Climbing In Patagonia

I’m about to fulfill a long time dream that until recently I had completely written off in my life.

I am going  to climb a big wall in Patagonia.

I truly thought the day would never come. Six years ago my rock climbing partner dropped me to the ground where I cratered into a tabletop sized boulder.

The fall only took a couple of seconds over about 35 feet, but it felt like an eternity. I hit the ground in the perfect standing position and my lower body crumbled. My head flew back on the boulder and I was knocked out for a few seconds. After coming to, I immediately noticed that everything was numb. I looked down and saw that my left foot was spun 180 dregrees the wrong direction. My first thought…
“That’s not good.”

A helicopter ride landed me in the ER where a CAT scan and MRI showed no spinal or head damage. But there were other major problems. When I was sent to see the specialist surgeon, my first question was…
“When can I climb again?”

The doctor was looking at the x-rays on the lightboard and rather bluntly told me that I would probably never climb again. He added that everything on the right side looked fixable, but the left side… with all the bone damage… the left side might require amputation.

Say what? I remember biting my lip and fighting back the tears when I asked him my 2nd and last question…
“Who taught you how to do this surgery?”

Thirty hours later my father and brother had transported me to Seattle and I was in front of the world’s best foot surgeon and the pioneer of the reconstructive foot surgery. He looked at the x-ray and told me it would be complex, but that he’d do his best to fix it.

Twelve hours of surgery later he had put my broken pieces back together with titanium plates, bolts, screws, and cadaver bone.

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And so the long recovery began.

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After months in a wheel chair I began the process of learning to walk again on a treadmill in a swimming pool. My legs had shrunk away to nothing.

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After what felt like forever, I finally went to crutches, and then to walking canes. Eventually I hobbled around with one cane, and then on my own, but always in great pain. I had no illusions at this point. I doubted if I would ever climb again, at least not at the level I was prior to the accident.

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But the experience was a life changing event, and a turning point in many ways. Although I was recovering in Seattle, Stevie would leave school and fly up from Los Angeles on weekends to relieve my Mom and take care of me. It was at this point that I realized we’d spend the rest of our lives together.

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After my recovery I tried to climb again, but it was useless. My body hurt, my mind was not present, and my heart lacked the fire. I gave it up and didn’t tie into a rope for five years.

Then, for some odd reason, I decided to give it another go when we were posted up in Peru waiting for Soleil to be born. I guess enough time had passed, because I fell in love with it all over again.

I was able to get out a few times in Peru – below, Hatun Machay in Peru (remember here)…

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…and a few times in Bolivia, (remember here).

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I then I set my sights on accomplishing the long lost goal of climbing a big wall in Patagonia.

Real training started in Mendoza last September where I paid my dues at Arenales. My friends asked me how it felt to be back: The body still hurts, but the mind is solid and the fire burns stronger than ever.

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And so here we are today, posted up in the small town of Puerto Varas on the outskirts of one of the best kept climbing secrets in the world, the Cochamo Valley in Northern Patagonia.

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Cochamo is what Yosemite was like 200 years ago. It’s a beautiful, lush valley surrounded by giant granite walls reaching heights equal to El Capitan. There are no roads in or out. Getting there requires a day-long approach. Gear goes in on pack-horses.

Below, just one of the many walls waiting in Cochamo. To give you perspective, those are most likely 3,000 year old, 200 foot Alerce hardwood trees at the base of the wall.

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My best climbing partner from the States flies in on Sunday, and together we go in. The best part is that Stevie and Soleil are coming with us! (and, weather providing, Stevie will climb some too!)

At this point I’m not sure what I’m more excited about, the fact that I’ll be climbing some of the best granite in the world, or the fact that my one year old daughter is heading in to our base camp to spend 2+ weeks in a remote valley in Patagonia!

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Below, Stevie packing all the food for the expedition….

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Below, Soleil unpacking all the food for the expedition…
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I reckon we’re gonna look like quite the shit-show when we show up back in the valley. We’re taking in about 5 times what the average climbing team takes. You know, all the important stuff you’d need on a big wall – like tons of clothes, a baby crib, a high-chair, way too much food, 150 diapers, and a mini bar…
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Oh well. My days of going super-light are over. But I wouldn’t trade the extra cargo for anything in the world at this point in my life.
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So off we go! We’ll be completely offline now until February 6th. Wish us luck!
-TREE
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Comments

  1. Awesome, stoked to hear your stories after trip! Stay safe!

  2. YES!!!!!!!! I get goosebumps thinking about this amazing adventure you three are going to have!!! I cannot wait for the trip report. It’s nice to see you getting back on the rock after all that, Tree. And with your ladies by your side=better than ever!
    Salud and hugs to all of you!!
    vv

  3. Terry Buchanan says:

    So excited for you! Be safe and have a blast, can’t wait for the pictures!

