Garden of the Gods – Rappelling Accident

I’m writing up this accident report to analyze what went wrong and what steps I need to take in the future to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

The day before Eric asked me if I’d like to go climbing so he could get some adveture photos.  The weather was great, so of course I said yes.  I got to the parking area about 10 minutes early so I could put on my gear, but those plans changed when I saw the bighorn sheep. They were quite sociable today, sitting/standing/grazing just off the trail.  I quickly called Eric and told him to meet me at the sheep.

I noticed while the Bighorn Sheep were fine with humans, they tensed every time someone walked by with a dog.  There were park rangers there to make sure no one got too close.  I think it’s funny how when you’re at Waterton Canyon or Garden of the Gods the sheep will stand 10 feet away from you as if you aren’t even there, but if you see one while on a mountaintop they bound away as soon as they see you.

We didn’t stay long because we had some climbing to do.  We went back to our cars (we’d unknowingly parked right next to each other) and got out our gear.  Eric told me all I needed was a harness and my rope.  I asked him if my 60-meter rope was enough?  Oh, more than enough he assured me. 

Together we walked through the pathways towards West Point Crack.  Here’s the entrance


On the south side there’s a gully to climb up

Here’s looking back from the top of the gully

At the top of the gully is a class 4 climb of about 8 feet

Eric went up first and took a picture of me upclimbing


From here we staged our gear.  There were two bolts in the wall we were going to use to do the first rappel.  Eric told me we’d rap onto a rock, then again to the bottom.  He wanted to counterbalance each others weight and have each of us go down on one side of the rope.  I’d never done this before, but he assured me it was quick and easy and we were only rappelling about 10 feet or so onto a ledge the size of a kitchen table (it ended up being more like 20 feet).  From there we’d clip in, retrieve the ropes, and rappel the rest of the way down.

Here’s Eric setting up the gear

It was a beautiful day, so I took a selfie

I went over first and Eric stayed at the top (even though we were going to go together?).  We rapped off the back side so our ropes wouldn’t get stuck.  Here’s looking down

All was going well, until I realized there was a gap in between the rock I was rappelling off and the one I was supposed to land on (which was really more of a spire).  Also, the wind picked up and started swinging me around. I ended up rapping further into the gap than I’d intended and more to the west, and since I was only on one side of rope I couldn’t tie off to climb back up.  I needed my breaking hand to make sure I didn’t fall, yet I needed two hands to climb. 

At this point I knew I had to manage my adrenaline, because if I didn’t I was going to fall and die, and I wasn’t going to allow that to be an option:  The rope didn’t go all the way to the ground.  It took me a solid 5 minutes (which felt like an hour), but I was able to get a slight grip on the rock (with my street shoes:  my climbing shoes I’d been assured hadn’t been necessary were in my pack on my back).  I managed to turn myself around and upclimb about 6 feet to the top of the rock and clip myself in.  This rock was the size of a small dining room table. I’m guessing 4 feet across. There was snow where I needed to clip in.

I clipped in and calmed my nerves as Eric rapped down, easily pushing himself off the rock and landing on the spire.  I was a little jealous:  He had the advantage of height and he knew the route.  Eric didn’t overshoot the ledge. 

Here I am sitting on the ledge; in front of me, past the rope, is where I’d originally rapped too far and had to upclimb.

Here’s looking up from the ledge

Eric was practicing ghost anchors, and using paracord to retrieve the rope.  This ended up getting messy, and I wouldn’t recommend this technique.  We retrieved the rope and set it again, to rap off the back side of the rock again.  Eric threw the ropes, and they looked a bit jumbled. He asked me to untie them when I got down to them and throw them down again.  I couldn’t see around the spire below, so I asked if he was sure the rope was long enough?  (not like there was much we could do about it now) and he assured me they were.  I tied knots in the ends.  Eric looked at me like I was crazy.

Once again, I went first, but this time with both strands of rope.  I immediately felt safer.  Eric got some pictures of me on my way down.  Unfortunately, his go-pro stopped working (which was kind of the reason we were doing this in the first place) so we don’t have a lot of pictures. 


As I went down, I noticed the ropes were tangled more than I’d anticipated.  I came to a place I could sit and untangle the ropes.  I didn’t need to re-throw them, as their weight drew them downward. 


