Here I’d been thinking that I had nothing to write. And then I fell on my face and head. Yes, leave it to me to make the safest climbing possible – overhanging sport climbing – as dangerous as possible. Was at Wizard’s Gate, with my friends Quinn and Wes, was feeling good – all of us were climbing well. Anyway, I jumped on a hard (for us) sport route, and at the steepest part I pitched off, and my body was fairly horizontal but I think my foot stayed on the hold just a little longer, thus launching me into a back flip, and somehow along the way the rope spun me and I swung back into the wall head-first. Smashed my head and face, blood dripping into space, gnarly. Fortunately my neck is fine and I didn’t fracture my skull.
Really, I felt fine. I lowered, Wes put a sweatshirt on my head and we walked out, freaking people out on the trail, and thought about just going to the bar – fuck it. But we went to the ER first, good thing – 13 staples in my head and 14 stitches in my face and mouth. Just what I need – I got uglier.
I was not wearing a helmet. I’d been getting complacent when cragging on good rock – stupid, yes. But maybe not? I have no problem attributing blame to myself, for sure, but overhanging sport climbing without a helmet, on good rock, must be the single safest form of climbing. I’ll bet the “if you’d have worn a helmet” thing is, maybe, what? one in 10,000 with this scenario? Seriously, just stay inside. No, for real, stay on the couch and watch TV. Nothing will hurt you there. Then again, had I broken my skull or neck (though the helmet wouldn’t have likely prevented a neck injury anyway), that one case would’ve been catastrophic. Makes me shudder to think about. Just like if my rope would have cut and killed me – also extremely rare – I’d have wished I’d been climbing on double 11mm ropes. I don’t want to be defensive, but I also hate how anytime there’s an accident, every douchebag in the universe tries to jump to one single thing that would magically be the panacea for all evils, accidents, and tragedies in the universe (and such reactions often seem suspiciously close to the shallow self-justification of “Well, you wouldn’t catch me don’t that” – yes, you’re right, we wouldn’t, because you were inside on the couch). It’s weird, like, sure, a helmet would’ve helped some. I almost surely wouldn’t have the staples in my head (the least of my worries…), but would probably still have the gnarled-up face. So, IF I had worn a helmet, it’d have helped. Yet IF I didn’t have such a thick skull – who’d have thought it’d such an advantage? – I’d have been fucked. Better: IF I’d have been a better climber I wouldn’t have fallen. I’ve got more to say about all this, and I might ramble-on about it later.
For now, I will say that, in thinking about why I don’t always wear a helmet (aside from the bigger picture of thinking about times where it’s really not needed – like, almost always on overhanging sport climbs), a lot of it comes down to comfort. Wearing a helmet sport climbing feels cumbersome, as would climbing with double 11mm ropes. A new, wussy modern phenomenon? Ha! Get a clue. Half the old-schoolers never wore helmets even in the alpine because they weighed more than three days’ food. We base a lot of things on comfort. We don’t want to make things such a hassle that it removes some of the aesthetic feeling we love from these activities, even things like sport climbing (oh no, am I about to lose my alpine merit badge by saying this?). That’s why the dudes spouting “You always [insert helmet or whatever the ‘rule’]….” are poseurs, and they always have been, and they always will be, because anybody who’s been around knows that “you always” doesn’t exist. Situations vary.
So, here’s my pitch for super light, low-bulk helmets. Because you’re more likely to wear them. I have a Petzl Meteor 2, but it’s significantly bulkier than their original one, and I don’t wear it that often. Pathetic of me, I know. I also know of zero people who’ve had head injuries from leading sport routes without a helmet. So forgive me. And, still, it damned near happened to me. Allow my dumb ass to provide the example: If it’s light enough, and low-bulk enough, maybe I’ll wear it. Just for those outlier instances – like last Tuesday. I’m glad it wasn’t worse, I’m glad I’m not drooling on myself, and I’m glad to get back out there doing what I love. Thank you, Malcolm Daly – a longtime pal and badass climber, who works at Trango – for the helmet. It weighs nothing and it’s super low-bulk. I’m hoping it’ll help keep me going, loving life, for as long as I can do it. Thank you, too, more immediately, to Wes and Quinn for taking such good care of me last Tuesday.
The QuinnWes Shake:
After I splatted, Quinn and Wes not only remained cool and careful, ensuring I was safe on the way out, but they also hung with me in the hospital and then at home – they made the below spiked milkshakes and even stayed the night, just to be sure I didn’t have a closed head injury that’d show later (highly improbable, but the doc said it wasn’t a bad idea to have someone stay with me just to be sure). A few times throughout the night, Wes even got up and came to check on me. Thank you. I’m grateful for my friends. I wasn’t allowed to eat solid foods at first, due to the cuts inside my lip. So, the margarita and milkshake diet – doctor’s orders.
Now it’s Monday. Margarita Monday at the Cordes cabin. But for the rest of the un-acclimatized margarita world, perhaps something a little softer might be good – you know, ease into the work week. Softer can be good, like when you bust your face and head open. Thus:
Bailey’s Irish Crème liquor (creamy, beige…)
Vanilla ice cream
A little water (or more Bailey’s)
Same stuff as above, add or subtract what you will. Instead of Bailey’s, use Disaronno (an Italian amaretto liquor)
Mash it up in the blender. It’s a delicious, refreshing, summertime drink. Drink. Get up the next day and do what you love. Think about whether or not to wear a helmet.