  4. Marc Collins says:

    Broke both my heels kitesurfing a few years back. Still gives me a good bit of pain. After reading your blog, I’ll never complain about it again. Impressive!

  5. Your mini bar looks a little light. Where’s the Hedrix? Champagne for your toast after climbing? I’m proud of you little bro. Go get it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    The hero’s spirit can be quiet at times but never silenced. You are our HERO!

  7. Aunt Debby and Uncle Barry says:

    Wow, have a amazing time and be safe! it occurs to me that while you are going to be climbing to great heights in the Cochamo, your brother will be paddling down the nearly one mile deep Grand Canyon. You two brothers sure keep life exciting!

  8. Happy New Year!! I love this picture of your beautiful sunshine showing off her ”ratoncitos”!! Chileans can translate…jejejeje Good luck to you with your fun adventures, from beautiful California!

  9. Ahh , Love ya’s , be waiting for the Pictures, LIVELOVEBESAFE !!!

  10. John Hart says:

    Have fun! Looks like you went light on the beverages. That’s a rad valley.

  11. Helen McAdory says:

    Enjoy the back country of Patagonia. I aim to sail there

  12. Maggie Ahsum says:

    Crazy x-rays!

  13. Gabe Sladek Musolf says:

    Have a blast. Safe travels

  14. Be safe and have a great adventure! Say hi to Mikey and Kate if you run into them down there.

  15. Good luck Tree. Remember, safety first. Double check your knot and keep the rubber side down.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Tree, I had no idea you suffered such a set back, anyways I hope it led you to a better spot, and I hope you have a safe trip to Patagonia. Thanks for filling us in! P

  17. Donna Clary says:

    Be safe, but most all enjoy. Pictures please for whenever you are up and running!

  18. Great times ahead! Stevie, we missed our phone date the other day. While you are gone I will try to fix my skype situation so I can see that little gal in action (and you too)! Love you all!

  19. Candy Benteu says:

    Stay safe lovelies… We will miss hearing about Sol and her traveling family. Love you a bunch! Auntie

  20. Have Fun! I will be looking forward to the photos

  21. Norbert Pfefferkorn says:

    Hey, did you get somebody to look after your perrito? Enjoy your backcountry trip

  22. Way to get after it Tree! I was dropped by a climbing partner years ago and hurt a foot pretty badly too. More power to you getting back on the sharp end of the rope. I hope you are reading this comment after a successful few weeks in the back country!

  23. Jim Kimball says:

    be safe there Hoss

  24. Anonymous says:

    Following your posts for some time now and love what you are doing. Have a great trip, climb, be safe and I look forward to reading more of your adventures
    Cheers
    Meg

  25. Erin Randall Anthony says:

    Precious baby girl! She is beautiful.

  26. Rock it guys! You are hard core in the extreme.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I hope you get some good weather. I just spoke with a guy who spent a month down there and was unable to climb one single day. Say hi! to Bennet from Capt. Anonymous.

    • Heya Captain,
      Yeah, we sure saw a lot of rain, but had 2 climbing windows and ticked two of the classics! It was worth it.
      Cheers

  28. What a story! Journey on beautiful family that you are. Cheers to another great adventure! I look forward to hearing all about it.

  29. What can I say! I am so lucky to have you four in Cochamo. You’ve no idea. I won’t totally spill my guts here on a blog comment but meeting you three and Beckett held more importance to me than you might imagine. At a kind of fuzzy-angsty-late-twenties-what-the-fuck time in my life you guys were a breath — no no — a huge gust – of fresh air and a clarifying image of passionate, compassionate, down-to-earth people.

    I know you’re tearing up the Trinidad wall right now! If I can move any other rocks or provide cold pizza in the future, it would be my extreme pleasure. Travel well!

    Matt

    PS – What does uncle Beckett say? (wahhhhh)

  30. Eric and Janet says:

    Once again I am jealous. You also give me hope that I will be able to come back from my much more mundane reason for a forced break with the same passion and love for the sport. Stay safe and hope our paths cross sometime soon.

  31. Dominic Sagar says:

    Tree – I’m excited for you. Patagonia was fantastic and it was great meeting you down there.
    Have fun climbing.
    Best to Stevie and Soleil
    Dominic.

  32. Anonymous says:

    It is always so exciting when I realize I haven’t checked up on SprinterLife in a bit, and I know I will have myriads of lovely to come back to and read! Wee! Looking forward to yalls return to the internets so we can hear about this amazing trek into Patagonia. It must be the year for it; many friends headed down for climbing and more in Patagonia.
    Hope you all are having a great time.
    Hugs,
    lizD
    btw wow tree; can’t believe you’re climbing again after that injury. or just, you know, walking… !! niiiiice
    Stevie oh my goodness one day in the next year or so I am going to need some serious packing tips. and basic cleanliness tips for this sort of travel. I am going to get to tag along on the bf and family climbing adventures and I have no idea how you stay so pleasant looking! 🙂

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