Bad Breaks

Well, damn. I’ve never wanted to take myself too seriously, and enjoy laughing about the Sketchy Kelly days – as I did in my last post. Besides, perspective is good, and so it’s all the more ironic that my disintegrated leg and perhaps disintegrated climbing future happened in Hyalite, but didn’t even happen while climbing. While climbing, I was everything but Sketchy Kelly – I climbed well, placed lots of pro, even protected the easy exit ice, even backed-up our anchor.

Perhaps the worst thing about fracturing my tibia & fibula – with a “Pilon Fracture” and the tibia end “heavily comminuted” – pulverized, turned to powder – wasn’t just the pain, which definitely hurt, but the psychological impact of seeing my right foot and lower leg flopping from side-to-side. Surreal. Logistically, the problem is that it’s close to the ankle joint, which greatly increases the complexity of the repair and the long-term recovery prospect. I’m looking at a huge recovery. I’ll write more about the details as time passes – I’ll be having considerably more free time, which I’ll put to good use watching TV, writing, and, most importantly, drinking margaritas (hey, at least that part’s good, right? There we go, always looking for that silver lining…).

There’s a fair bit going through my mind and I’m a little loopy, a little rougher than even normal, so pardon the sketchy writing. For now, I know a few things:

-I’m grateful to have been with my good friend Steve Halvorson, who’s a longtime climbing partner, an ER doc, and teaches wilderness medicine and rescue courses. He did an incredible job splinting my grotesque, bones-grinding-together lower leg and getting me out. He could not have done any better, and his splinting and care surely help my long-term prognosis. It took four sans-painkiller hours of him pulling me, pushing me, lifting me, me pushing up, me doing sit-ups, and just keeping it all in perspective, but he got me out. Side note, along the lines of “Hey, anybody here order a pizza?” fairytales: Near the bottom of the canyon, close to the trail but with some hard, steep terrain to go, we heard voices. Steve ran out – 13 people from a Montana Wilderness School of the Bible outing, doing a snow camping and winter climbing course. I shit you not. My thanks to them, including Adam and Brooke, who were running the deal, and were professional, patient, and endured my filthy language without flinching.

Feeling great on the sixth pitch of "Broken Hearts," in Cody, a few days before. photo: Justin Woods

Irony number 800 – upon seeing my friend Pete Tapley in the parking lot that morning – Pete was my partner in the Black Magic post from all those years ago – we joked how I’m smart to climb with a doc. Indeed. And just beforehand, in Cody, I climbed for three incredible days with Justin Woods, who’s a paramedic and also does wilderness med and rescue work. And so it would seem that I’ve been getting smarter… Go figure. Will post some about our three great days in Cody, climbing amazing ice in spectacular landscapes, and enjoying the wonderful hospitality of The-Cody-Man, Aaron Mulkey. In short, the thing that made me most psyched about Cody wasn’t just that we did some hard and scary climbs, but that I climbed so well, completely in control, and made them as safe as they could possibly be. Whereas I might’ve been able to do those climbs years ago, I couldn’t have done them with that level of control. Feeling in-control of yourself and of your outcome is a wonderful, empowering thing.

-Was so psyched. Not only on how good I’d been feeling, but on so many things in life finally coming together after a rugged 2009. Had two Alaska trips planned, and one Pakistan trip, for 2010 (had just learned of scoring grant money for the latter). But I’m still so fortunate. Everyone deals with things in life. Most of the time, it’s good, but sometimes it’s challenging. Challenge gives opportunity. While I’d be OK without some of these opportunities, what can you do? The randomness and unknowns of life add to its beauty.

-I don’t know, what’s irony? Just a funny way of looking at things. It’s not as if one causes the other. Shit happens.

-I’m grateful for having so many deadbeat, unemployed friends who are offering and able to drive my gimp ass around. Jenna is nearly out of days-off from teaching, after all of her med appointments this year, and dealing with my stuff is the last thing I want to add to her plate. I’ve got two appointments with excellent surgeons on Monday (in Bozeman they did a minor surgery to attach the external fixator – a gnarly cage-like thing to stabilize my bones; but it was too swollen to do the major surgery there, need to wait for the swelling to subside a little). We need to get this fixed soon, before the bone fragments auto-fuse.

