Curveballs (or boulders as they may be)
Sometimes in life, in businesses, and especially in entrepreneurship, you get hit with something unexpected. Plans and decisions have been made. Actions taken and implemented. Momentum is moving you and your life and the things within your control towards a specific objective. An objective that you’re trying to reach. But then the curveball comes. A curveball that is outside of your control. And all bets are off.
Well, on Saturday June 13th, I was thrown an EPIC curveball.
But before I get to that, let me tell you about my Momentum. A group of us–me, Dallen, Liz, Michelle, Taylor, Tyler, Ruth–planned to climb Mt. Rainier from June 25-June 29. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s not an easy task, climbing Rainier. It’s 14,411 feet high. It has a greater base-to-summit elevation gain than 28,251-foot K2 and has 26 glaciers pouring down it’s flanks. You climb more than 10,000 feet up (and back down). (By way of comparison, if you’ve hiked Mt. Timpanogos here in UT, you go up 4,400 ft.) The weather is notoriously dicey. It’s something a lot of backpackers/climbers/mountaineers put on their ‘life list’ as something that has to be done.
I embraced this goal/objective with 110% effort. I was “training to climb Mt. Rainier” and I started working hard. Harder than I even really needed to, but it was my motivation, my momentum. I started trail running, hiking up steep and long trails with 40 and 50 lb packs full of weights and water on my back, mountain biking up hill, walking on my treadmill at 20 degree incline with my weight vest on. During April, May, and first of June, I ended up getting in the best physical shape of my life. I lost 10 lbs. I could go run 10 miles on a trail. It was crazy, I never thought I’d run and enjoy it. It was great. I even entered a 1/2 marathon trail run in Sept in Ogden and was going to start a 3 month training regimen for it as soon as I got back from Rainier.
Needless to say, I had a lot of Momentum in my life towards being active and in shape and towards climbing Mt. Rainier. All the plans and decisions and actions and early mornings etc, etc were hurtling me and my life towards that mountain and beyond….
Part of training for Mt. Rainier was our our final overnight group trip to climb Mt. Nebo, the highest peak in Utah’s Wasatch mountains in southern Utah county. (Jay and Peter had joined our Rainier group to climb Nebo and learn glacier travel).
I had never hiked/climbed Nebo, so this was a fun trip and adventure in its own right. We were going to camp on a snow field at the bottom of the North cirque and then climb the North Couloir to the summit while practicing glacier travel techniques and overnight test all our gear and arrangements.
At around 2:00 p.m. on Saturday June 13th, I and 5 others were standing in a snow gully on the flanks of Mt. Nebo while we waited for the 3 others in our party to catch up. After a pretty severe mid-day thunderstorm thwarted our Nebo summit attempt by dumping sleet/rain/grauple, we had turned back at the base of the couloir and were in the midst of retreating, traversing, and bushwhacking back to our cars when we arrived at that point in the gully.
I was standing roughly in the middle of the 30 degree sloped gully facing down hill. Tyler and Jay were to the far side of the gully, Michelle (red jacket), Taylor (sitting), and Peter (yawning) on the near. I’d kicked in some steps and it was nice to be able to stand on something other than the steep snud (snow and mud mix we’d been walking on) or loose rocks or wet and slippery branches and logs–it was pretty rough terrain getting down into the gully. So there I was, minding my own business, and just as Dallen/Ruth/Liz came to the edge of the gully, Michelle yelled out, “Rock!! Boulder!!” There was no warning, no sound of it coming, which is very odd in the mountains. Luckily, she had been facing mostly uphill and saw it emerge from the mist, barreling and bouncing down the gully. I had just enough time to lift my right leg and start to look up the gully and start to pivot like I was going to step to the left and then face up hill. That boulder slammed into my right leg right about back of knee level. I didn’t ever really see it. I do remember seeing fast movement out of my “peripherals”. They described the boulder as big as a car tire. It was not a little rock. From what they tell me, it hit me so hard it kicked my leg in the air like I was doing a karate kick, spun me around the 180 degrees I was starting to make on my own, and knocked me a good many feet down the gully. I started sliding, and was attempting to self arrest myself, and yelled, “I can’t stop!” when Tyler, who had seen the rock and not knowing where it’d bounce next was actually moving towards me as it came down, jumped on my back and stopped me from sliding any further. It probably missed hitting Tyler as well by a couple feet at most.