I continued my decent.  That paracord was kind of a nuisance, but at least the ropes were straight


As I rounded the spire I now had a good look at the rest of the route, and to my shock, the roped did not go!!!  I wanted to scream!  I did notice however, that they landed just even with a very thin ledge (we’re talking maybe 6 inches wide).  I was so glad I’d tied knots in the end of the rope!!!  I rapped down as far as the ropes would allow, then unclipped and hugged the wall.  There wasn’t room for both Eric and I on this ledge, or to be attached to the rope at the same time. I looked around and noticed a goat trail to the left that went up; That route looked a bit sketchy, but safer than where I was.   I told Eric I was going to climb to the ledge while he rapped down, then we’d re-secure the ropes for a third time behind the rock I was aiming for and rap down a final time to the bottom. The circle is where the ropes ended, and the line is where I climbed for safety

Here’s looking back from my perch. I felt safe with this plan, because we’d rapped in this area before (after upclimbing to this spot).

Eric made his way down, and started to bring down the rope, but it got caught on something.  He spent some time going back and forth on the ledge, trying to dislodge the rope.

It wasn’t working.  The rope was stuck, but one side of the rope went all the way to the ground, so we decided to brainstorm. 

In the end we decided to have me rap down first, with Eric belaying me from above on the one piece of rope we had.  Then I’d fireman belay him down.  We had about 25 feet or so below us to get to the ground. Afterwards we’d go back to the car, get another rope, and retrieve the one that was stuck.  Eric wrapped the stuck rope around his waist and shoulder for good measure, and after saying “You’re sure you’ve got me?” and Eric replying “Yes” I went over backwards. 

Almost immediately we started tumbling.  As soon as I said “I thought you said you had me?!?!?” I noticed he was falling too.  We fell together, tumbling and sliding the 25 feet to the ground.  Here’s a picture of the line we fell

It all happened very quickly, and as soon as we stopped we both got up and did a head to toe check.  Nothing broken, but a lot of scrapes and what were going to be bruises.  I looked around, hopeful someone had seen our fall and tell us what had happened, but none of the dozens of park visitors so much as looked our way.

We both thanked God it hadn’t been worse, then talked about what had happened:  the rope that Eric couldn’t get unstuck by himself had dislodged under our combined weight.

I’m writing this to process what happened, and to try to prevent it from happening again.  Here are some of the things I did wrong:

I didn’t ask enough questions, instead relying on Eric’s experience.  I should have asked for more clarification on what we were doing before we started.  Had I done so, I would have seen the spire from below I’d be rapping onto, and noted the gap.  I most likely would have worn my climbing shoes (they were in my pack, after all).

I wouldn’t have rapped on both sides of the rope for the first rappel.  I still have no idea when he wanted each of us on different sides of the rope, since we never rapped together.

I should have put on my climbing shoes from the beginning, but definitely after the first rappel. 

I also would have brought two 60-meter ropes and tied them together, instead of relying on one rope and rapping several times.  Two ropes tied together would have made it from the top to the bottom, and we only would have needed to rappel once.  We had the ropes in the car, but I had only asked if one rope was enough, not if two would have been better (you need to be specific with Eric:  I didn’t realize we were rapping 3 times until we were done with the second).

When the rope had gotten stuck, I should have tried to dislodge it.  Instead, I never touched the rope and relied on Eric telling me it was stuck.  Maybe I could have found a different angle?

I should have insisted the ropes been thrown again, instead of untangling them myself.  If I had been solo, I’d have thrown them as many times as it took to get a straight line.  Also, the paracord thing stunk.  It just made things tangle.  Seems too risky to me.

Instead of rappelling down the last time with Eric standing I should have had him sit to belay me, or I should have put on my climbing shoes and downclimbed carefully (although, to be fair, I thought the rope was the safer option because I believed it to be stuck). 

I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list.

In the end, I figure I’m better solo because I do my research and go over safety over and over again.  When I go with someone, I rely too much on them being the expert, forgetting not everyone is as detail oriented as I am.

Here’s our overall route

Clinton Peak 13,866 – McNamee Peak 13784 – Traver Peak 13,856


RT Length: 10.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 3352’

I didn’t want to get up when my alarm went off at 2am.  I really didn’t.  I rarely ever want to get up when my alarm rings, but today I was extra tired.  I really wanted that extra sleep.  I reminded myself while it’s typically difficult waking up early for a hike, I always thank myself for it later.  So I dawdled and took extra time getting ready, trying to wake myself up.  It was supposed to snow last night and there was as 40% chance of snow today, so I dressed in triple layers of pants and double jackets (necessary for me, not for most people).  I also had 3 different pairs of gloves.

