“I need a moment.” This was all I could muster. I was hanging, semi-upside down, with blood sliding down the right side of my face. I was going in and out of consciousness. My climbing gear and shirt were covered in blood. Andrew, my climbing partner, had just arrived by my side, 400’ up the north face of Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, in August, 2019.
I was very fortunate to be introduced to Rocky Mountain National Park in the mid-1960s the summer before third grade. My parents rented a cabin in Allenspark, and we learned how to hike, backpack, and get lost in Wild Basin, almost always starting at our little cabin and then walking to the old Allenspark Trailhead. We would fill up our canteens at Calypso Cascades and make our way, eventually, to all the major lakes in upper Wild Basin. Later, before high school, my family got a place in Estes Park and my love for the park grew over the next 55 years, continuing to today.
I learned the basics of how to climb on Lumpy Ridge while in the ninth grade. My brothers and I had climbed many of the now classic alpine rock routes by the early ‘70s: Sharkstooth, Notchtop, Spearhead, Hallett and Petit Grepon. These wonderful experiences started a lifelong love of wild places and unbelievable adventures. My professional and personal life was shaped around these moments, and I always kept returning to the park. The park has changed a great deal over the years and more people have discovered its charms and secrets, yet it remains an awesome place.
After a pre-dawn start and beautiful sunrise above Emerald Lake, I was climbing high up a route on Hallett’s north face with my good friend Andrew Eaton, when I took a huge, roped, leader fall.
The climbing rope and equipment worked, but I was far above my last piece of protection when I slipped, causing me to pendulum and hit the wall multiple times before the rope caught me and arrested my fall. I had climbed different routes on Hallett at least 15 times, and I had done this particular route before as it is one of my favorite mountains. I later learned that I fractured my C1, C2 and C5 vertebra; broken five ribs that were in pieces; I had a punctured lung and hemothorax on my right side; a blood clot in my neck; concussion; and broken a thumb, among other injuries. In a heroic effort, Andrew, so calm and highly skilled, and two other climbers helped get me down to the base of the wall where the Rocky Mountain National Park Search and Rescue (ROMO SAR) team was already staging.
Within a couple of hours after getting down to the base of the north face, the SAR team stabilized me and got me securely packaged in a rigid litter. From a technical and challenging location near the base of the wall, I was airlifted out by helicopter and flown to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Denver. After days in the ICU and then time on a regular floor in the hospital, I came back home to Boulder for more healing. Soon enough, remarkably, I am well enough to keep doing so many of the things that I love. What a gift that is.
The main reason that I was able to recover and can still visit the park today is because of the expertise and dedication of that SAR Team. I had long thought that the functions of the SAR team did not apply to me specifically, that I would never make the kinds of mistakes that would lead me to have an accident that would require the need for such a rescue. I thought I was strong, experienced, and, especially, self-reliant.
Despite this belief, the ROMO SAR team was there for me when I needed help. That is one of the reasons why I’ve been a supporter through the Rocky Mountain Conservancy. The SAR team’s professional care for me on Hallett was exceptional. That I am not dead or paralyzed, outcomes that would be likely given my injuries, is a testament to their skill and training.
The ROMO SAR team is ready for all types of situations where visitors need real help: people on trails, people climbing, people at trailheads, people in cars, people at altitude, and people with medical issues. It is amazing how many ways people find themselves needing help in the park.
Can I say this again? We are so fortunate to have such a strong SAR team in the park to support us, and they need our support to keep saving lives. Thank you for considering joining that effort with the Rocky Mountain Conservancy today.
RM Conservancy Member/Donor