Friday, November 13, 2020

On breaking your neck...

   It's been nine weeks.  Nine weeks since I lay staring at the ground, struggling for breath, hearing my own strangled sounds of pain.  I knew I would be OK.  I just needed to breath, and everything would be OK.  I didn't realize that my past and future had just been in a violent physical collision.

   I breathed.  I managed to sit up.  The world got brighter.  

   I lay daydreaming in the hospital.  My narcotic haze was pierced by words I heard in the hallway.



   The doctor stepped in.  He looked right at me.  

   "You have two fractures in your neck.  You have a fracture in your back.  You have multiple rib fractures and a pneumothorax in your right lung.  You must be a very tough guy."

   I didn't feel tough.  Fear welled up in a way I'd never felt before.  Breaking your neck isn't something that happens to me - that's for other people.  People who know how to live in wheelchairs, people who know how to make the most of things.  Did I know how to make the most of things?  

   "I'm turning you over to a neurosurgeon.  We don't think you will need surgery, but we need more images." 

   Some consolation.  But the damage was done.  Finally, I'd done it.  I'd broken my neck.

   Getting the required images meant I had to stand up.  Every time I tried to roll into position, my ribs screamed at me to stop, lay there, give up.  And I did give up, many times.  The words of the PT echoed in my head "breath, you've got to breath.  Your muscles will seize if you don't breath."  And of course, he was right.  I breathed, slowly, deliberately, purposefully, and I managed to sit up.  

   I went home, plus neck brace, sans surgery.  The weather was warm and the early fall colors golden.  My friends and family talked to me and reassured me.  I walked through the park with my uncle.  How strange and childish it felt - hazy, long ago memories of playgrounds, grass and family.  Was it a lifetime ago?  Was it yesterday?  Is this how it would feel in the final years of my life?  Who would I be walking with, and really, who would I be, by then?   

   Weeks came and went.  I was allowed to shower. I went back to work.  Normalcy made an appearance, and it gave me something to move towards.  I walked as much as possible and my body played along, for the most part.  Eerie phantom sensations appeared from time to time, sometimes trickling like water, sometimes crawling like bugs, with no apparent cause or solution.  They are scariest at night.  

   There are less than four weeks left of anticipated neck brace time.  I wonder what it will it be like on that wonderful, expectant day.  What will I eat for breakfast?  What will I wear?  Will I cry?  It might as well be a lifetime from now. 

   ...But I know it won't be that long.  I'll blink and it will be over.  The past and future will come to crossroads, and I won't be on the ground.  I'll breath and I will be OK.  I'll blink and it will all be over.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Ice Cream Cone/Skybuster Mountain 8/22/20

Skybuster/Ice Cream Cone seen from Mt. Significant, January 2019.  LONG lens!

   I remember the first time I saw it. Eastbound on the Glenn, just before passing Kings Mountain and Chickaloon, on a clear, flat section of road, I happened to glance south, and there it was, standing tall in the distance. I couldn't take my eyes off, and couldn't help but wonder: did that insane tower of rock have a name, and what would it be like to stand on its incredible, precipitous summit? Since I wasn't driving, I easily answered the first question with Google.

   That inspirational behemoth was named Skybuster.

   Answering the second question, however, would have to wait.

   Several years and lots of beta gathering later, it was time to try. Since the peak is so remote, it seemed a good idea to make this our first fly in approach. With excitement and some apprehension, we loaded up at Merrill field and flew (choppered!) out.


Sitting in the chopper at Merrill field.

Fueling up in Palmer.

   Cruising by the familiar landmarks of Vista, Twin Peaks and Pioneer was a surreal experience, yet nothing compared to the insanity of landing below the south face of Skybuster mere minutes after departing Anchorage. I swear it feels like it SHOULD have been more difficult. We waved farewell to our chopper buddies, and they were gone.

This would have been part of the human powered approach.  Might've taken a while!

Chopper friends!


   Since we arrived in the early afternoon, we had plenty of time to investigate our camp site and walk up to our intended route. Snow conditions were the biggest concern (followed by rockfall), but a brief investigation of the gully above proved more favorable than expected for both. The new concern was the narrowing of the upper section of gully - from below, it appeared a potential technical challenge, but was impossible to say for sure. We vowed to give it an early start tomorrow, and returned to camp for a good brew.

This was an amazingly perfect camp site.

Studying the route for tomorrow's attempt.
Ooooohhhhhh ahhhhh pano!

   Some rain showers moved by throughout the night, but were interspersed with long periods of amazing star visibility. I propped my phone on my pillow and capitalized on this - I had long been waiting to try the Pixel 4 star photography. Seriously impressed with one of the shots I got.

Night sky.  Amazing what a modern smartphone can do.

   The following morning, we departed at first light and quickly french techniqued our way up the wide snow field at the bottom of the gully. After crossing several runnels (and encountering some nice WI therein) we came to the narrowing section we had worried about.

Trudging to the snow...

Trudging UP the snow

Finding WI!!

Gimme summa dat WI plz

   As it turned out, the first step was easy mixed terrain, followed by several more steps of easy ice and snow, leading eventually to a wider gully with more snow. From here we gained the summit ridge.

Cody topping out on the (quite) easy mixed section

The rest of the narrow gully.  Some ice up there that may just edge into WI2 territory, if I'm being generous ;)

   I had heard a lot about this summit ridge and was expecting some srs bsns, but we found nothing worth roping up for. The rope stayed in the bag all the way to the summit.

Typical summit ridge.  There was ONE gendarme that was easily dealt with.

   The summit itself was a slightly anti-climactic mellow snowfield with a severe drop on the north side. Unfortunately, clouds had moved in and obscured our hopes of seeing far and wide into the Chugach, yet we did have a small break in the clouds looking northward. It was nice to get at least SOME views!

The Moistboyz, aka Krusher and co., aka Send Squad, aka Beavis and Butthead 

The view to the north.

   We descended in deteriorating weather (snowflakes!) and finally broke out the rope to rappel the mixed step. A slung horn with a bomber piton backup saw us down without trouble. As we descended the wider snowfield, we did see some random rockfall that hastened our downclimbing speed, yet we made it back to the tent without incident.

   Through the magic of an early start, combined with a chopper drop at 5k feet, we realized we had finished way ahead of schedule - it was only 12pm. After some deliberation, we figured it best to try to leave early, given the questionable weather. A quick InReach text later and the chopper was on its way back for us.

Things were starting to look a bit worse down here.  The rain was soon to follow.

   As we waited for the WOCKA WOCKA, we packed up camp and wondered at the strange weather. Several rock towers in the distance were being hidden by sheets of rain, and sure enough, the rain came our way and started drenching us with frigid wetness. Luckily, the chopper arrived not much later, and we thanked our pilot profusely for our "rescue".

   Once again, it was a surreal flight back to Anchorage. One moment we were freezing, next moment we were in the sun at Merrill field. Big thanks to Kodiak Helicopters, our pilot Chris and his assistant Bridget. Super flexible flight plans, very professional and very affordable. I think I could get used to this!