Outdoor action sports are not safe.
You can travel at high speeds.
You are on variable terrain.
You have to trust that your gear will work.
And nature isn’t always forgivable.
My heart always hurts when I see others in the outdoor space affected by freak accidents.
The outdoor community is very tightly knit, and these individuals can be so empathetic towards people who share common interests.
I always have to take a step back and think about my hobbies when I read about avalanches or other phenomena that cause action sports’ lovers to be in critical condition or possibly lose their life. I feel a certain numbness as I read words from a social media post, but it always passes after a day until the next accident article.
But this weekend was the first time that I experienced a traumatic accident firsthand (both outdoors or just in life in general). I don’t want to go into too much detail out of respect for the affected individuals, but I do want to share my experience to not only process it in my own head, but also educate and remind others about the importance of being prepared in the outdoor space.
We were wrapping up a morning of climbing, and just as the last two people in our group were finishing their last routes, another climber who was lead climbing at the wall fell suddenly. And we all immediately knew it wasn’t good.
Fortunately, a handful of people at the crag were trained in wilderness first response or emergency medical situations, so they were able to react quickly to keep him breathing while a couple others (me included) searched for cell service to call 911. I went up the mountain, as I noticed that I had service at the top of the climb, while a couple of girls had just finished climbing, so they hurried down the canyon.
I got service for only a half a minute as I climbed up the mountain, but then I heard sirens coming up the canyon – which luckily only took around 20 minutes. I felt a small sense of relief as I headed back down to the climbing wall.
While I was gone, all the people at the wall helped the person keep a pulse, and the EMTs arrived with additional medical equipment. We stood there another 20 minutes while the first responders figured out how to get him from the wall to the ambulance. Fortunately, we were very close to the road, but it was a short steep hike down. With the help of all the people at the crag, they were able to get the person on their way to the hospital.
In the meantime, we gathered the groups’ belongings and all the medical trash.
And it wasn’t pretty. The wall was cleared except for the quick draws hanging from the bolts.
The empty image of the wall is still in my head and it’s just as vivid as the moment I saw the person fall.
It was eerie, but also extremely humbling.
It’s really hard to talk or write about this incident not only because I am still processing it, but also because I don’t know HOW to talk about it.
I don’t want come off as blaming the victim.
It was a completely freak accident that could happen to any climber, experienced or not.
I want to focus on the positive.
Such as the quick response of the crew at the crag that may have saved a life. As well as the surprising amount of luck despite the bad situation. Like having trained individuals. And the fact that we were so close to the road.
But I also want to recognize the negatives in order to assess and evaluate next time we head out climbing.
It was not ideal that we didn’t have service… or that we were a steep hike away from the nearest road, but these factors are the norm when recreating outside as a climber or skier or mountain biker. Some other things specific to climbing that could mitigate an accident include wearing a helmet and using an assisted or auto-locking belay device.
And lastly, this incident was one of the first times I realized that it’s smart to have some sort of wilderness first response training for things other than just small cuts and bruises.
Because sometimes when you are doing everything right, things can still go wrong, and it’s good to be prepared for the worst.
The day after this happened, I was in shock, and I felt numb and on the verge of tears every time it was brought up, but after a momentary purge of all the emotions I was feeling, as well as retelling my account via this blog, I feel like I can look back at the situation with a different view.
And I hope that this is a sign for you to step back and realize the dangers of outdoor sports.
A sign to stay humble.
A sign to appreciate Mother Nature, but to also be weary of her.
A sign to be aware of your surroundings and situations.
And a sign to hug your friends and family, and appreciate your life.