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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

I'm not a Crestone Peak statistic

I'm writing about this in January 2018, but this took place in late August 2017.  The details here are how I remember them today.  Time tends to smooth the edges of memories.  And, when you're bouncing down a mountain, even if briefly, your mind blocks some things out to protect you. 

With my near death experiences, I've found that many memories are tough to recall with clarity, yet some other memories of these incidents are crystal clear.  It always seems to me that the things I remember most clearly are really bizarre things to remember clearly.  For example, I still remember what the water in the Arkansas River tasted like when I nearly drowned in a class IV rapid in 2013. 

Views are spectacular from inside the red gully on Crestone Peak

I've experience many close calls in the mountains.  There are a wide variety of reasons for these close calls.  Sketchy conditions, mental exhaustion, physical exhaustion, poor route finding, incomplete planning, gear failing, geology, and even a careless climbing partner.  None of those were the reason I nearly died on Crestone Peak.  The reason I almost became a statistic on Crestone Peak was my own fault.  I just had a short lapse in concentration.  I was involved in a conversation with some other climbers and I only had about 95% concentration on what my feet were doing.  Then I simply slipped.  That's it.  That's all it takes.   Sometimes it's just a split-second lapse in concentration and the next thing you know you are bouncing off ledges gaining speed down a steep boulder filled gully.


My left knee slammed hard onto a large rock.  The rest of my body sort of rag-dolled and hit the first ledge with a glancing blow.  To the reader I will say, there are two interesting takeaways here.  First, glancing blows on rocks still hurt.  Second, in contrast to what you may be thinking, it was actually unfortunate that this was a glancing blow.  If I had just landed solidly on that ledge I probably would've stopped there, which was about three feet below where I was walking when I slipped and found myself airborne.  Instead of stopping, I was granted a glancing blow by the mountain genie.  Then gravity decided to take me on a short but unexpected ride down Crestone Peak's red gully. 

Looking up Crestone Peak's red gully in the morning. 

My brain was still processing what was happening.  It was asking questions and getting no answers.  All incoming sensory information was used in determining my status.  Most of this information was from the senses you don't normally use; things heard, or smelled, or just pain.  It's as if I was unable to use my eyes during the duration of this fall.  The following thoughts all took place in less than a few seconds in my head.

"What the hell?!?"
"Oh shit, this is going to hurt!!"
"What the fuck is happening?"
"Am I still falling?"
"I think I am still moving... am I still moving?  FUCK, I must still be moving"

I finally came to realize that I was probably still falling.  Or maybe falling is not the right word.  Maybe a better word is bouncing, or sliding, or rolling, or tumbling, or some word that is a combination of all of those. 

"Adam!!"  Kate shouted.

I could tell from the tone in Kate's voice that she was concerned, but not overly concerned.

"Well that's mostly good I think.  I must be ok.  After all Kate sounds concerned but not really distressed."

Then I felt myself skid over another ledge.   I was free falling briefly again.  It was just a few feet, but your body knows when it's falling.  This time Kate and Staci screamed almost in unison. 


Now my ears registered that concern had turned to outright fear.  The "holy-shit-I-might-be-watching-my-friend-bounce-down-a-mountain-and-die" type of fear.

"This is officially NOT FUCKING GOOD!"
"You can't fucking die like this."
"Ahhh, the smell of rock fall...not good."
"Don't be a statistic.  Do you want to be yet another dude who died on Crestone Peak?"
"You've been in so many worse situations than this.  The boulder you had to dodge on Little Bear; the rock that you were standing on that broke off the mountain on Capitol;  nearly drowning in the Arkansas river;  the hellish winter day on Mt. Massive;  nearly getting struck by lightning on the Colorado Trail... twice;  And after all that, you are going to let a foot slipping, on your 58th 14er no-less, take you out?"
"Use friction to slow yourself!"

I gave zero fucks about potential for injury at this point.  Friction is usually a bad idea when it's your body vs. a talus filled gully.  Yet, I knew I was about to encounter something worse if I didn't stop myself immediately.  I heard it in Kate's voice. 

"If I bounce over another ledge and gain even more speed then there's no stopping at that point."
"What the hell will my family think?
"Or will anyone even care that much?"

Survival instinct took over fully at this point.  I was already instinctively grabbing for any hold; rocks, ledges, anything to get a grip on.  Now, in an attempt to slow myself, I was also trying to grab the mountain itself.  Digging into the mountain while tumbling uncontrollably involves digging with hands, feet, legs, elbows, knees, chest,  and even my climbing helmet. 

"Holy shit, am I stopped?"

Then as quickly as it had began, it was over. 

"I stopped!
"Get up slow..."
"Is anything broken?  Can I still walk?"

As I looked up, I heard Joel telling me to not get up too fast.  I assume he was concerned about injuries.  My body was so full of adrenaline at this point I could have probably bench pressed a small Toyota.  My heart was racing and my legs were shaking.  I began my self examination, and gladly only found minor injuries.  My legs were covered with bruises and road rash.  I had some cuts, bruising and acute pain in my right elbow.  And there were numerous cuts, scrapes, and bumps on my hands and knees. 

[EDIT 4/2018 - As I prepare for my hike of the PCT, I still suffer with nerve damage throughout my right thigh that was a result of the fall I took on this mountain]

Before I fell, Kate had been walking right next to me.  Now she was about 20-30 feet above me.  Her face reflected my own mixed feelings of terror and relief.

I looked around and discovered that I was a couple feet below where Joel was.  Joel had been ahead of us as we were descending and he had been about 30 feet below us when this all started. 

Then, I finally caught a glimpse of what was probably the root of the reason I had heard concern turn to fear as I was falling.  Just below where I was now standing was a steep drop of about 100 feet which led to yet another series of ledges.  If I hadn't stopped where I had, I would have bounced over that cliff and more than likely would have been the end.

As I calmed myself, we all re-lived the harrowing experience by sharing each person's perspective.  Kate and Staci had been in a position to watch this all happen, while Joel only heard most of it and saw the tail end of it.

Kate and I on the summit of Crestone Peak.

We had all just left the summit of Crestone Peak and were making our way down to the start of the traverse over to Crestone Needle when I had fell.  After some discussion and examination of my minor injuries, I decided my injuries weren't bad enough to stop me from doing the Crestone Traverse.  So we agreed to move forward with the original plan.

The old phrase of "getting back on the horse that bucked you" is certainly the truth when you fall on Crestone Peak and still continue forth with doing the Crestone Traverse.  Strangely, I didn't really have any fear as we were doing the traverse.  That said, after a close call, things are different for a while.  Sunshine feels warmer.  Wild flowers smell better.  Smiles from others seem more sincere and last longer.  A high-five or a hug with a friend has more meaning.  Every caring word you hear is more touching. 

The rest of our day can only be described as unforgettable, exhilarating, and amazing.  Somehow we even managed to make it back to camp the very second a hailstorm hit the area.

Somewhere along the Crestone Traverse, I lead the way as if I hadn't nearly died a couple hours prior.

Joel and Staci crossing a tricky spot on the Crestone Traverse.

Views of the Crestones and the upper South Colony Lake. 
This picture was taken the following day when returning from a climb of Obstruction Peak.

I'm not a Crestone Peak statistic.  So I got that going for me, which is nice.

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