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.
And so the long recovery began.
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.
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.
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.
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)…
…and a few times in Bolivia, (remember here).
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.
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.
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.
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!
Below, Stevie packing all the food for the expedition….