I drove to the trailhead and actually stopped at a gas station for 20 minutes to sleep for a bit before continuing on:  I was more tired than I thought!  I felt great after that quick cat nap though.

I finally made it to the trailhead at 5am and was ready to go by 5:15am.  Already I could tell this was going to be a much different adventure than when I was here last March and the area was covered in feet of snow (  I’d had to turn back at the lake on that trip, but I’d learned a lot!  Today the gate was open all the way to the mill, and there wasn’t any snow to be seen anywhere (in the dark that is).  The road in is a 2WD dirt road all the way to the mill


There’s plenty of parking all along the way.  I chose to park by the mill (the ‘lot’ there holds about 7 vehicles).


Here are some pictures of the Magnolia Mill, which I swear is going to collapse any minute…


Don’t go past the mill unless you have a heavily modified 4×4 vehicle.  You will get stuck.  Here are some pictures of the 4×4 road in


And one of a truck getting stuck on my way out


You can follow the 4×4 road all the way to Wheeler Lake:  it’s about 3 miles.  Wow!  Was this a different experience than the snow-covered road I’d encountered back in March!  Back then I wasn’t even aware there was a road… I kept looking for trails.  It was obvious from my hike today I’d been way off route earlier this year.  Way off.  And the road had to be under a good 5 feet of snow at the time because these willows which were taller than me now were only about 6 inches high last time I was here.  I’d gone in circles in the blowing snow trying to route find my way to the lake (and back).  Today was a breeze!

I kept thinking to myself: those rocks are going to be a bugger to hike over on the way back down (they were).


What a difference the season makes!  One bad part about no snow?  The road was pretty much a river most of the way.   Most of the areas of road covered in water had side trails going through the willows so you didn’t need to walk directly through the mud puddles, which I’m sure added to my route confusion in the snow as well.


Oh, but it was still early morning and I was hiking through all of this at night…


It’s about a 3 mile hike from the Mill to Wheeler Lake.  I made it to the lake just as the sun began to rise (and thought back on how difficult this trudge had been in snowshoes:  there were actual spots that had had exposure with all the snow and I’d been fearful I’d slip and slide down the mountain.  Not so today.)


This is where the route ends and the creativity begins.  Hike around the lake to the left about ¾ of the way around.  You’ll notice an unmarked path left and up a drainage.  (There’s no trail, make your own)


I turned back to watch the sunrise and take a Colorado Flag picture of the lake…


There are a lot of mines in the area.  I counted at least 6


When you get to the top of the drainage you’ll find yourself in a small basin.


I tried to stay higher up to the right, and this ended up being a mistake:  Stick to the middle, go up the area with small ponds and waterfalls, and head west.


I was trying not to lose my elevation gain, but all I ended up doing was complicating things with lots of rocks, slowing me down.


So my route had steeper elevation, lots of loose rocks and scree, and was thus very slow going.  I rounded the corner and kept heading northwest.  Finally I was able to see the summit!  If you’re hiking this too you can breathe a sigh of relief now:  the worst of the hike is over (yes, even if you’re doing all 3 summits)


As I rounded the slope the rocks became slippery:  everything in the shadows (west) had a thin layer of frost covering it (slippery!)


I gained the ridge and followed it to the summit of Clinton Peak.


I turned back and looked at the way I’d come:  that had been a steep climb!


From Traver Peak, here’s a view of the route I took (solid line) versus the one I should have taken (dotted line)

21My Route versus actual route

I summited at 8:30am.  Here’s proof I summited

22 Clinton Peak 13857


There were a lot of active mines in the area west of the peak and below as well


The rest of the route before me was very straightforward.  It was class 2 ‘climbing’, following the ridge.


There were a few large rocks to contend with, but nothing class 3, and all avoidable if you went down the ridge a bit (go left (east) to avoid frost).


There were also small bits of snow, but nothing that got in the way or wasn’t easily avoidable


I couldn’t help but think as I reached the saddle of Clinton/McNamee how much easier this hike would have been to just continue straight all the way through the basin up to this saddle.  It would have added maybe a mile to the hike (maybe) but also made the elevation gain so much simpler to deal with!  I’m sure it would have cut my time down at least an hour.


