Sitting in my van on a rainy Yosemite afternoon right now, not so bad in the bigger scheme of things. At least I am not in a cubicle working an office job. But the walking cast on my right ankle does make the day a bit gloomier for me. A week ago I had a bit of a mis-adventure, rendering me a bit gimpy for a few weeks. Warning- speed climbing is dangerous!
Ten days ago, my buddy Josh McClure, a long time Valley resident, came up to me asking if I would like to climb the Half Dome/El Cap link-up with him. I had already climbed it last year, but because I wanted to enchain the three Yosemite grade six walls in a single day, I instantly agreed. I figured it would be great training for climbing Half Dome, Mount Watkins, and the Nose in sub-24 time, so we decided to go for the double link up the next day.
The climb went just fine. We did not race up it, but still we climbed it in 17 hours and some change. On the summit of the Nose, I asked him if he was interested in adding Mount Watkins to the mix, since he seemed to not be tired after our double link-up. He was psyched. We made plans right there to climb Half Dome and Mount Watkins two days later, in further preparation for the Triple.
After two days of rest, we found ourselves back at the base of Half Dome in the late afternoon. We chilled out for about an hour as we drank from the spring at the base of the route, and then Josh shot up the first pitch starting at about 7pm. He short fixed me on some pitches, I simuled under him on others, we were flying up the route. We were hoping to climb the route in sub three hour time, and we were on pace. Pitches flowed by one after another, and soon we were approaching the leader swap-out point- Big Sandy Ledge.
I grabbed the remainder of the meager rack that we had brought, and launched up into the Zig Zags- the crux of the route. I short fixed him up the first two pitches, and started up the third as we made great time. The third Zig Zag pitch was just like the first two, a mix of both free and aid, and I continued to climb efficiently as I ran it out and hustled my way up. As I approached the anchor, a short difficult section presented itself, so I hastily placed a small cam, clipped my aider to it, and moved on up. Before I knew it, I was sailing down the wall in the middle of the night, and the rope wasn’t catching me. The fall seemed to go on for forever. I cursed myself for not clipping more pro, but soon the familiar tug of the lead line was letting me know that it was going to be all right. Just as the rope was starting to arrest my fall, my right foot made direct contact with a small sloping ledge, and it snapped out of place. Shit.
Within a second, it snapped back in, but here we were, twenty pitches up with most likely a broken ankle. The situation seemed a bit grim at best. It seemed that I had two options now- give Josh the lead and jug out behind him or finish the last four pitches to the summit. Either option was going to hurt a lot, but with my ankle swelling up faster and faster now, I decided getting to the top ASAP was best.
Continuing to lead, I aided and free climbed to the top as quick as I could, using my left foot whenever possible to avoid the obvious pain of using the right foot. It was going pretty well until I came upon the final pitch, a usually trivial pitch of slabby 5.7. Now it was a full-on pitch for me, as I had to use my right foot. I just kind of Zen’ed out, manned up, and sent the rig. I didn’t even bother to make my way over to the last belay. I just sat down in the summit blocks and hip belayed Josh up. We stopped the clock once he made his way up- 3:41, not bad considering.
On the summit I let him know that I probably didn’t have Watkins in me that night, and that just getting down was going to be epic enough. Of course he understood. I removed my Anasazi to check out the damage, and it seemed like a grapefruit was under my skin, making the ankle look a bit grotesque. I loosened my Guide Tennie as much as it would allow, slipped it onto my angry right foot, and started to crawl and hobble my sorry ass to the cables descent route. Josh coiled the rope and caught up to me pretty quickly.
I was able to make my way to the bottom of the cables, but no further. We used another climber’s cell phone to call the Ranger stationed in Little Yosemite Valley and asked him to bring up some crutches. Two hours later, he arrived with the gear. He instantly recommended that the YOSAR team carry me out, but I refused. He made me sign a waiver to make sure I could not hold him responsible for going against their medical advice, and then I started down. Slowly. Very slowly!
About eight hours later, I made it down to the Happy Isles trailhead where Josh had placed my bike for me. I had made it down, thank God!
In the end, it turns out that those little tags that come on new climbing gear were in fact correct- Climbing is dangerous!
-Dave Turner, Five.Ten Athlete