-After the break, while sitting in the snow, looking across the gorgeous canyon, trying to breathe and to keep my pain and head together, I was grateful. I could see the slopes leading to climbs where I’d cut my teeth as a young Montana climber, places where I’d formed great friendships, places where friends were climbing and loving life at that very moment, climbs like Winter Dance that, still, 10+ years later, rank among my best days ever. To gaze across the blanketed white wilderness and appreciate all that I have, and all that I have had until then, even as life can change so quickly. I was also grateful to still be here, grateful for my friends both with me and since passed, grateful for everything.

-So, despite some confusion and uncertainty ahead, for sure I know that rehab, with hopes for an eventual full-recovery, will be a battle. Life changes, we all know this, and I know this more than ever after this past year. But I’m starting to get ready, down in my gut, getting ready for the fight.

90 thoughts on “Bad Breaks

  1. Kelly- Really sorry to hear it. On the plus side, the masses get to have more (of my fav) blog posts. I had a buddy Pylon-fracture his tib-fib a few years ago. It took a while, but he came back. Hang in there.

  2. Kelly…. there is no one like you – thank god you’re still here! Oh shit this is going to be hard. Damn. Freakin’. Hard. Longest climb of your life. Your attitude is glorious. Lean heavy on your friends when you need to be reminded which way is up! It was sooo good to see your cheerful face when you were in Cody.

    • thx so much, kerry, and really appreciate your ongoing enthusiastic support. your attitude is glorious as well. was great to see you after all these years. take care, and kick ass in calculus!

  3. Kelly, We don’t know each other, but I’m real sorry to hear about this injury. The only advice I can give you is get the doc that treats this hard stuff on a daily basis. And it can be real specific. Look for the expert on the kind of break you have. Experience, experience, experience is the way to go. Even if you have to go to NY or Chicago or San Fran. It’s always been my experience that docs with experience are worth it. Good luck.

    • thanks so much, kim, and i look forward to someday meeting you. appreciate it. yup, think i have a terrific surgeon, surgery wed, i’m psyched and ready.

  4. Sorry to hear about your accident. I’ve broken both ankles and been through a similiar situation. I became a Physical Therapist after going through all the rehab. I have been a PT for 21 years now and I own a practice in Fort Collins, CO. I would be happy to do all of your PT for free if you are in Estes or near Ft. Collins. Good luck with everything. Let me know if I can help in any way. Jeff Giddings

    • Jeff, wow, man, don’t know what to say but thank you. great story behind your becoming a PT, and that offer is so very generous. i’ll email you. thank you.

  5. Hi Kelly,

    Funny, I was thinking of writing to you re: AAJ just this morning. That will wait.

    Sweet that you made this, already, into such fine alpine lit. Blame it on the painkillers. ‘Cept not quite. I can so feel you in there, quietly appreciating the circumstance, yelling like a mo-fo as needed, in such proud control lately — nothing can take that away from you — accepting fate with only a hint of resignation, and ah so grateful through it all. Even thanks to it all.

    More later, but now a story. So I came out of the Winds one summer to the news that Kim Schmitz had gone 90 feet off Guides Wall in the Tetons. You know the tale, leading 5.8 in running shoes, pulled off by his client, inattentive to the belay. Landed like a cat on his feet, but of course from 90 feet his legs went through those feet. By the time I got to Jackson his leg looked all exo-skeleton like yours, rocked in a sheepskin cradle. We passed a nice afternoon.

    When I left I gave him the only thing I had that might break the monotony not counting of course the round of friends and the laptop — a baggie of ‘shrooms. So I’m searching again, and I just might drop by.

    Heal, brother.

  6. Hey Kelly,

    What happened? How did you bust your leg not climbing?

    I broke mine on El Cap a few years ago, bad fracture of the ankle requiring surgery, plates and screws and all that nasty stuff. It hurt so much at the time I thought I’d never walk again, let alone climb again.

    Well, four months later I wobbled back to the summit of El Cap, climbing in my removable cast. A crutch makes a pretty good cheat stick! Now I’m back and my ankle is pretty much ok.

    I did it, and SO CAN YOU. So chill out, do what the docs say, enjoy those margaritas, and we’ll see you on the Big Stone sooner than anyone says you can.

    They said Tomaz Humar would never climb again, too, right? After he busted his femurs. So hang in there, mate!

    “Pass the Pitons” Pete Zabrok aka Frankenankle
    passthepitonspete at hot mail dot com, eh?