Our fun overnight training trip just turned into a wilderness rescue effort, and my Mt. Rainier/Best Shape of my Life momentum just got derailed.
My good friend Dallen, who is an American Alpine Institute certified mountain guide trained in wilderness EMT, and Michelle, who is nearly finished with her residency as a Dr., quickly got to me in that gully and took charge of the triage. (to have those two and 6 others for manpower ended up sort of a being a dream team to deal with an errant boulder and leg collision in the middle of the woods) We knew my leg was hurt pretty bad, and at first, thought it was just bruising, possibly broken. But then I moved my leg and there was blood on the snow, so we checked again, and I had a pretty bad gash on the back of my knee. Out comes the bandana and duct tape, and then the Ridgerest for a splint.
Everyone split up my pack and gear, and we got me onto a pad since between the shock and sitting on the snow, I was starting to get pretty cold pretty fast. Then we had to figure how to get me out. I tried to put some weight on it; not a good idea. We were probably about 45 minutes of nasty bushwhacking away from our cars parked along the Mona Pole road. That turned into around 4 hours of getting me down. For the first part, Dallen would set up anchors with pickets in the snow and belay me while I slid down the gully on my butt. At the end of the rope, we’d reset, and go again. We made good time, especially when the gully was steeper. As the gully flattened, I’d pull myself along with my good leg and arms. When we hit tree branches or one particular nasty poker bush spot, they helped me hop over them. But then the snow ran out.
We then had to get me up and out of this gully, across another one, and then try to get up a pretty open side hill to gain a ridge where we hoped we could move me more quickly, as this section going in was just nasty, steep, and way overgrown. These pictures show a gully I believe that is just to the left of the one the accident happened in that we went up Friday, and it shows a side hill we came up Friday very similar to the one we had to cross.
I put the distance to maybe be 200 yards, and I bet it took us the better part of 90 minutes or more to get me that far. We tried having me hop on one leg between 2 guys, but the slope was so steep and it was muddy and slippery, just wasn’t working well. Tried to have me just grab around Peter’s neck and have him carry me. Didn’t work. After a while, we somehow got me over to that side hill, where Dallen then just rigged up a Z pulley system from the top of the ridge, had me sit down, hooked my harness up, and literally just hauled and dragged me up that hill on my butt, across the rocks and dirt and all. (as a side note, 2 days after the incident, I discovered my butt was sore. Upon further investigation, sure enough, I had a quarter sized raw and bleeding spot where the dragging got through my soft shell)
At that point, I was cold, I was spent, I was bleeding more than ever, and I started to get scared–it seemed like it was taking so long. Dallen and Michelle talked some sense into me and calmed me down, we talked that even if we went for help, it’d be many hours and the best thing would be to just keep getting me down the mountain, so they got to work building a stretcher/liter to carry me with. They took 4 trekking poles, 2 on each side with handles opposed, and lashed them together. Then they wove the climbing rope between the poles, put another Ridgerest on top, and we had something they could carry me with. Dallen, Taylor, Peter, Tyler ditched their packs and started carrying me down that ridge. Jay, Ruth, Liz starting scouting for paths of least resistance while shuttling packs down the hill. Eventually, Michelle jumped in to help too, and we have 5 of them hauling me. I’m not a big guy, but I’m definitely not light either–I’m 175, and with all my boots/clothing and the stretcher, they were hauling 200 pounds across what can only be described as just rough, rough terrain.
We were able to start covering ground pretty quickly (comparatively) with the stretcher setup. Here’s a couple videos showing them hauling me:
Once we made it to a little meadow we could drive the car to (sorry forest service, we did drive it up a closed old overgrown road, literally right over the little flexi sign that said no motorized vehicles, but hey, I was bleeding and sitting on the wet grass), we loaded me up in the back of my Xterra.
