The Edge of Climbing

To mark my return to climbing (I get to go for the first time in six and a half weeks today), here’s a video that shows some of the fringe of what people do while climbing. This is one aspect that I just don’t understand at all. What these people are doing is climbing routes (sometimes harder than anything I’ve ever been able to climb before) with zero protection. No rope, no crash pads (at that height it wouldn’t even matter), and no parachute. If they fell, they’d most likely be dead.

All the same, this fascinates me. I’m really curious now how many people have died doing free solos. I might have to look it up.

A Break From Climbing

I’ve been rock climbing a ridiculous amount as of late. Well, to clarify, I should say as of 3 weeks ago. You see, three weeks ago today I was climbing a fairly hard route. A route that I had fallen on many times before, but thought I’d be able to complete within the day. I was doing the hardest move and fell off in a weird way that forced me to twist downwards and back at the same time. I put out my arms to try to stop myself (dumb, not the way you’re actually supposed to fall) and managed to dislocate my right elbow on impact with the ground. Yep, that’s right, my elbow, not my shoulder. This picture is from a couple of days after, but the bruise got much, much worse and completely enveloped my elbow. You can’t compare it to anything else, but my arm is also about twice the size it normally is (seriously, it looked freaky).

It was quite painful, but it was more just surprising than that. I’ve fallen a lot in climbing and never really hurt myself more than landing on my ankle strange. Shit, I’ve hurt myself worse in soccer and baseball up until now. I lay there on the ground (having screamed twice, once when it happened and once when I realized what had happened), but I was generally ok. I had thought at first that I had a compound fracture as I felt and saw it pop out, but didn’t know if it had broken the skin or not. Luckily, when I felt it, it hadn’t.

The paramedics were called and showed up in under five minutes since they were so close to the gym. Everyone watched on as I got bandaged up and then I walked myself to the stretcher. It was kind of amusing almost; I was bullshitting with all the people I climb with about how I had been so close and I just shouldn’t have fallen and then I would have finished the route. After I had elevated my head with my rope bag I wasn’t even really in that much pain (no pain killers either). The paramedics took me to the ER where I met a bunch of cool and friendly people that helped me get all settled. I think they were surprised I was in such good shape and a happy mood. I wasn’t even really bummed as I knew it could have been much worse. At one point I was asked by a doctor for the third or fourth time if I was allergic to anything and I replied with “only doctors” to which I got a good grin. They gave me an IV, some slight pain meds (I wasn’t in that much pain) and then gave me something else to knock me out completely as they reset my elbow. I took a bunch of x-rays and luckily I didn’t break any bones at all. I also had feeling and movement in my fingers still (something they were also surprised with).

I got discharged shortly after that and went to get some beer and vicoden. I had asked the doctor if I could have a beer and he looked at me and said “You can either have beer or vicoden, but not both.” That night I had a nice beer at 12:30am after Luis (my climbing friend) dropped me off back home.

I was out of commission for quite a while only working 4 days the next week and barely being able to type with one hand. You wouldn’t believe what doing everyday things with your non-dominant hand is like when you’re forced to do it. Wiping your ass with your left hand is really, really weird.

Anyway, shoot three weeks forward and I’ve been to see an orthopedic surgeon once, been to physical therapy four times, and I’m almost back to normal. I can bend my right elbow within 10 degrees of straight and tighten it up 135 degrees (I’m not sure what normal is for that one). I can also pick up most things with it, the only thing I really can’t do is quick motions with my right arm or hitting things with my elbow. I’m expected to make a full recovery I believe, and be climbing again in 2-3 more weeks (I’ll know more this Thursday when I go back to see the orthopedic surgeon).

What’s interesting to me, in all of this, is how much this is going to cost me. From looking at the website for United Health Care (that I get through Warner Brothers), I’m going to have to pay for $241 of the $2970 the whole thing cost. I’m sure there will be more costs as I’m not completely done yet, but 10% isn’t too bad I guess. I’d rather have it be 100% covered (since I’ve probably paid them more money since I’ve been working than this cost), but at least I didn’t have to pay for the whole thing.

If I were to dislocate my elbow every 5 years (roughly how long I’ve been climbing), I’d still do it in an instant. I love doing it so much that even this much pain and annoyance is worth it. Here’s to five more years before I really fuck myself up again :).


Still one of my favorite climbing clips, by far. I actually got to see this route in person when I went to Squamish last year. It looks nothing like it does in the video. It’s super, super steep, and the first wall he’s on has no holds at all, I don’t know how he makes it up. Very, very cool area though.