  7. Aww shite. I’m so sorry to hear about this Kelly. I’ve only met you a couple of times (in Estes, on the trail to the Diamond) but I’ve enjoyed your writing and slideshows over the years. Best wishes for the speediest, smoothest recovery possible. It seems like you have a good frame of mind going into this; do your best to keep that perspective during the challenges that no doubt await you. My own climbing has been complicated by some unexpected medical challenges in the past few years. As you said, shite happens and things change. The best thing to do is just do the best you can do. Good luck.

  8. ..I don’t believe we have ever met, but I heard about your accident, and I just wanted to say hang tough…good luck with your recovery;…You have the climbing community behind you;….rest up, listen to the doctor, and be patient. If you are ever in Joshua Tree in the next months during your recovery days…stop on by… house is your house.

  9. Damn Kelly sorry to hear man. I brok my back last year and I tend to look at things like this as time for reflection and an opportunity to learn from life. It’s great to still hear your positive energy when it’s rough. Stay up and keep posting stories for us all!

  10. Hey Kelly – Great to climb with you a few weeks back. I’m looking forward to getting back out with you after you make a FULL recovery. Keep your head up and as I said in my email – let me know if you need something. I’ll be in touch.

  11. Suck it up!! Sounds like you just have a case of “Pussy Leg” or something….(that better of put a smile on your face). Let me know if you need anything. What is your brand of tequila? Something in plastic under $10 with a nonslip grip?

  12. Hang tough, enjoy the couch time cause you’ll have to sit while your bones heal. Then all the stored up energy comes roaring back to get you thru P.T.

    Been there had a hard crash……..get better you will and you will climb again…..

    Jim Amidon

  13. Dood. Broke my leg once pretty badly and amazingly, after a year, it healed – and that was without all the modern medicine. You’re going to do fine, I’m sure, and here’s to recovery!

    John L.

  14. Hey Kelly,
    Here’s to that attitude from your marg. students in Portland. I’m not going to lie, I look forward to the influx of margarita recipes that I expect will come from our sensei’s downtime. It seems like you’re already in a positive headspace, so I raise my salted glass to you sir: to good cheer and soon-to-be-whole legs.
    To the bad influence, from the influenced.

  15. remember that the healing that the doctors talk about is what the average normal human does. you are of the superhuman ranks. high matabolism= quick regeneration of cells.
    it sounds like you have a good perspective. be well,

  16. Kelly

    So bummed for you man, but obviously you’ve got a great attitude. I’m switching from beer to margs. till you get back out so keep the recipes coming. Hell maybe you’ll finally have time to come to Nipigon.

  17. Hey Kelly-
    Sorry to hear about this. You’ll be fine, just find and focus on opportunity in other areas of life for the time being.
    Damn, I was seriously about to email to see if you wanted to climb in Alaska this spring! Well how about 2011 then? You’ll be there, amigo.
    In the meantime I guess I might have to drop in your way and sample of these “margs” I keep hearing so much about.


  18. come hang out with me and the iguana in boulder. we have nintendo wii and ineternet, and we can have lunches together between my classes and work. Think of it like the boat times, except without black lake and the exposures.

  19. Well at least you have that cool external stabilization thing that will illicit illicit all sorts of ooohhhss and ahhhhs from people you would really rather not talk to.

    Heal well. Stay positive.

  20. Ooooh Kelly,
    I’m just sick at heart hearing about this!!! I don’t think I can take any more sadness this year. But the one good thing is…YOU Are Here! And I’m so grateful for that! And I know that your positive energy and beautiful spirit will help see you through this challenge. What do you think Jonny would be saying to you right now? Think about it. I know he’s with you in spirit every step of the way. It’s time to slow down for a while,…be patient,…lean on your friends & family for help (that’s a gift to them too),…enjoy the simple things and all the other things you love and and do so well. As one of you friends said, “on the plus side,..the masses get to have more of (my fav)blog posts. Well, I’ve been reading more of you work lately,…and I am blown away. Kelly, you are an amazing writer,…so talented! The other advice that your friend Kim mentioned above is good. Do the research, find the right expert in the kind of break you have. Yes,…experience matters.
    I have so much more to say,…but I will leave it for the next message to you. There’s plenty of time,..right! But for now,…just focus on the job of getting that leg fixed properly,…on healing,…breathing,..staying calm,..and happy,…and enjoying the moments. They’re just going to be different kind of moments than you’re used to,…but that’s ok,…you’ll learn from it.
    Oh,..and here’s a margarita cheer to you my friend,…with a big hug and lot’s of love….Let the healing begin!