The path to McNamee was about half a mile and easy to follow.  I summited at 9am


There was a lot of mining trash on this summit!


Here’s the rest of the route to Traver Peak


Here’s a picture from the McNamee/Traver saddle looking back on the route so far


Summiting Traver was just a little more difficult than McNamee, but as long as I stuck to the ridge I was just fine (class 2).  There were a couple of places I intentionally made it a class 3 climb, but they were completely unnecessary.


There was also a metal trash can full of rocks on the ridge?


I summited at 9:30am


There had been a light dusting on DeCaLiBron the night before


Ok, now it was time to head down.  I turned east and looked at my route before me.  All I had to do was follow the ridge down and head for Wheeler Lake.  It was quite simple really


About ¼ of the way down the ridge I found this survey marker


And halfway down the ridge I saw a large cairn.  Or at least that’s what I thought it was until I saw the stone with writing and a date.  I couldn’t make out the writing, but the year is clearly 1881.  When I got home I looked it up online, and couldn’t find any information about a possible grave/death/etc.  It looks like a cairn grave to me (think Oatman family?).  Thoughts?


The ridge was easy to follow with medium sized, mostly stable rocks.  I couldn’t help but think how much easier it would have been to have done this hike in reverse, instead coming up the east ridge of Traver and down Clinton.  My advice to anyone doing this hike:  HIKE IT IN REVERSE.  Or go up the McNamee/Clinton saddle, over to Clinton, and then back to McNamee and Traver.  That trek up Clinton’s south slope is a bugger! And from what I experienced on the easy way down Traver, totally avoidable and unnecessary.


In any event, the cairn is clearly visible from a ways away.  It’s a good marker to look for (especially if you’re hiking this in reverse).  When I made it to the cairn I headed down the basin, over large rocks and some grassy areas.  Before the bottom of the basin I was greeted with some large boulders.  I didn’t have to climb down them… but I did.


Here’s the route I took.  I obviously could have avoided the boulders by sticking to the north.  (Note, this is NOT Wheeler Lake, but a small pond in the middle basin).


All morning and afternoon the weather had been perfect!  The skies were clear and I’d way overdressed (no worries, this is better than the alternative).  The basin was beautiful, and I got to thinking:  Life for me has been extremely difficult in the past and I’ve been through some dreadful things no one should ever have to go through, but today, life is good.  I mean really, really good!  I’m the happiest I’ve been in years, my kids are all amazing and doing amazing things with their lives, I get to hike every Friday, I paid off my truck this month (woohoo!  This means I’m debt free!), and I’ve now completed 28 13ers (think I can hit 30 by my birthday on the 18th?).  I was in a great mood, and so glad I decided to go hiking today! (See?  I told myself so!)

Here’s where the hike became beautiful.  As I was exiting the basin and aiming towards Wheeler Lake I was able to notice all the fall colors.  Here’s a look at the North side of Lincoln (14er)


And a look back down on Wheeler Lake


I passed by the waterfall and skirted the lake


Here is where I met back up with the road again.  The 3 miles out would have been easier and much faster without all those rocks in the road, but at least route finding was easy!


I made it back to my truck around 12:15pm, making this a 10.9 mile hike with 3300’ in elevation gain in 7 hours with lots of summit time.


The fall colors are starting to change early this year.  The drive through Alma was unexpectedly beautiful!


Here’s another look at the peaks


Oh, and I’m still working on the GPX thing.  Here’s the link to STRAVA:

Mountain Mahogany

Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus ledifolius, or curl-leaf
Mountain Mahogany, is not a true mahogany.
This shrubby, slow-growing tree belongs in the Rosaceae, or rose family;
the common name derives from the dense, heavy wood of this tree, which sinks in
water; additionally, the leaves tend to curl. The scientific name for the genus
is Greek and means “tailed fruit.”

The flower consists of a small tan tube from which protrudes
a long, plumelike style covered in luxuriant tan hairs. The flowers are
arranged inflorescenses of up to 3. The fruit is a hairy achene one
half to just over one centimeter (0.2-0.4 inches) long. This plant grows on low
mountains and slopes.

It has a great many medicinal uses for various Native
American groups.  I captured this image
on MM2 of the Barr Trail, descending from Pikes Peak.  

