Part of my progress plan from breaking my leg at 11,000 feet on Twin Sisters Peak was to return to the spot where it had occurred. Yesterday, I did just that joined by my wife, Diane. It was a moment of gratitude.
As we crossed tree line, I spotted the gnarly tree trunk that had served as my marker for hours that afternoon as I laid in the rocks. I looked at it often before shifting my gaze to tree line hoping to see help arrive.
Now the hike to tree line had taken almost twice as long as it did pre-incident, but speed was not the objective. Diane and I talked nonstop the entire way about anything and everything other than why we were there.
My first big hike since the incident was a 10 mile hike to Mt. Ida, 12,865’ in Rocky Mountain National Park on August 16 to honor Ida Arnette, my mom, who died from Alzheimer’s in 2009. I try to do this every year and was not going to miss this year – broken leg or not. It was slow and arduous, a plodding pace of one mile per hour but I made it.
That day the key moment came when I had to cross an area of small to medium size rocks and boulders created by the freeze-thaw cycle breaking down larger boulders above. This centuries old process created a large area called a talus field. I have crossed many talus fields over my 25 years of hiking and climbing and have always enjoyed the rhythm of hopping and dancing from one stone to the next, a song playing in my head and a game of how fast can I cross.
That day near Ida, everything was different. I had visions of laying in the rocks on Twin Sisters, of looking across the talus field at eye level. That day each step was slow, calculated and hesitant. My confident dance had turned to an insecure crawl.
As I have completed more hikes near my Northern Colorado home, my confidence has increased. A few days ago, I did a moderate rock scramble to the top of Horsetooth Rock. My climbing partner that day, Barry, kept a careful watch over every movement on the class four section. I felt I made more progress that day.
You see, Dr. Hale had repaired my leg but it was up to me to rebuild my confidence.
As I walked towards the spot where the sudden wind gust lifted me off my feet, hurling me down the rocky mountain side, flipping me head over feet; I began a running commentary on what happened.
“This is where Jim and I stopped to take off our snowshoes. The wind was blowing hard, maybe 40 miles per hour but not enough for us to be worried that something crazy might happen – like one of us get blown off our feet.” Diane listened intensly.
We walked slowly along the well worn trail that was randomly covered in rocks. I was careful to avoid stepping on one as any twist of my lower right leg generated significant feedback from my “Team tibia, fibula, ligaments, ankle and fascia”. Thanks to the titanium rod my leg was stable but my mind continued to consider the possibility of another incident.
I reached the point on the trail just above the tree trunk.
“This is where it happened.” I said in a hushed voice. My emotions were complex – a mixture of apprehension and peace. The wind picked up about that time causing me to glance uphill unsure of what I expected to see. Diane continued by side as she has for several years now.
I gingerly took a step off the trail towards my tree. Each step was a test of confidence. Each move tested my resolve. Each moment was a measure of my resilience.
I went downhill maybe 20 or 30 feet until I found a small depression in the rocks. I stared for a moment with a vision of seeing myself lying there. My head was uphill, my right leg in the air, my hands reaching out towards it, my anguished cries being lost in the winds.
As I sat where I had laid, I looked back towards the trail. It had all happened so quickly, in a blink of an eye. My training for Dhaulagiri was over, perhaps my dreams of climbing my remaining 8000 meter peaks and using my climbing to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s. Had it all ended here?
My mind shifted to all those who had helped me that day and I began to say their names. The list was long but as I said each one, pausing to see their face, my sense of peace grew.
This would not be an ending but a new beginning.
Diane and I stayed at my spot for almost an hour, talking quietly, sharing our feelings, processing the moment – then and now. She offered a Metta.
I was so proud of her. She had not hiked at this level for years. She told me that what kept her going was the purpose of the day, to support me. When she became tired, she thought of all those who had come to my aid that late Friday afternoon, pushing through the cold temps, deep snow and high winds. Her gratitude to those was boundless.
We took pictures and made a video and began our walk back down. Our spirits lifted and confidence rose.
All three of my fractures have healed. The area around my ankle gets tight when pushed but the feedback has reduced to a soft murmur. I listen carefully to my body and have embraced when to push and when to pause. I’m content to make progress at my own pace and in my own time.
And yet my thoughts return to another challenge. To return to my purpose and passion in this phase of my life. I feel I haven’t let them go, but had to press the pause button. Deep in my spirit, I know what I do.
Ida always coached me to not give up. She said setbacks were just a time to rest, recover and renew. They were not a reason to stop. Today I am surrounded by my loving family and friends who give the same advice.
I like big dreams – they keep me motivated and alive. I like big challenges, they fuel the work needed to push my limits.
World Alzheimer’s day is September 21. I will hike on that day to honor Ida and all those with who live with the disease and care for others.
It is a day of celebration, memories and new beginnings. I invite you to also take a walk, hike or climb that day. If you use CharityMiles you can generate a donation for Alzheimer’s just by walking. Or you can make a donation directly to one of the non-profits I support.
I remain positive, motivated and excited about my next step. Thank you for coming along.
Memories are Everything
On February 10, 2017 while training for the 8000 meter peak, Dhaulagiri, a sudden wind gust estimated near 100 mph swept me off my feet and into a talus field on a simple walk up mountain of Twin Sisters Peak, 11,4327′, in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colorado.
I described the entire incident in my post Broken Leg: I don’t want to be in the Rocks.
When I was slammed into the rocks near 11,000 feet that Friday afternoon, my lower right leg was broken in multiple places.
The tiba had an angular fracture and the fibula was also broken. My left leg had a puncture wound. My nasal cavity was broken as well. The injuries required two operations under full anesthesia and a five day stay in the hospital.
Jim cared for me over four hours as I lie in the rocks and it took another five hours for SARs to evacuate me off the mountain.
- Broken Leg: I Don’t Want to be in the Rocks
- Broken Leg Update: One Month Out
- Broken Leg Update: Two Months Out
- Broken Leg Update: Three Months Out
- Broken Leg Update: Five Months Out
- Broken Leg: Return to Twin Sisters
- Broken Leg Update: Eight Months Out
- Broken Leg Update: A Setback and a Plan
- Broken Leg Update: A Year Later and Future Climbing Plans
- Broken Leg Update: Ready to Jump (again)