    • these responses have all been so overwhelming, thank you. the support is incredible and truly helps fuel my optimism.

      Phyllis, thank you. i’m sorry to make you upset, but, yes, indeed, i am still here. sitting in the snow, broken, at the base of the climb, i just felt gratitude. i thought of jonny, and all of the people in my life, and couldn’t feel anything but thankful. it was like some sort of bittersweet gift after all that happened this summer, and i was grateful. jonny will stay with me through rehab and everything after. yes, focus on many of the other important things in life now. and next time we get together (maybe april, i might be closeby — will email you), let’s have a margarita.

  21. Kelly man, so so sorry to hear! I have a friend that fell from 14,000 feet skydiving with a faulty parachute that managed to open at 2000 feet and pulverized the hips and parts of the legs and to day is ice climbing… You can do it, you can heal and train and push that therapy in your favor and be sketchy Kelly again.
    Speedy recovery!

  22. Hey Kelly, sorry to hear about the accident. I shattered my right femur about 12 years ago in a fall, so I can definitely relate to what you’re going through right now. Keep up a good mental attitude and know that you have a lot of good people out there to lean on if you need anything.

    Check out this thread when you get a chance:

    Best luck with your recovery.


  23. Kelly,
    I am a fan and follower of your blog, and sorry to hear about your accident! I fell on Ham’n’Eggs on the Moose’s Tooth last May and fractured my tib & fib (not a Pilon, but with some pulverization).

    It was a real downer and ruined my alpine season. After focusing really hard on what the docs / PT instructed me to do, and avoiding getting hooked on pain meds, I was able to be on a stationary bike after a few months. After a couple of months of that, I have transitioned back into running.

    My heart goes out to you! Time flies, though – you’ll be back in climbing shape in time for lower 48 ice next winter.

    Best of luck,

    • thanks a bunch, Jared. sorry to hear about your injury — checked out your blog, cool to see some of your outstanding perspectives. loved the pix, too. in ’99 we climbed that route, as well as Shaken…, and in many ways that season really opened my eyes. great climbs, and beautiful places. i’m glad you got to be there, even if it didn’t work out as hoped. it’s inspiring to hear your story — thanks.

  24. Kelly,
    Best wishes bro, you will recover! On December 17th I skied into a tree at my local ski area and shattered my Tibia. I was lucky enough to avoid surgery, but I totally know how you are feeling. Have faith in your bodies ability to heal and be patient, it’ll come. In the meantime, surfing web forums is a good time killer. May I suggest picking up a guitar or any instrument as you sit on the couch at home for the next couple of months? Having a creative outlet for the mind is crucial, imho.
    Ashland, Oregon

  25. Luxury, bloody luxury. When Strappo fell into South Boulder Creek near Pinecliff, smashing his talus bone, he crawled out on his knees, unassisted, most of the way. Well, okay, I did carry both packs out.

    And yeah, they waited somewhat over a week before his surgery, to allow the inflammation to go right down. Spooky having to wait, but I guess it really helps. Amazing what they can do these days.

    Those external frame/cage things are cool. You should put a hamster inside, let it run round and round and round. Endlessly entertaining while you’re looped on pain meds.

    All the best,

  26. Kelly,
    So great to see you ans Scott in such fine form in Ouray. And, I’m so sad to hear about your accident. I shattered my talus bouldering when I was 16, and after operations and a long recovery have climbed the rest of my life. However, I had surgery on my left elbow two days ago to remove a big cyst and repair damaged ligaments & tendons. So…maybe we will heal together; the doc says 6 months. Keep in touch, I’m the one-armed typist these days. Ralph

    • damn, ralph, we’re both gimps! as is Mal (below), but we already knew that (thanks for the email help btw, Mal). keep typing away, one-armed and all. was great to see you in Ouray.

  27. Kelly,
    I guess we’re now brothers in arms er… feet, or what ever. Here’s to a speedy recovery and lots of blogging and margaritas. Let us allknow when you’re back down and, by all means, talk to me about foot and lag stuff. I have lots of thoughts on healing and recovery.