Pikes Peak – Sunrise and Fall Foliage

I woke up at 2am a bit confused.  Why was I getting up this early on my first
day off in over a week?
  Oh yeah,
  I rolled out of bed and looked
out my front window at Pikes Peak.
usual, the weather forecast for the peak was wrong.
  It was supposed to be a clear day, but I
couldn’t see the summit house light, which meant the peak was covered in clouds.

I went online to check my favorite Pikes
Peak weather forecast (because it’s the most accurate). 
It was last updated at 1:30am and said it
would be windy after 10 am with a 20% chance of snow before 10am.

I gave it some serious thought. I don’t
function well in the cold, but it’s almost October: this might be my last
chance to summit all year. 
And it wasn’t
really supposed to be cold, just windy.
I can’t decide I decide to go.
never regretted this decision, and always give myself the authority to turn
around if it becomes too dangerous to continue the hike.

My camelback was already packed with
water, sunscreen, gloves, and snacks. 
I made
some coffee, skipped on breakfast, and drove the 35 minutes to the
  There weren’t any other cars in
the parking lot.
  This made sense:
Manitou City Council just announced they were raising the fee to park at the
Barr Trailhead to $20 per day, effective immediately.
  Obviously people got the message and are
staying away.
  I feel sorry for the
caretakers at Barr Camp:
  They’re going
to lose out on a lot of revenue.
  But I

I began at 3:04am.  While I couldn’t see the peak, I could see
the crescent moon and several constellations in the night sky.
  The air was crisp and the stars
  I’m not a huge fan of hiking
at night without a full moon.
headlamp works wonders, but it doesn’t do much for depth perception.
  The first few miles of the trial are always
visually stunning at night on Barr Trail.
The lights of Manitou and Colorado Springs are mesmerizing.  Crickets sang as my mind wandered.

This will be my 9th summit of
Pikes Peak (7
th this year alone). 
I’ve always wanted to see a bear while hiking the Barr trail.  I know they’re out here, as I’ve seen pictures
of bears on the Incline.
  I also know
they’re a nuisance in the city, so at some point I should come across one.
  Around MM2 I turned the corner and was
shocked to see two eyes looking at me from about 6 feet in the air.
  I immediately thought that was strange
because the parking lot was empty.
one else should be on the mountain.
shook my head and looked again.
time the eyes were on the ground, shifting back and forth.

I was finally seeing a bear!  I
reached for my camera and thought sarcastically:
  “Great, the first time I see a bear on the
trail and it’s too dark to take a picture!
Oh well, I’ll just enjoy the experience.”  I moved my head again, and as I watched a
large pair of antlers came into focus.
   It wasn’t a bear but a very large buck
standing about 12 feet away from me.
head came up again and he stared me right in the eyes.
  He was much larger than me, so I decided to
just wait him out.
  He tilted his head down
and forward and I thought “OMG!
going to charge me!”
  He honestly looked
like he was contemplating the action.
Then he slowly walked a few steps into the brush.  As soon as I couldn’t see him anymore I heard
him rushing through the underbrush, quickly bounding away.

Well, that was a fun experience!  From that point on for the rest of the hike
in the dark the shadows played tricks on me.
Each shadow I saw was another creature lurking.  I didn’t see any more glowing eyes, but there
was a lot of rustling.

Did I mention the wind?  It was fantastic!  It felt like I was living an experience out
Sleepy Hollow.  There I was, the first night of fall, hiking
miles away from civilization, in the dark, with just my headlamp to guide
  I could hear the wind snaking its
way through the canyons for miles before it reached the nearby trees and I
could feel it encircle me.
  Aspen leaves
fell and swirled like snow in the glow of my headlamp.

I made the decision on this hike not to
hike for time, but to just enjoy the experience. 
It was still dark when I passed Barr Camp at
  For the first time ever I saw
the kitchen light was on and was reminded I was hungry.
  I’d skipped eating breakfast as I wasn’t
hungry at 2am, and I don’t get hungry while hiking, but at this point my
stomach was rumbling a bit.
  Maybe I
should re-think the skipping breakfast thing.

