Adventure - - Survival - Free solo seemed like a poor choice, so should prob­a­bly head down.

I I made steady progress down-climb­ing, though my move­ment lacked flu­ency. Soon it be­came too pre­car­i­ous and I pulled a rope and climb­ing gear from my bag, and started ab­seil­ing. Seizures are one of the symp­toms of a brain bleed, and I was lucky to be free of any as I ab­seiled. It was ex­haust­ing to find suit­able places for the tech­ni­cal chal­lenge of build­ing ab­seil an­chors, and at one point I found a spot to lie down and im­me­di­ately fell asleep for who knows how long. At an­other point, I put bits of muesli bar into my mouth, only to re­alise I couldn't chew. Just bruis­ing, I thought. It didn't oc­cur to me that my jaw might be bro­ken, which it was. It took me about eight hours and five or six ab­seils to get to the base of the cliff. Now on scree but with­out vi­sion in my left eye, the lack of depth per­cep­tion sent me tum­bling over fre­quently, and I soon re­signed my­self to sim­ply falling on my back, think­ing it the least in­ju­ri­ous way to get down. I ne­go­ti­ated some snow slopes and dropped down to Minaret Lake, and then into the for­est, the glare of my head­lamp re­plac­ing the evening hues of the sky. Dark­ness set in. My mem­ory of this pe­riod is hazy. I seem to have cir­cled around re­peat­edly, cov­er­ing a dis­tance in six hours that should have taken about one hour. And I lost the trail. I trudged through the bush in the vague di­rec­tion that seemed right to me, and even­tu­ally I lay down on the for­est floor and passed out. At one point, I dis­tinctly re­mem­ber dis­cussing strate­gies to get home with a num­ber of friends be­neath the for­est canopy. Ei­ther I was hal­lu­ci­nat­ing, or hav­ing vivid dreams. At 5am, af­ter a few hours of shiv­ery sleep, I awoke to mos­qui­toes bit­ing ex­posed skin. I sat up with an­chors in my flesh. With my mem­ory of the pre­vi­ous night, I had ex­pected fa­mil­iar, friendly faces to be ly­ing next to me. But I was alone. I had no idea how far from the track I had strayed, and headed vaguely to­wards river sounds. To my ex­treme good for­tune, the woods parted to re­veal the trail. Within a few hours, I crossed the river and al­lowed my­self a pinch of sat­is­fac­tion, know­ing that the track ahead was wider and more am­i­ca­ble. This sec­tion was also a pop­u­lar day hike, and it wasn't long be­fore I crossed paths with a cou­ple who were aghast at my blood­cov­ered face. Some­how, I con­vinced them I was per­fectly ca­pa­ble of hik­ing alone to the start of the track, but the next peo­ple I came across were not so eas­ily per­suaded. One guy ac­com­pa­nied me in the fi­nal 45 min­utes of hik­ing. We reached the trail head roughly 24 hours af­ter the ac­ci­dent, and this good soul then drove me in my van to Mam­moth Hospi­tal. Soon I was in the safe bo­som of emer­gency care, slip­ping in and out of con­scious­ness as a nurse gen­tly dabbed the blood from my face. My hospi­tal notes show that I told staff I didn’t think I had any bro­ken bones, nor was I suf­fer­ing any se­vere pain. They must have thought me mad, or at least com­pletely in­ca­pable of self-di­ag­no­sis. "Pa­tient cov­ered in blood,” the hospi­tal re­port states. “Essen­tially cov­ered head to toe in con­tu­sions, abra­sions, and lac­er­a­tions … mul­ti­ple internal in­juries in­clud­ing 1-2cm head bleed … mul­ti­ple fa­cial frac­tures … pos­si­bly un­sta­ble." I had also lost about a third of my blood and was so dehydrated that I was in the be­gin­nings of re­nal fail­ure. Not only had I bro­ken mul­ti­ple bones - though my spinal frac­tures were not mis­aligned, mean­ing I could walk - but there were no fa­cil­i­ties in Mam­moth Hospi­tal for trau­matic brain in­juries, and I had to be flown to Renown Med­i­cal Cen­tre in Reno. But I was too out-of-it to as­sess what any of that meant. Still obliv­i­ous to the grav­ity of my in­juries, my main pri­or­ity was to send a mes­sage to the climb­ing part­ner I was meant to meet the fol­low­ing day and to the few peo­ple who knew about my solo­ing plans. I did so, switched off all de­vices - I in­co­her­ently thought that sav­ing bat­tery would be wise - and then fell asleep as I was trans­ported to a he­li­copter. But my mes­sages were typ­i­cal of some­one who wasn’t think­ing straight. “Out of the moun­tains, but now in hospi­tal” did noth­ing to re­as­sure friends, par­tic­u­larly with no men­tion of which hospi­tal. A flurry of phone calls and hospi­tal drive­bys led to the amaz­ingly pleas­ant sur­prise of hav­ing two an­gelic friends, Alaina and Lau­ren, at my bed­side when I awoke in Reno in the In­ten­sive Care Unit. The sur­geons told my friends that they may have to slice open my brain if the bleed­ing wors­ened. “You looked scar­ily fucked up, just cov­ered head to toe in blood and swelling,” Alaina told me later. “You clearly had a brain in­jury. You kept re­peat­ing the same lines to us: ‘So nice of you to come visit’, ‘What did you climb to­day?’ ‘Where are you guys camp­ing?’ ‘So nice of you to come visit’.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.