  28. Kelly,
    We never met but have mutal friends Doug S. and Aaron Mulkey. So sorry to hear about your leg. Was really looking forward to meeting you at IcePolooza. From the stories I’ve heard you’ll be back at it in no time. You have a strong support group, strong mind, strong body, and strong margs!!! Sounds like a recipe for a quick and strong recovery.

  29. Hi Kelly
    It seems we have friend in common. Gretchen Gary told me of your misfortune. I am recovering from EXACTLY the same thing. I had a pilon fracture of my tibia and a broken exposed fibula. I took a lead fall onto a ledge in the Gunks in September. I live in Fort Collins now and was quite an undertaking getting back home. I am now walking in a plastic boot since Dec 31st. I’m almost out of the woods. After the first surgery that installed the external fixator in NY, I’ve had 2 more here in CO. I have 3 plates and many screws holding it all together along with bone grafts. I won’t lie, it seems like a long road and times can get tough. Your attitude is awesome and keep your hopes up. If you ever need to talk to a new friend who’s going through the same thing as you are, I’m here for you. I can highly recommend my doctor. He’s Wes Jackson at the Orthopedic Center of the Rockies. He’s been absolutley terrific and highly experienced. If I’m not mistaken, he goes up to Estes every Friday or 2 and they have offices in Loveland and in FC. Give me holler if you want to chat.

  30. Deja vu FTW. Tune in this time next year for someone else’s disaster…

    So approximately this time last year I managed to sit through a full-blown blizzard in spring skiing clothing overnight (yay stupidity!) and discovered in the morning that my feet looked like blocks of wood. It was about three months before I could use them again (thanks to some amazing doctors I only lost tiny pieces of toes, the prognosis was more along the lines of “have fun walking on the balls of your stubs”). The structural damage was nothing like what you have sustained, but to echo the comments of others here, the doctors are mostly gauging recovery time and prognosis against normal people. You are not normal. I am not normal and I am nowhere near being in the physical or mental shape you are in. Nonetheless, I was physically back to climbing easy 5.11 ground within a few months after standing back up, though my head still isn’t back. Again, you are in a different league. The bottom line is that you will get a bunch of pins in your leg, you will do your PT, you will get back in the saddle, and in a year this will be just another knock. This will not end your climbing career — your strength is in your mental fitness, not your body. If I can get back to performing at a reasonable standard, it should not be much of a challenge for you to do so. Just give your body a chance to catch up with your spirit and you will be fine. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, but the picture of you in your hospital bed is eerily reminiscent, and my chances were gauged as pretty poor, too.

    I’d be happy to send you some gruesome “then” photos and some “now” shots if they’d cheer you up. And if the nurse offers you a bag of Dilaudid, enjoy it. In a few months you will be back, a few more months you will be doing sick shit like the Azeem Ridge again, and a few more months this will just be some cool scars to show off at the bar.

    Rest up, and learn a new language or a new skill while you have the chance.

    • omg, what a story. wow. thanks for that, and the encouragement. nice to hear “you are not normal” in a positive way for once, ha. and oh yeah, i’ll do my PT (from past injuries, and a major spinal reconstruction 4 yrs ago, the hardest thing for me is to not overdo it; my mantra, repeat to self, kelly: more is not always better, more is not always better….). thank you, and take care.

  31. Kelly, I don’t have any injuries that are remotely close to the caliber of this to allow me to empathize or offer advice on getting through it but FUCK am I sorry to hear about this. I’d be happy to bring you some PBR cans or mix some margs for ya. I’d offer to sing you some Cash but that wouldn’t be good for anyone. Including Mr. Cash. Take care dude. Good luck with the remaining procedures and healing.

  32. Kelly, don’t know what happened but sorry it did. Just to echo others, yes, you will come out fine. It will seem like eternity at times but have faith.
    Had my own tib/fib fracture 5 years ago (not as bad as yours) and within a year was 90% back. Today it is 99%, that is good enough in my book.
    My thoughts are with you.

  33. Kelly, My body has been broken a few times and I can honestly say that it has done nothing to inhibit my enjoyment of margs. In fact, I can still make a pretty mean one so belly up one of these days! Bummed to hear the news but heartened by your excellent response to the situation. Still in recovery mode myself, but then again I’m not superhuman. I have found some silver linings for sure! Still having problems perfecting Blue Steel though.
    Cheers to ya, mate! You’ll be running circles around the rest of us before we know it.