I passed in silence and continued my way
up the trail. 
The wind was pretty
strong, so I kept my head down and just kept walking forward.
  I’m really glad I’ve done this hike so many
times before: twice I walked off the trail by accident, but was able to realize
my mistake before walking more than 10 feet off the path. Once near the turnoff
for the bottomless pit, and another time about a mile from A-frame.
  I don’t recommend taking this hike for the
first time in the dark.

At about this point I realized the sun
was going to come up soon. If I hurried I’d be able to see it from the A-frame! 
I now regretted my decision not to hike at a quicker
  I was going to have to book it to
make it before the sun came up!
  So I
started hiking faster.
  I made it to the
A-frame at 6:43am, about 5 minutes before sunrise.
  No one else was there, so I sat on the ledge of
the structure and looked west.

The next 15 minutes were the most
visually stunning of my life. 
I’ve seen
a sunrise before, but not like this.
sat alone with the knowledge I was the only person on that mountain and watched
the sun rise like a fireball in the sky, inch by glorious inch over Colorado
Springs. The colors were amazing.
tried in vain to get a good picture/movie/selfie, and in the end just sat back
and enjoyed the experience.

This is why I hike!  This is why I got up at 2am to hike 26 miles
on a trial I’ve already conquered.
  I was
so glad I made the decision to get out of bed and go experience the

The wind started picking up and the
temperature started to drop. 
I put on my
heavy duty ski gloves and set out to tackle the summit.
  As I made it above treeline I noticed the summit
was covered in roiling, fast moving clouds.
The wind was intense, almost knocking me off my feet several times.  I was no longer in a hurry, but still anxious
to make it to the top.

I summited at 8:22am, the first hiker up
the mountain. 
The clouds were so thick I
couldn’t see much, let alone the view the summit is famous for.
  The summit house was open and there were a
few workers getting ready for the first cog of the day (9am).
  I felt like someone alone at a McDonalds at
4am, with just the workers there.
  I didn’t
talk with anyone as I warmed up and quickly headed back down, as I wanted to
leave before the cog arrived:
  I’m not a
fan of crowds.

About 5 minutes after I started my trek
down a large gust of wind blew all the clouds off the mountain. 
It was warm and sunny on the peak for the
rest of the day, and I was only about ¼ of a mile from the top, but I wasn’t
interested in summiting again today.
   The best part about that gust of wind was the
view it gave me of the mountains below. The aspen trees were changing from a
dark lime green to a bright mustard yellow, and from 13,000 feet up the view
was amazing!

I stopped at A-frame for a few minutes
to take some landscape photos, then was on my way again. 
Here’s where it really got interesting:  the fall colors were amazing!  I’ve lived in Colorado since 2007, and have
never seen such vivid greens, yellows, oranges, and reds on the trees.
  I took dozens of pictures/videos, intent on
sharing my experience with those who couldn’t make the 26 mile hike.

There’s a small bench outside of Barr
Camp, and this morning I realized what that bench is there for: 
The view of Pikes Peak behind a grove of aspens
is something I could sit and enjoy for hours.
I took a few pictures and continued on my way. 

Pikes Peak was only in view for a little bit, but beautiful.

Another sighting from along the trail:

I couldn’t help but think once again how
pleased I was with myself at taking this hike. 
It’s not like I HAD to take it, as I’ve hiked Pikes Peak many times
  But no matter how many times I
make the trek, it’s always different.
Today I experienced the most visually stunning sunrise I’ve ever seen,
as well as the changing aspen leaves in all their glory.

Life is good.   

This is where I fell

OK, you’ve all read the story, so here’s the picture I neglected to stop and take when I took my tumble.  This is at about MM5.5 on the Barr Trail, and in this picture you can’t see the dirt/dust because it had just rained and settled everything down.

I was hiking down the trail (so in this picture think of someone walking towards you), rounded the corner, tripped over one of the larger rocks, and fell onto a smaller one.  Then I kept going. 

Trail Trouble

I was in desperate need of new hiking boots.  Seriously.

Let me start at the beginning (kind of).  I’ve had the same hiking shoes for the past… um… well, since… I’m pretty sure I bought them the summer of 2003 but it was so long ago I can’t really remember.

They’ve been on many adventures and treks.  I’ve worn them on all of the highest peaks of Southern California (Mt. San Gorgonio, Mt. San Jacinto, Mt. San Antonio) as well as mountains all throughout Arizona and Colorado.  I wore them at the Santa Rosa Plateau for many years, hiking 5 miles a day.  Basically whenever I’ve gone hiking I’ve worn them. 