Taylor started driving down the Mona Pole road headed to the E.R. in Nephi, which was about 90 minutes away. Michelle was riding shotgun. That road is rough, and this is where the pain really started hitting me. Peter was sitting in the back trying to help hold me from sliding/bouncing around too much. Finally, we made it the E.R., and I was able to relax a bit, although not knowing what I’d done to my leg sure was still worrisome, but little by little I started finding out what all had been busted up in my leg. I’m still not completely sure we know; to this day, we don’t know if I have any damage in my knee.
(A way interesting side story is that Michelle is based in Ogden where she’s finishing her residency, but prior to our Nebo trip, she had been assigned to the Central Valley Medical Center in Nephi for 3 wks–we met her on the side of the frontage road in Mona that Friday. So when we walked into the E.R., Michelle knew all the nurses, knew all the Drs. She also handled the sewing me up project. Still in her climbing boots and outdoor gear. It was a glorious hybrid and intersection of wilderness medicine with a cutting edge medical facility.)
Videos from the E.R.:
Yes, that is my calf. No, it doesn’t float in air.
What my leg looked like after bruising set in after a few days.
Once we were done, they loaded me in the Xterra, and we headed back to Orem/Lehi. I got home about 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning. I can honestly say that Dallen, Michelle, Taylor, Tyler, Peter, Jay, Liz, and Ruth performed some super-human feats to get me out of that situation. It was a very long, very tiresome day for everyone. Thanks guys!!
That all happened just over 3 wks ago. Since then, we hit the E.R. once for a compartment syndrome scare, again for a blood clot scare, had two ultrasounds, have had several Dr. apts, and have started physical therapy (I call it Party Time, some refer to it as Pain and Torture). For the first 2 wks, I was basically laying in bed, laying on the couch, or moving to/from the bathroom. Luckily (besides that it gets basted hot on my lap) I’ve been able to work a lot on my MacBook Pro. My leg is getting better, I’ve started hobbling on it the last few days, and my foot flexibility is coming along, but that’s easier said than done since my calf was so messed up. I’ve watched as all my hard word and training have atrophied away far more quickly than I could have imagined. Even on my non-injured leg, my muscles look 1/2 as big and just sort of hang there, the muscle tone is shot. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t really walk for over 3 weeks.
Needless to say, I’ve had to adjust my plans, decisions, priorities, objectives, and momentum. I have had to re-prioritize a lot of things, since my time/energy to do stuff took a big hit. But I’ve also had to realize how incredibly lucky I was. Even still hitting my leg, that size of rock could have done so much more damage if it’d have hit from the side, or the front, or even behind with weight on my leg. Let alone if that thing had hit me in the back or heaven forbid in the head. And we had 9 of us to rescue me; one a Dr., one a mountain guide, and 6 tough as nails.
Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. This is the longest blog post I’ve ever done, and if you’ve read it all and watched the videos, you now know most of my Mt. Nebo mountain rescue story. I can think of 100 life / leadership / entrepreneurship lessons from this experience. Maybe I’ll draw on them for future posts. But the main thing I’ve solidified in my mind is that you can’t control what you can’t control. You can only only accept the reality you’ve been dealt. And then get to work moving your momentum of life to align.
I must go now since I have lots of exercises to do. “Pain is my friend” is my new mantra. Especially if I’m going to recover enough to get back out hiking with the kids and complete a 1/2 marathon trail run in September. ****** Update 7-10-09 Had an MRI today, found out that boulder tore my ACL as well. Not doing 1/2 marathon, but I’ll be snowshoeing in January, that’s my next rehab window!! ******
(Note: Thanks so much to Jay Fichialos for several of the pictures and videos!!!)
(Final Note: Dallen, Liz, Taylor, Tyler, Ruth, and Michelle went to Rainier and all 6 of them summited on June 27th with great weather and in fine form. My Rainier summit day will happen sometime soon. )