    • thanks, todd, and sorry i don’t think i replied to your very kind email this summer, regarding jonny. but it meant a lot to me, especially at the time, as we were in the hospital with jenna’s illness, and surviving day-to-day. i remember getting it, reading it, and, through the sadness, feeling a little bit better — thank you.

  34. Hey Kelly, Heard this from a Fairbanks friend today, sorry to hear that you got hurt. I know it doesn’t help to hear this right now, but you will come out of this ordeal with some new vision and purpose, I am sure of it. Please let us all know how the process goes for you. You are a champ, stay strong.

  35. Kelly, by now you’ve read over 30 well wishers send their thoughts, but let me send one more. You’ve been a great inspiration, through your writing, editing, and service back to the community.

    The one phrase that stuck with me, ever since I saw it on your “Somthing about nothing” interview was “There’s no excuse to show up unprepared .. ” The stuff I do isn’t nearly as hard, but I’ve always kept those words in mind.

    • thanks, vince. man, it’s good to hear that reminder (oh, shit, i said that? damn, now i guess i have to live up to it!). i can extend that in a lot of ways to the long recovery road ahead. take care, kelly

  36. Kelly,
    Sorry to hear about your mishap. I have a four inch bone graft at the top of my right femur. I live in Rapid City, SD. The doctor whom put me back together is Bryan Den Hartog. He is very skilled and my outcome was great in the end. May God bless you with a quick and complete recovery.

  37. We don’t know each other but I feel a ton of compassion for you. I broke a bunch of bones in an accident this fall including a compound tib-fib fx similar to the one you described. If there is anything a stranger can do to help (even if you just want to hear a crazy war story) let me know. wishing you the best,


  38. Kelly,
    My boy. I have to say I’m impressed, but I don’t want to sound weird or something. That’s a worse break than Naomi’s spiral from skiing and Matt from Jackson’s paragliding-kick-the-stand-pipe-300-fragments tib/fib. The scaffolding is likewise impressive. I hope they’ve got your pain under control and you are feeling less shattered, knowing that it’s all recovery from here. Challenge totally produces breakthroughs. (sorry about all the pun-ishing double entendre). Naomi is walking and doing 12-hour shifts on her feet, after the break last March, so hang in there. Chin up. Stiff upper lip. Another morphinarita and healing.
    Best regards, Hamish

  39. Sorry to hear about the accident Kelly. I’m around if you need help and my schedule is pretty open. If you end up having surgery or rehab in the Fort you have a place to crash always. I’ll even stock up my tequila for you and stock up on all the classic UFC fights. I’m not one for quotes but I heard this one the other day and it seems to fit the moment so what the hell!! “Remember everything works out in the end, if it’s not working out then it isn’t the end yet!” Hang in there and don’t hesitate to call if you or Jenna need a hand.

  40. Geezus Chief, so sorry to hear about this. Been finding myself checking into your blog in all kinds of wild places (middle of murder trial? Greyhound bus station trying to escape authorities to mexico? WTF?) really enjoying & appreciating your wild-ass civilized savage vibration, but devastated to hear about this. All while I cower in the superficial safety of my coat-and-tie job, safe from everything except my own madness, still climbing timidly, trying to find digestible tidbits of adventure, I so enjoy living vicariously through you, a hellbent wildman with a voracious appetite for pain and suffering.
    Of course I’m wondering what the hell happened…but man. When I think back on all the unbelievable “hurtling-through-space-like-cosmic ragdoll” incidents you’ve endured so gracefully and eloquently it makes my head spin. Like a cat with a nasty sense of humor, you will land (again) on your feet and turn the whole damn ordeal into yet another awkwardly hilarious breakthrough. I can’t believe how much I enjoy your writing these days, at least you will have time to really crank it out without all these pesky grade VII alpine climbs getting in the way. Heal up fast you salty bastard.


  41. Kelly! I hadn’t heard; Doug just told me about it today. This really sucks (like I need to tell you that)!!! I was SO looking forward to seeing you again at Icepalooza. :^( Hang in there; I know it’ll be a tough road back, but you’ll make it. Seriously though, if you want to be “doing what I’m doing at my (advanced) age,” you gotta cut this crap out! ;^) Great chance to exercise that margarita recipe though. It was great seeing you in Cody; I’m so sorry that your trip ended this way. Hope to see you somewhere soon!

  42. Kelly-

    Sorry to hear about this unfortunate turn of events in your life! I respect your outlook on this event-it will no doubt help in your recovery process. It was a pleasure getting to work with you on my submission to the 2009 AAJ over the phone and email. My thoughts will be on a healthy recovery for you!


