At the risk of spoiling the suspense, I’m just gonna go ahead and tell you that this story doesn’t have a happy ending. What started off as a jovial weekend with good friends ended pretty abruptly for me with a hard smack against the wall and searing pain in my left foot. The bad news kept rolling in over the next few days as my foot expanded to almost elephantitis status, and several X-rays showed a small fracture on my talar dome (or in layman’s terms, the pointy top part of my ankle bone that meets up with my lower leg bones to form the ankle joint). Now that that’s out of the way, here’s what happened.
It all started on Friday night, when our Chapel Hillian friends (aka Manbert) showed up at our house for a delectable feast. After gorging ourselves on cheesy potatoes and pampering ourselves with a sophisticated dessert, we settled in for the evening to watch some climbing videos and talk about our plan of attack for the next day. My plan was to work on Slabster’s Lament (5.12a/b), a thuggish line that is far removed from my typical motif of delicate, technical edges and credit card crimpers. I’d gotten on it once this past summer and couldn’t even do all the moves – then got on it again a couple of weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised that it felt much more manageable.
The first part of the route is a rightward traverse on some interesting pockets and huecos with polished feet. The business begins where the rock gets steep and bulging at a burly, sloping undercling/sidepull type feature. It’s weird because in some ways I feel like all my technique is checked at the door on this one – I just have to slap my hands up the feature with my face awkwardly smashed in against the rock. On the other hand though I have to be really precise about when, where and how I move my feet so as to maintain proper body positioning to keep me on the rock (and to find the kneebar from which to clip the last bolt). After scrapping my way up, the redpoint crux for me is being able to link the last few long moves together when I’m desperately gassed from all of the scrappy shenanigans below.
Since the first half of the climb was fairly moderate, I decide to warm-up with a toprope lap on the project, to get my beta for the top really dialed in. I flailed around a lot at the top, and then found a way to bump my right hand up a bit to make the long move to the final hold a little less reachy. My next attempt, this time on lead, was painfully close – I powered up and out of the sloping sidepull, got my hands just right, lunged for the last hold, and slipped right off. The fall felt really good – my belayer left a decent amount of slack in the rope to ensure that I would clear the bulge below, so my fall was longer than I was anticipating but was completely clean.
I decided I had one more go left in me, so I grabbed some food and water and tied in again about an hour later. This time the lower section went a lot faster, although I wasted a lot of extra energy working through the sloping sidepull since I botched my footwork a little bit. When I reached out for the holds above the bulge, both of my feet popped, although I surprised everyone (myself included) by hanging on and casually placing my feet back on the rock.. I was pretty tired at this point, but felt like I still had a shot – I bumped my right hand up to the higher spot, set my left foot and cranked up, and fell again. However, this time instead of a nice, clean fall, my right foot hit the belayer side of the rope on the way down. This caused my trajectory to change substantially, and my left foot slammed into the wall.
One of the first things a newbie lead climber learns is to never fall with the rope behind your leg – when the rope pulls taut you’ll get flipped upside down and probably impact the wall with the back of your head (a great reason to wear a helmet). The prideful side of me wants to be sure to clarify that this is not what happened in my situation. Because of the angles of the rock and the direction of the climbing in that one section, the rope that had been clipped to protect lower moves on the route was not flush against the rock, and when I fell, my right foot clipped that section of rope. I didn’t flip, but rather got turned just enough to throw me into the rock at a strange angle. The impact was really hard and the pain was immediate.
I lowered right away and we pulled my shoe off to assess the damage. I could stand on it (which seemed like a good sign), but it was really painful to walk, and it was starting to swell all over. I sat down and tried to find a comfortable position to keep my foot elevated while everyone else finished up on their routes and brainstormed how to get me, my gear (and my Cragbaby) out safely. Thankfully the crag is only about 5 minutes from a road, so me, C, the gear, and my chauffeur could be deposited at the road while Steve continued hiking to the parking lot.
By the time I woke up Sunday morning my left ankle was 3 times the size of my right and was already turning an array of purple and green bruise colors, although the pain had lessened to some extent, and was non-existent as long as I wasn’t trying to walk. Something about all of the swelling and bruising didn’t quite sit right with me, however, so I decided to take advantage of having good insurance and let a professional look at it. After a visit with a wacko podiatrist on Monday (who was a stretch to call a professional, and I’ll never ever see again) and a second opinion from a much more knowledgeable orthopedic doctor on Tuesday, the verdict was in.
The bad news? Its so clearly broken that even my untrained eye could see it on the X-ray. That means 4-6 weeks of healing time, and a lot of that time will probably be spent in a boot. The good news? The fracture is not displaced at all, which means the recovery should be pretty simple without any complications (apparently sometimes the bone can actually chip off, dislodging in the ankle joint and causing a whole slew of new problems). No ligaments were torn, although I will may need some PT to strengthen things up a bit in there.
So for now I’m confined to this boot. Which totally sucks, no matter how many glass half full ways I try to spin it. This is definitely not how I’d anticipated spending the next few weeks. I guess trip reports will be a rare commodity on here for a while, although maybe in their place I’ll substitute some killer hangboard workout protocols. After all, I don’t need feet to go nuts on a hangboard.