Highballing Success and Failure
The day after the Luminance session, I was standing underneath Grandpa Peabody with a sea of people. Josh, Mark, Max and Steve were all looking into topping out Evilution, myself and a few others were trying to get to the lip, and several people were watching. Elliot, who was with us at Luminance, had been top-roping the old-school Dale Bard solo Transporter Room (5.12ish). Shortly before the sun went down, he stepped up and calmly waltzed up the climb.
There is a nice crimp rail at about 20 feet that Elliot got to and stood on, hands-free. Then a couple of dicey slab moves followed. We, the spotters, were somewhat nervous, of course, but he was solid enough to make the entire climb seem almost trivial, as though going through the moves were pure formality. It was inspiring.
A few days later, I read confirmation in Wills’ blog that Elliot had succeeded in putting up a new line to the left of Transporter Room, called The Elevator. Elliot told me he was working on yet another new line. I asked if he wanted to get video of his send, and he eagerly agreed to letting me film him.
On Friday, December 21st, I jugged up a line and filmed Elliot as he cleaned the holds and worked the moves on toprope. The crux comes at about 20 feet or so, involving some tiny holds and hard-to-see feet that are needed to pull around the bulge and onto a scooped slab. He fell many times attempting the crux, but it was his last day before heading back to Santa Cruz. As the sun set behind Mt. Humphries, he stacked pads on the bush underneath the fall zone and pulled into the double kneebar that starts the route.
Elliot made it through the easy opening sequence without incident, then launched into the crux involving a long pull-thru on a small right hand crimp to a bad sloping left-handed edge, a tiny little nipple for the right hand, and dicey high-steps on hidden footholds. The crowd held its breath, and as Elliot hesitated, someone said “you got it, man.” His foot slipped a little. He was 20 feet off the deck in freezing cold conditions.
He reset his foot and stepped determinedly into the scoop that marks the end of the hard climbing, letting out a a few words of relief mixed with triumph. ZAP was thusly born. (Soon we’ll have a video featuring the new route) Elliot later said that hearing the one reassuring comment from the ground was a big help.
The next day was a cold one in the Buttermilks, but having watched plenty of hard climbing and having rested for two days, I was ready to try some things. Vikki and I warmed up at the Shrimp boulder, where we met a Frenchman named Jeff. He was obviously pretty strong, and the day was looking good. After a good warmup including a repeat of Saigon, I convinced him to spot me on Saigon Direct.
Saigon Direct is an obvious highballer’s testpiece, with big moves between pretty good holds high up in the air. The boulder’s prow is tall and proud, with an incredibly enticing pinch-brick sticking out at around 16 feet or so. The landing is flat, but the fall-zone is quite large given the height and unpredictability of the fall.
On my first try, I got set up for the big move up to the pinch, but backed down since I’d messed around far too long on the relatively easy opening sequence. I rested, then pulled on and got to the big brick. It felt good. I chalked my left hand and brought it in to match, anticipating the foot-shuffle and the final crux, a big right-hand move around the corner.
At that moment, both my feet came off as though someone hit a switch: at the same instant, and totally unexpectedly. I had time to say “Oh Shit!” and spot my landing as I swung out from the wall. At the apex of my swing, I either dropped off or slipped off (I’m not sure), and fell.
Jeff had just moved the three pads away from where I landed, and my feet hit the ground with a loud crunch. My knees buckled, and I rolled onto my back.
There’s a moment when someone takes a fall where those watching tense up, the spotters panic, and the climber assesses his injuries. Even a small fall occasions this group reaction, and for good reason: ankles have been broken from 2 foot falls. In my case, I immediately knew my heels were bruised. Imagine standing on a basketball hoop and jumping to the ground, in tight-fitting climbing shoes.
I wanted to immediately reassure everyone. It’s a weird moment. All eyes are on you, and the last thing you want to do is make everyone panic. I said I was fine, my heels were probably pretty bruised, but I’d be fine in a few minutes. I limped over to the pads to rest, and to let my heart stop fluttering.
Five minutes later, my heels still hurt. More distressing was the fact that trying to put weight on my left foot, even five or ten pounds, was impossible. It felt like my tendons were pulling directly on the bruise and making it worse. After about fifteen minutes of denial, I came to the realization that I would not be climbing the rest of the day. Vikki packed up our stuff, and I put an empty crashpad on my back and hopped on my right foot back to the car. We spent the remainder of the day at a friend’s house, icing my foot and shooting the breeze.
I woke up the next morning in pain. My heel throbbed and no amount of squirming or elevating would help it. Ibuprofen took the edge off, and we went into town so that Vikki could work a shift from the new Black Sheep. It was apparent that my injury was a little bit more serious that I’d hoped, and we went to the ER. X-rays were inconclusive, but a CT scan clearly revealed a broken calcaneus.
The nurses were wonderful and the doctor was quite friendly. There was even a climber named Ryan working there, whom we’d met at the Zoo recently. Mammoth and Bishop are accustomed to these types of injuries, so I knew I was in good hands. I was sent on my way with a splint on my lower leg and a prescription for Tramadol, which I didn’t even need.
A few days later, I saw Dr. Robinson, a climber, skier, and orthopedic surgeon. He told me that no knife would be required, and that I’d be able to bear weight in a few weeks’ time. It might be a year before I’m totally 100%, but that I could climb on a rope that day if I wanted…just no impact on the foot. He also gave me a removable Aircast, which is much more compact that the splint I had and which allows me to shower properly. Most importantly, he wrote me a note to take to the DMV, which provided me with a handicapped parking permit.
So of course this is a bummer. I can’t walk. I can’t carry anything. I can’t climb. I feel totally useless, as Vikki is forced to take up the slack. Besides that, Bishop has so many projects that I am close to completing, but I’ll lose the best part of the season and much of my strength as I recover. The good news, I suppose, is that I’ll be forced to properly rest my right elbow, which is still giving me a lot of trouble. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise?
Feeling down and freezing our asses off, Steve, Angie, Max, and the two of us loaded up Bert and drove down to Vegas for warmer temps, a change of scenery, and to hang out with the plentitudes of other climbing friends who are also in Sin City for the holidays. Yesterday I got the pleasure of crutching around the Kraft boulders and back into Gateway Canyon, a couple miles’ worth of tough terrain. Today I sit in a friend’s apartment taking a rest, letting the chafing in my armpits subside. Tonight, we party down for the New Year. Tomorrow, 2013 begins. I’m not sure what it’ll bring, but I do know I’ll have more time for video editing!