    Sevve Stember (valle de Cochamo expedition)

  43. Dude! You have an awesome attitude and are an amazing human. One of a kind, seriously. Atmosphere says it best, and you live up to it: “When life gives you lemons…paint that shit gold!”

  44. Hi Kelly,

    I’m so sorry man. I’m thinking of you and we’ll get out for that climb someday. Take care and think positive thoughts – you’ve been uniquely trained for this challenge.

    love and miss,


  45. Awwwwww Kelly! So sorry to hear. Glad Doc Halvorson was on the scene. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help out…


  46. Hey Kelly,

    I’m going through the same thing right now. I broke my leg (while snowshoeing of all things) and had a few screws put in last Wednesday. Its a time to stop and relax for once, somewhat forced but not unnecessary. I’ve watched the sunrise out of my windows without a thought to distract nearly everyday since my accident. Its allowed me to sit back and be solemnly grateful for those who have been helping me because I can’t return the favors yet.
    Hope it’s a little comforting to know that others are taking a little rest this winter too! It has helped me to read your posts. Thanks

  47. Hey old friend, I’m so sorry to hear about your accident. But you’re a tough old bastard and I’m glad to read that you’re already gearing up for the rehab fight. As you know, I’ve been dealing with rehab and multiple surgeries for the past 11 months from a broken elbow and busted shoulder . . . and it gets better every week. Hang tough, my man, hang tough. And know that you’re in my thoughts.

  48. Kelly,
    You are a real mensch, and I wish you all the best. Good goddamn luck on the long recovery road. Hopefully you come to some sort of awesome Zen realization in the process and walk around with a big, glowing aura ball of peace and joy from there on out. Let me know if you need me to drive some fresh tequila for margs up from Boulder. Oh, and I’m thinking this is a sweet time to start writing that Sketchy Kelly novel series we’ve all been waiting for.

  49. Damn Kelly! Thinking of you… I’m a bit far away but of course if there is anything I can do I would be happy to! At the least I’ll send you obnoxious e-mails occasionally to harass you.


  50. hey kelly, dave nettle here…I’m really bummed to hear about your recent escapade. 25 years ago when I shattered my right knee cap and folks were speculating the end of my climbing life as I knew it, my surgeon told me something that really hit home: he said “your knee will most likely only be about 60% of it’s potential..however, mostly likely you;ve only tapped in to about 15% of what it’s potential is so far…” you my friend will be digging deep into what you had no idea was there (which is hard to imagine knowing what you’ve done in life) and charging hard again!

  51. Kelly,
    Sorry to hear about the accident. You’ll heal since you’re already in a good mindset. It won’t be easy but look at your progress weekly, not daily. That seems to help. I had a bad mountain bike accident 2 years ago and had to relearn how to walk and according to my MRIs may have had a brain tumor in my brain stem. Now 2 years later, I’m riding, climbing and surfing again. The things I learned is that being stubborn and believing in yourself is huge, MRIs, CAT scans and even x-rays are all subject to interpretation, and keep loved ones around you. That is the best thing for healing (of course, margaritas help too).

    We met briefly 10 years ago and climbed Coyne’s Crack together (calling it climb may be stretching it for me though).

    • jesus, mike — amazing. inspiring to hear that. thank you, and keep healing and loving life. p.s. coyne crack, ya sure? don’t think i’ve ever climbed that one. but hey, i’ll take it!

  52. Thank you SO much, everyone. I wanted to reply to each post as they came in, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to. I’m absolutely overwhelmed, and completely humbled by all the kindness and great words. It means so much to me, I don’t know what I can say but *thank you.*

  53. Oh man. That is a totally bummer (and “bummer” seems strangely inappropriate to describe a condition where one’s leg bones are “pulverized,” but all I have at my disposal is English, so you’ll have to pardon me). Best of luck recovering; may you come back twelve times as strong and thirty-seven times as motivated!

  54. We met once. It became obvious that your humble almost pessimistic facade had little chance of containing the rare strength that sustains you.