Except for Pikes Peak.  Since there’s often snow at the summit I’ve traditionally worn my Sorels.  They are great boots, but very, very heavy.  I usually have bruises from where they wrap around my ankle by the time I’m done hiking.  Still, they’ve been worth it because they keep my feet warm and dry (which is a serious concern of mine).

This time I didn’t want to wear the extra weight.  We were doing a day hike, there was no snow (or very little), and I wanted to go light.  I so I wore my trusty hiking shoes. 

This ended up being a really bad idea.  From the start I could tell the traction had worn off to the point where they provided no resistance against slipping.  I was slipping and sliding even while hiking uphill.  I decided to be careful and promised myself I’d invest in some quality hiking boots as soon as I got back home.  I’ve been saving up for some anyway.  Now seemed like the perfect opportunity.

We summited in record time and headed back down.  The entire way back down my shoes were slipping and sliding on the small pieces of granite littering the trail.  Numerous times I caught myself before falling.  A few times I narrowly escaped a fall by steadying myself with my hiking pole.

About half a mile after Barr Camp (mile 20 or so into our trek), I slipped and went to catch myself with my pole.  However, the pole collapsed upon itself and I went flying into the dirt.  Immediately upon impact I knew it was bad.  I picked myself up and kept walking/limping/hopping forward.  My hiking partner Tristina looked at me like she was scared I’d really injured myself, and I told her to “just keep going just keep going don’t stop”.  I may have said it a bit harshly and apologized later. 

Since I knew it was bad and we were still about 6 miles from the end of the trail I just needed to keep moving forward.  I know the proper thing to have done would have been to stop, assess the damage, clean the wound, etc. but I didn’t.  I told Tristina that’s what I should have done, and it’s what I expect the girls to do during Reach for the Peak, but in this instance I needed to keep walking.  I was seriously afraid if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to start again (lactic acid after such a hike can stop you in your tracks and I didn’t want to get stuck).

I focused on trying to suck out the small pieces of dirt and sand that had lodged themselves into my palm.  I was pretty sure I was going to have to cut the extra skin off so they wouldn’t get stuck in there when the skin grew back.  In case you were wondering, I kept slipping (due to my shoes) but I didn’t fall again. 

About a mile and a half down the trail I paused for a second, stayed standing, and took a look at the damage through the gaping hole in my brand new Colombia Trekking Pants.  Yes, it was bad.  There were 3 puncture points where I’m assuming I was impaled by granite pebbles, as well as abrasions along my knee (a full blown skinned knee).  There didn’t seem to be any rocks still under my skin, but there was quite a bit of blood.  And white blobs about ¼ inch thick I was assuming were subcutaneous layers of tissue folding near the puncture points.   I was hoping the blood would coagulate while I was walking the trail.  What was left of my pant leg was covering potential dirt/dust from the trail, so I kept it on and just lifted it up every 100 feet or so to keep it from sticking to the blood.

Yes, I was in pain, but I still had another 5 miles to go so I didn’t stop.  I also didn’t drink water.  I know what you’re thinking:  that’s stupid while you’re hiking!  You need to drink!  Yes, but I was also in a bit of shock and didn’t want to throw up (that’s what happens when you give shock victims water:  it comes back up).  Interestingly enough, I wasn’t craving water anyway. 

We made really good time the last few miles, despite my injury.  We were even passing people on the trail.  We reached the trailhead and I took off the lower part of my pant leg (they zipped off below the knee).  Yes, there was a lot of blood but it looked like it’d stopped bleeding.  A couple of people noticed and asked if I needed help, to which I replied no.  I had this.  I just needed to get home and clean it up.  I was pretty sure I’d need a couple of stitches.  

We got in the car and began the slow drive back home.  It was a Saturday afternoon and we were driving through Manitou Springs.  Basically what I’m saying is it took about 30 minutes to go 3 miles. 

As we neared the freeway I made the mistake of looking down at my knee.  It hadn’t looked too bad while I was standing, but when I sat it must have opened up the wound(s), because now it was bleeding.  Not normal bleeding where dark red blood runs down in like a teardrop, but thick, contained, bright red blobs of oozing blood contained around the puncture site.  Wonderful.  That meant the punctures were deep.  It also threw me into a deeper state of shock.  I actually felt like I was going to throw up and had to move over to the side of the freeway to steady myself and breathe deeply for a few seconds.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m ok with the sight of blood.  What set me off was thinking of a doctor putting a needle into the wound to numb it before giving me stitches.  That I couldn’t handle.  I have a pretty creative imagination, and it went in circles from there. 

