70 feet off the ground and you’re in pure autopilot. Elation, exhilaration, slow motion; all the perks of an adrenaline hit are in full effect. 50 feet up and the reality of the situation starts to rear its ugly head, as you realize Sir Issac had a point with his ‘Goes up, must come down’ musings. 30 feet, as things come into focus and despite your best efforts, that rock you scouted earlier is staying firmly in your crosshairs. 20, and the all too literal gravity of the situation sets in.
10, pure survival mode.
5, tunnel vision.
Four days later I walked out of the East Kootenay Regional Hospital.
No wheelchair, no crutch, not even a cast. Just a neon yellow wife beater with the all too ironic statement, ‘You are Beautiful’ plastered across the front. The only shirt that made it out with me from the Sunrise Lodge and a bad joke given the sorry looking state I was in.
Three days later and I’ll be sitting in another clinic, talking to another surgeon, as he tells me that, from an X-Ray perspective, this is one of the worst breaks he’s seen in a long time. A scary thought given the sentence prior he was talking about Kevin Ware, and his now infamous Tib-Fib incident. I’d always wanted to one up a College Basketball All-Star, but this victory was more than a little bitter sweet.
The morning of the crash was all-time to put it lightly. Day seven on a shoot with Nick McNutt, Austin Ross, Keely Kelleher, and the Sweetgrass Productions for their new film ‘Valhalla’. A foot of fresh underfoot, blue skies overhead, and a spine wall called ‘Melting Faces’ as our canvas. Sunrise was served with a side of elusive pink light, as our crew proceeded to put down line after line across the face. One of those days that reminds you why you sleep on more couches than beds, and eat more saltines than sandwiches.
Last lines got called as the light began to leave the face, and we all toured back up on wings of encouragement from our earlier stomps. I knew my line was technical and had some serious exposure, but I thought I’d scouted enough and had it on lock. Turns out I was wrong, about a foot left and 2mph wrong to be exact.
The moments immediately after a serious injury are funny ones. You know something is wrong, that all the gears are not turning properly, but the shock and excitement of the whole thing keeps things veiled. Sometimes mercifully so.
The first systems check was my back. An initial tingle and numbing from tailbone to skull told me this might be game over. A wiggle of the toes and kick of the legs told me I was lucky. Disregarding all my First Aid training I got right to my feet to prove to myself I would walk again. Next I realized I was surrounded by my gear; shovel blade in front of me, skins scattered far to the left, and my snow probe under my boots. I assumed I’d just forgotten to zip my pack up, but would later learn that the impact had literally split my pack into two pieces and blown the shoulder straps completely off the pack body. I don’t have a shred of doubt that it saved my life.
Sore back, throbbing shoulder, and something very wrong with my arm; I decided the endorphins were bound to wear off at any second and started moving. Grabbing a single ski to my left, I clicked in and rode to the bottom of the face. Unclicked, told the crew at the bottom something was wrong with my arm, but that I could get back to the lodge, which was only 400 meters away. They insisted I stay put, but I had seen enough on-hill injuries to know what on-snow aid looked like and made the irresponsible decision to hump it back to the lodge.
I finished limping my way through the boot pack McNutt had set for me, and arrived at the doorstep of the Sunrise Lodge. I was greeted by the caretaker, a former ski patroller, who noted that I was bleeding. I told him it was fine and that it was just my lip, to which he rebutled, ‘That’s not coming from your lip,” as he pointed to the cuff of my jacket. My eyes dropped, and I had to double take as I noted a steady stream of blood coming out of my jacket, eerily similar to sqeezing honey out a bottle. Off with the jacket and a coke can worth of blood made its way to the wood floor, apparently the fracture was compound.
My eyes came back up my once green baselayer, up to my elbow, swollen beyond recognition and kinking one time too many back towards my chest at a very unnatural angle.
The next few minutes were a blur of clothing cutting, pressure applying, question asking, splint making, gear packing, and radio calling. Everyone did their job, had experience and used it well. Before I knew it I was sitting in the back of a helicopter tossing a shakka out to the boys and girls as I was lifted into the air.
The alpine valley I’d called home for the past week disappeared behind me as the infinite expanse of the Selkirk Range opened up in front of us. In an hour I would be told I had shattered my ulna bone into six pieces, and that while at first they though it was the force of impact that dislocated my elbow. It was in fact that their was no longer any pieces big enough to fit into the socket that had caused the dislocation. A blessing in disguise that saved my ligaments from nearly any damage.
A few hours more and I would be getting out of surgery at another hospital. Fitted with six brand new screws, and a large piece of metal wire twisted into the shape of a figure eight. Twenty-three staples sealed the deal, and another six stitches waited for me to be cleared of infection before closing up the two holes where my bone had punched through flesh.
Looking back on the succeeding days in the hospital, waiting to hear that I was cleared of infection, I don’t remember thinking about what I could have done different or what I would do next. The only thing that truly stands out is that my mind kept going back to that helicopter ride out.
Clutching my arm, and staring out the window as we passed over spectacular spines, wild windlips, and virgin couloirs. Through that scratched glass, all I could think about was how I couldn’t wait to get back there. I couldn’t wait to get my next chance to venture into the unknown.