This is my account of an accident I had a couple of weeks ago. It started as a way to work through what happened, to process it even though I felt OK mentally. From there I kept working on it and thought it could be interesting to share. It was a humbling experience and has forced me to take a step back and consider how I look at the risk associated with climbing, and of overconfidence.
For some, this might be hard to read. If you have had a climbing accident that you still have not come to terms with this might not be for you.
In the middle of April, I experienced my first (and hopefully last) ground fall. It was relatively short but enough to keep me grounded for several weeks. As I’m writing this I’m not fully recovered but another couple of weeks and I should be climbing the walls again. Literally, not figuratively as I am sometimes doing during this period of downtime. It all went down in Skeviks grotta, nice crag by the way, on a beautiful spring day. The snow was coming down and the sun had been shining just minutes before. Yeah, a beautiful Swedish spring day. Sorry, back to the story.It all happened so fast. I was totally unprepared for a fall. I lost my footing and fell hands-free backward… On my chest was the purple C4 0.75 I had placed as my second pro. I looked up and tried to understand what had gone wrong.
It all happened so fast. I was totally unprepared for a fall. I lost my footing and fell hands-free backward. All I can really remember was looking down as I sailed past the sling connecting the rope to the last pro. “This is gonna be a scary fall” was all I had time to think before I heard the “ping” of the pro ripping, moments before I felt the impact of my back against the rock. Suddenly I was lying on the ground, my belayer rushing towards me. Understanding that I had fallen and potentially hurt myself badly, I tried to breathe. I could force the air out of my lungs but hardly get any back in. Each breath was accompanied by a loud moaning. Afterward, I was told it sounded like something out of a horror movie and I understand the fear my friends must have felt for me hearing it. I was fully occupied being still and forcing air into my lungs, trying to calm my breathing down. Wiggling fingers and toes. Yeah, still feeling them. Not paralyzed yet, best to keep it that way. No twisting, no sudden movements. My Helmet was still attached and choked me a little bit but I manage to unstrap it myself. On my chest was the purple C4 0.75 I had placed as my second pro. I looked up and tried to understand what had gone wrong.
While all this was going through my head my belayer had already started taking care of me: “be still”, “Breath”, “are you OK? Can you hear me?” No, I’m not OK but at least I was able to breathe again, kinda. I got an extra jacket to keep me warm while my two other friends joined us, bailing from the route leaving all their gear hanging. “I’m calling the ambulance, you meet them by the road!” “I’ll run to the road, call the ambulance”.
They got it under control, even if they’re stressed. At this point, I’m probably calmest of the four even though I’m worried something might be seriously damaged. Complete focus to keep breathing and trying to feel what’s wrong inside doesn’t leave room for anxiety. The breathing is shallow but ok. I don’t seem to be bleeding anywhere. My buddies take care of me; I’m in safe hands.
It takes five people carrying and one to lead the way over loose rocks and tree trunks to get me from the crag. I did not picture my first helicopter ride like this. I can barely glimpse the gray sky through the window. “First time in a helicopter?” the medic asks.
Once there’s nothing left but waiting, they try to understand what happened: How far up was I? We try to judge the distance, maybe six meters up. Could have been worse, and I bounced on the steep ledge about halfway down, that probably “cushioned” the fall. I missed the two small boulders to either side of me, lucky. Where does it hurt? Most of my back and my left hip, I remember the air being forced out by the impact to my back but can’t say when or where it happened. Pretty sure I’ve broken a rib or two.
We hear a helicopter and moments later we see it flying in low over us. One of my friends runs and direct them to land at a nearby field. All of a sudden there’s medics all around, there are even a couple of firemen. Now everything seems to happen at once. The same questions are repeated; Where does it hurt? What happened? How far did you fall? Then I get a neck brace and they get me on a stretcher and strap me in for the ride.
It takes five people carrying and one to lead the way over loose rocks and tree trunks to get me from the crag. I did not picture my first helicopter ride like this. I can barely glimpse the gray sky through the window. “First time in a helicopter?” the medic asks. I reply something affirmatively and asks if it’s ok to close my eyes for a bit. “Do that, we’re at the hospital in ten minutes” he shouts over the roar of the engine.
Shortly after we land on the roof of the hospital. They roll me through corridors and we’re met by a crowd in an operating room. They all have their roles. I am amazed by the speed at which they check my lungs, my clothes are cut open and a third person wants to know where it hurts and how much. A small twinge of regret for my clothes but they’ll hear no complaints from me. Suddenly they scatter and I get X-rayed, then back at it. I don’t know how long it took but all of a sudden they got me in the CT-scanner to check my spine, brain and everything else for damage.
Four to five hours later I’m on my way home in company of my friends. No fractures, a couple of Alvedon and plenty of sore muscles. I was lucky, it could have ended quite differently. Two painful days later I got a call from the hospital. Apparently, I had three fractured ribs they forgot to mention, as well as a prescription for heavy painkillers. I guess we all make mistakes sometimes. Oh yeah, some minor lung damage they told me two weeks later…
It’s always good to be prepared, take a first-aid course or why not learn how to handle common traumas associated with climbing? I’m glad to have friends that keep calm in a stressed situation. Thank you guys, I’m proud of you!