landing with the ground and getting back up were immensely painful, but overall, my spirits were very good considering the care and help of so many wonderful people. After all, they carried my 60 pounds of climbing gear out on their backs and watched over me like mother’s of a toddler, ensuring my care and safety every step of the way out. About two hours later, we met with four EMTs coming in for me, who checked me out, and we decided I would keep walking out. About 10 minutes later, we met about 12 search and rescue professionals coming in to carry out an immobile, back-injured climber, expecting the worse, not realizing my condition was much better than expected. We walked another 15 minutes to arrive at the trailhead with quite the scene of flashing red lights. With falling snow and very low visibility, thankfully for the expense and unnecessary need of it, a helicopter rescue was not conducted. But the over dozen rescuers, two snowmobiles, and an ambulance waiting at the trailhead was enough. The ambulance crew checked me out, said they would like to take me to the hospital, but my grandpa’s stubborn (and frugal) genes, probably it was also his physically tough genes that also helped me take the hit of the fall, made me ask how much. Upon hearing about $600, and that my friends were capable of driving me to the hospital, and my condition was stable and seemed fine by the paramedics, I decided to ride in with my friends driving me in my car instead of coming in with sirens and horns.
When I arrived at the hospital, I was already famous as they were ready for me, in which a couple of x-rays and a quick yet thorough exam by Doc Curtis revealed broken ribs on left side, a very bruised right arm (maybe from rope or slope slide), and a cut on my face under my right eye (unknown cause of that one). They quickly assessed that I was a type A personality and sent me home with a prescription for pain killer (which they bet I wouldn’t take–for the nurses and doctor, I did take a few the first two days to help me sleep at night). Since then, my back and neck have been very sore I gather from the whiplash of the ground collusion, my ribs hurt bad but are getting better, and I have not run, hiked, biked or swam yet like I figured I would do at least once by my sixth day after the fall. Turns out I am not as tough as I once was, or the ribs hurt more than expected, or I’ve had very little time due to work responsibilities–a bit of a mix of those.
So, there is not much in this post about energy (other than the physics of gravity) or data centers (be safe), and for that I apologize, but there is a very keen lesson here: take your time, especially when it comes to the safety of yourself and others. This goes for daily activities like driving. And anytime you are unsure, or it is very important to have it right, double check, triple check, and/or have another person check. We all don’t hang from large icicles for fun, but we all come into many experiences where this lesson can be applied daily. So be sure to keep yourself safe so you don’t have to own up to your mistake on the Internet like I have here. Be safe, take care, and enjoy life! I’m very thankful following this experience to have little angels looking out after me. Thank you everyone who helped take care of me following this fall on Feb 6, 2010. Thank you, and treat everyone kindly–you might need those karma angels some day.