I told myself to “cut it out” and formed a plan.  I needed to get home and clean the wound before I could make any judgments about treatment.  I was able to walk wasn’t I?  And I was driving.  I knew nothing was sprained/broken.  I drove home slower than I should have, but knowing I was in shock I wanted to be extra careful and didn’t want to cause an accident.  55mph in a 60mph zone isn’t my normal routine, but I was being cautious. 

Yes, I hit every red light, and no, I didn’t plan it that way.

I pulled into the driveway and slowly crawled out of the truck.  I’d come up with a “plan” on the drive home I was hoping would have some success:  My neighbor is a Green Beret.  A medic to be exact.  Maybe he had some of that super glue stitching stuff they use for wounds on the battlefield.  It was worth a try, so I limped over to his house.  He wasn’t home.  Drat.

On my way back down the driveway Rebecca drove up, saw me limping (and the blood), and her eyes got wide.  I just walked inside.  She asked me how it happened and I said I slipped on the trail.  She asked me if it was because of the shoes.  Apparently she’d had the same issue on the hike last week (yes, we share shoes).  She’d been slipping all over the place as well.  That gave me somewhat of a better feeling.  I was legitimately able to blame it on the shoes and their lack of traction and not my hiking abilities.  Rebecca had independently confirmed the fact the traction on them was terrible. 

However that didn’t solve the problem.  I needed to clean the wound, and I figured the easiest way to do so would be with a bath. I’ll spare you the details, but 45 minutes later the wounds were clean and I could see the damage.  Indeed I had 3 puncture wounds, but only one needed stitches, and only one or two at that.  Due to the skin fold caused at the puncture site I was pretty sure stitches wouldn’t help much and the skin would probably need to be cut which would make stitches impossible (I was going to have a fun scar either way), so I resolved to just treat it myself. 

I bandaged it up, took some pain killers with a beer, and went about the rest of my day cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry before falling into bed early. 

The next day I went about my usual routine.  Yes, I went to the gym and ran 6 miles.  Well, I ran 5, tried to get on the bike, was unsuccessfully able to move my knee in the manner necessary to pedal, and ran another mile to make up for it.  You see, my knee was fine in the walking position, but not so much in the bent position riding a bike requires.

I talked with my yoga instructor, and she agreed I could go to class as long as I did some modifications.  I was seriously surprised with how well I did… it may have been the Vicodin.  

Side note:  I still have most of the Vicodin prescribed to me by my doctor from all 3 of the c-sections I’ve had.  I don’t want to become addicted to medications, so I just took the minimum necessary to get me through the pain, then I stored the rest.  Yes, 17+ years later the medication still works.  Don’t let anyone tell you medication like Vicodin “goes bad”.  It doesn’t.  They just want to get you to buy it again (or throw it away so it doesn’t get into the wrong hands). 

OK, I know you’re probably thinking “why don’t you just rest?” 

I need my knee to heal, but I need it to heal in the way I’m used to using it.  If I just sit around all day I’ll go insane for one, but my knee will heal stiff and I’ll have to “work it in” again.  Notice I’m not completely crazy:  I wasn’t able to exercise on the bike and I stopped.  I’m not going to make my body do anything it can’t, but I’m not going to let something like this stop me from being active.  Remember, it’s not sprained or broken…

Anyway, I went out and bought new hiking boots.  There’s no way I’m going to let myself get into such a situation again.  I truly believe the shoes caused the problem, and knowing the cause meant I needed to fix the problem.  Salomons were highly recommended by several thru hikers, and one even told me he stood in ankle deep water in them for some time and came away with dry feet (they are waterproof). So now I’m wearing them everywhere to break them in before hiking again next week. 

BTW, my knee and other various cuts and bruises from the fall are healing fabulously.   It’s actually kind of fascinating watching the body heal so quickly, as well as the various stages of healing (but that’s another post for another time).  Yes, if I end up getting an infection I’ll go in to see a doctor. 

A close up view… still bleeding/weeping, but healing nicely

OK, let the comments commence…