Broken Leg Update: Eight Months Out

Part of my “progress” plan from breaking my leg in February is to set measurable, meaningful goals that cause me to push myself to my limits. Well this week was a complete victory that both built me up and tore me down.

I thrive on goals. Without them I feel lost, drifting with no purpose. Thus the last several months have been critical to my continued progress and perhaps one day back to where I was on February 9, 2017 – the day before.

In late July I had set these goals:

  • Walk a mile three times a week then to hike up my local hill, Horsetooth Mountain, 7,260′ on my birthday.
  • In August to return to Twin Sisters.
  • In September, climb Longs Peak keeping my annual summit pace in tact.


Today, October 26, this is my report card:

  • I got up Horsetooth on my 61st birthday on July 27.
  • On August 16, I competed a 10 mile hike to Mt. Ida, 12,865’ to honor Ida Arnette, my mom, who died from Alzheimer’s in 2009.
  • Then on September 15, I returned to Twin Sisters with my wife Diane.
  • Plus multiple short hikes around my Northern Colorado town

But my hike up Longs seemed to keep slipping away due to poor weather or my own lack of confidence.

I had hoped to climb Longs via the Keiner’s route with my long time friend Ryan Kushner, but I cancelled after a short hike up St. Mary’s Glacier hike with Jim Davidson. My leg became very swollen and I knew it would be foolish to attempt something as difficult as Keiner’s being in the shape I was in.

So I continued to do my daily routine of walking, stretching and doing short hikes.

Then Tuesday, 24 October 2017, I made a decision to push myself once again to my limits: physical, mental and emotional.

Bierstadt – an “easy” 14er

Joined by Barry Johnson aka Moe Kowbell, and Jim Davidson, we left Ft. Collins before dark for Mount Bierstadt, one of the Colorado 14ers at 14,065′. It would take the place of my annual Longs summit. Certainly not in the same league but a solid test for me.

We left the trail head at dawn knowing the weather forecast that day called for cold temperatures with breezy conditions. My leg felt great at first.

The physical test soon began with my calve tightening up and my ankles chattering. Jim, Barry and I stopped and talked it over and decided it was too early to turn back. I slowed my pace from 2.5 mph to a little over one. Jim and Barry chatted as we walked. I soon became lost in my own world.

Bierstadt Oct 2017As we broke 12,000′ and then added another 500, my leg tingled. Jim called it a zinger. I wondered if the screws in my ankle that hold the plate that repaired my fibula were pressing against a nerve. Dr. Hale had told me this might happen and we could take the screws out.

We paused again to talk it over. I said we all needed to be clear, open, and honest with our thoughts. Barry then shared that he was struggling because he had Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice” running through his head. The comic relief was welcomed.

I knew that I had to focus on my mental toughness to keep pushing. I was not hurt, the tingling was annoying but nothing I couldn’t push through. The calf tightness had eased now the only part of Capitan Rod and the Team that was talking was the area around the fracture. It seems to crave attention.

As we approached 13,000′ the wind picked up. We put on our gortex jackets and microspikes to gain traction on the snow covered ground. We walked in silence as the wind prevented any conversation.

During one pause, Barry came over, put his arm around me and said “Lets get this thing. I believe it will help your confidence.” I continued walking knowing my friends were with me every step of the way.

Without warning, a gust pushed me slightly to one side. I stopped in my tracks and bent over on my trekking poles. I said out loud to no one “I don’t like this.” and fought hard to control my emotions.

Bierstadt Oct 2017About his time Jim came to my side. “Alan, I’ll walk downwind of you so that if you get pushed you’ll go into me.” I nodded and continued slowly higher. Jim’s friendship, ability to say the right thing at the right time continues to amaze me.

The winds were brutal. Barry, a pilot, described it as a venturi over an airplane wing gaining speed with each gust. Jim pointed out a plate size chunk of ice flying by our heads. We paused again to review our situation.

Knowing the wind would calm down once we reached the saddle where the mountain would block the northwest wind, we pushed on.

I now was pushing my limits: physically, mental and emotionally. Each gust of wind brought me back to Twin Sisters.

I walked slowly and carefully looking at the rocks, thankful we were in a mostly open area so that If I did fall, I would simply hit snow covered ground. Still, the thoughts of that day became visions occupying my mind, every thought. I fought for control.

I paused and looked around. Jim and Barry were fighting their own battle against the wind and cold. A sense of calm came over me. I knew I was where I should be in this moment. I picked up my pace.

We stopped at the saddle, 13,796′ and took a drink and bite. With the wind howling on the summit less than 300′ higher, I said I was happy; let’s go down but offered to Jim and Barry to continue to the summit, knowing it would take them 15 minutes. Barry interrupted me “We are not splitting up.” And with that we started down.

Bierstadt Oct 2017The descent was slow but steady. At times Rod and Team really starting talking but we came to an agreement and continued.

As we drove home I was disappointed that I had not done better. I had hoped the feedback would be quieter this time.

But also I can celebrate that each time out, the feedback is less and the recovery is shorter. Perhaps only 1% but it is progress and from that I remain optimistic and grateful.

My physical therapist, Nina Patterson, told me that day was like a long railroad track at a 2% grade , so gentle you don’t even know you are making progress until you look back.

Today, 8 months later looking back, I know I am making progress – physically, mentally and emotionally.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything


Twin Sisters Fall

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 Davidson was with me that day and called 911 who in turn set a rescue in motion with Rangers from Rocky Mountain National Park, Rocky Mountain Rescue Group and Larimer County Search and Rescue.

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.

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7 thoughts on “Broken Leg Update: Eight Months Out

  1. Keep at it Alan. I have been suffering from a foot injury for three months now which is painful and restricting. But I am pushing myself to keep myself positive and do the things I should normally be doing. Such is life as we get older.

  2. Hi Alan,
    I’ve recently had a complete shoulder replacement as a result of an accident, I’m the same age as you. I congratulate you on your ongoing recovery and mental fortitude, it seems such a long road doesn’t it?
    I’m facing never being able to reach above my head again, irrespective of whatever physio I do, might need to get a longer ice axe lol.
    Good luck with your goals, keep pushing, your updates are appreciated and inspirational.
    Tim in the UK.

  3. Keep on keeping on, Alan. You’re remarkable, and an inspiration (and a helluva writer, also)

  4. You have such dedication & perseverance toward a goal. I am glad for your progress.

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