"Climbing is Inherently Dangerous..."
- by David Roetzel

On April 8th, 2004 I got a personal lesson in why we are told this... I was climbing near home in Vail, Colorado when I was involved in an accident that will surely change me forever. I was just beginning a mixed climb when the entire starting block ripped off the ceiling with me under it. This feature was like a large rectangle pasted onto the ceiling above me: about fi ve feet wide, a foot tall and probably two feet deep. Our estimates put it in the 500 pound range. Had I not stick-clipped both the fi rst AND second bolts, this story, if written, would have been penned by another.

A couple moments earlier, I’d walked to the back of the steep cave and placed my tools on the starting block, seven feet off the ground. I placed my left foot on a hold below and pulled. As I raised my right foot over my head, my heel spur touched the shelf and it detached from the ceiling. The resultant fall ended with my butt skimming the ground and the shelf landing directly on my left midfoot. For an instant there was silence, broken by me screaming. Fortunately, the rock broke into pieces and we did not have to move any debris off of me. I began to pull it together as my friends and I packed up. The 45-minute slide/crawl back to the car tested my control and pain tolerance like never before.

Immediately upon reaching the doctor I asked for pain medication. The x-rays came next, which even to a layman looked bad. I had broken seven bones. My fi rst metatarsal was so displaced that it had poked holes through my skin—an open fracture. The bases of my second, third, fourth and fi fth metatarsals were cracked as was my lateral cuneiform. My cuboid bone had been crushed. Amazingly my toes, ankle, and heel were untouched. Sadly, the crushing nature of the injury did signifi cant damage to the soft tissue of my foot as well. Although it did not look too bad initially, what my skin went through over the next several weeks was cause for more concern than the state of my skeleton.

Three surgeries over the next four weeks were required to undo what I had done. A plate with four screws was used to fi x my fi rst metatarsal, four pins, complete with external fi xator rods, were installed to distract my foot away from my crushed cuboid bone, which was eventually fi xed via a cadaver bone graft. There was also the bi weekly lancing and trimming of fracture blisters at the doctor’s offi ce. At one point my doctor thought the area of my skin where the rock made impact was void of blood, therefore oxygen, which is referred to as necrotic tissue. Although there was talk of fl esh removal, our concern faded the next day when my doctor poked me with a needle in four places around the perimeter of the wound. A quick onset of bright red blood and the fact that I felt pain made us feel better. I had boarded the healing train. Eleven weeks after my accident I began my physical therapy, a sign of progress. My foot is healing well and although the next six weeks will bring painful physical therapy three times a week, I welcome the pain because with it brings healing.

The day I hurt myself I entered one of the most challenging periods of my life to date. Although I am now past the worst, some of my scars have nothing to do with my foot; these go deeper. There were days that I had to dig deep to maintain faith that I would heal. I easily could have stepped into the shadows of self pity only to darken my already weakened spirit. But I didn’t. It has taken time and patience, but this injury has only invigorated my love of life and, in turn, illuminated what is really important to me. In this light I have re-discovered parts of me that I have not been in touch with for a while, things I may never have found again if I had not been injured. My “spider sense” or trust in my intuition was also reaffi rmed; it was tingling a bit immediately before I began to climb and I chose to foolishly ignore it. Through this humbling experience, I have learned a greater respect for all that is around me-which in turn brings peace.

Today marks twelve weeks since my accident. It has been a long road so far. It has been hard on my wife, my children, and on me. Yet, with all the hassles and heartache, I know I will get better now, I can feel it. My foot will never be the same again. However, it will be close... close enough to always remind me of how lucky I am. I am lucky to be alive, I am lucky for the health of my friends and family, and I am lucky that I will get to climb again. Climbing feeds my soul and even though it can bring pain and death, I cannot deny its siren song. What I gain from climbing outweighs the inherent risks.

David “Roetz” Roetzel lives in Avon, Colorado and owns and operates Vail Rock and Ice Guides, a year round climbing company. He also teaches two nights a week at the local indoor wall. Both he and his family are looking forward to a full recovery so he can move from extreme couch surfi ng back to his true passion, climbing.

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