  55. Hi Kelly,

    I told Dave about your accident and he was shocked and upset…didn’t know about it. I am printing off your account of it and taking it to him tomorrow when we meet for breakfast. We all send out love,

    Ann and Gary

  56. Hi Kelly, it’s your long lost friend, Susie Sutphin. Just heard about your accident. Ugh! Injuries suck! Keep positive and know you’ve gots of folks out there rooting for you! Have enjoyed following your adventures over the past few years. I don’t get to ice climb as much anymore. Still remember that drip we climbed in North Conway! Good memories! All the best! Come to Tahoe when able. Susie

  57. Kelly!! I walked off Characusa with my broken ankle, I’d like to think you’ll walk IN the valley with a repaired one! It’ll come back together, just like mine. Ankles are great, but your motivation is better and stronger! Your positive mind is your no.1 medecine and all my good thoughts fo to you as well my friend.
    Keep me informed and most importantly, keep it going. I love reading from you and about you.
    Cheers, LP

  58. Kelly, I am almost a year out from a lower fibula break and ruptured MCL in my ankle. I had surgery to put a pin and plates on one side and reattach the ligament on the other side. If I could’ve done one thing differently in my recovery it would be to have started swimming as soon as possible. You’ll recover just fine and you’ll be able to climb harder than before, but these next months are going to be tough. Best of luck on a speedy recovery, get in touch if you want someone to swap stories with.

  59. Hey Kelly,

    Did the same thing as you in 2003. I was super lucky and was able to get Doctor David Lowenberg in SF, CA. He came highly recommended across the board. It might be a little late at this point but if your looking for any second opinions on anything this is your guy. He is easily found online and I can’t say enough good things about him. I have no pain anywhere and they only lingering problem I have is my tendons to two of my toes are shorter and when I dorseyflex they squeeze in ( I guess is this common on a tib fib non union). Hard to believe but I was climbing again in about 7 months. Painful at first but my leg was back in form about two months later. It’s still hard for me to believe watching my leg flopping around after the accident. I didn’t know what to expect. Anyway, wish you the best of luck and hope to hear about an amazing recovery. I truly feel your pain.


  60. Thanks Kelly for all the encouragement I receive from reading your blog posts. I am recovering from bilateral knee replacem
    ents and really hope to be able to hike again. Appreciate you.
    Colleen Ostberg from NH

  61. Hi Kelly, just read your blog after Googling “comminuted pilon” fracture. I fractured my left leg climbing in Boulder, Co. in 1991 when I was with the British Army. Looking down and seeing the sole of my left foot pointing outwards and upwards was a shock. Twenty years later I’m still playing tennis, rugby and even an occasional sprint triathlon. The surgeon was great and having the plate plus 13 screws out 4 years after the accident made all the difference. Good luck to you, I hope your recovery has gone well/

  62. You have an amazing attitude, Kelly. I came upon your blog searching for info on pilon fracture recovery.
    I was hit by a car in early July, and the impact gave me a “comminuted plafond tibial fracture with fibular fracture.”
    I’m 8 weeks out NWB and slowly regaining RoM. May I ask how you are now?
    Thanks for the inspiration; continued healing to you.

    • thanks, ellen, and sorry to hear about your pilon fracture. sounds rough, for sure. hang in there!
      i ended up wearing out the remaining cartilage in my ankle over the few years following my injury, probably in big part b/c i kept pushing myself with climbing and the things i love to do — so it goes, i don’t really know any other way. things got pretty grim the final couple of years, and back in november i got my ankle fused. i wrote a post here just beforehand, and mentioned how well things have been going in a couple of posts (feb 1 & may 19, but only in passing). been meaning to post an update, maybe one of these days i’ll get around to it. but in short, for me ankle fusion was my only realistic remaining option, and it’s been terrific (all things considered, of course). i hope you make a full recovery, though — it’s pretty daunting, such a devastating injury, but not all pilon fractures are the same, and people recover differently. here’s to hoping that yours is much better than mine, and you continue to progress! best wishes, kelly

  63. Thanks Kelly— It’s great to hear that your ankle fusion was as as successful as it was;
    you’ve made incredible progress, and it certainly wasn’t accidental. Like you, I have a wonderful surgeon—
    with the kinds of injuries we’ve experienced–we get to know our surgeons over the years! I’ve had two operations (ext fix & ORIF) and have been told that an ankle fusion— or possibly an ankle replacement— may be in my future.
    Prior to the injury I loved to dance— waltz, contra, swing, etc— your recovery gives me hope I’ll be back on the dance floor. Be well and thanks for taking time to respond to me. Keep on climbing! Warmly, Ellen

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