Peak(s):  Flora, Mt  -  13,146 feet
Colorado Mines Peak
Date Posted:  04/15/2014
Modified:  08/05/2014
Date Climbed:   04/12/2014
Author:  Jon Frohlich
 Even the easy ones can hurt  

Normally I wouldn't write up a trip report for what should have been a routine hike up Mt. Flora but my day didn't exactly turn out as planned. I've been climbing peaks for a long time and up until now I'd never really had anything I'd called a serious injury. I've rolled my ankles more times than I can count, had a lot of various knee pains, and left a lot of blood on various mountains. All that comes with the territory. We all get minor hurts and walk them off. Saturday was the first time I actually wondered if I might not be able to walk out on my own.

I headed up from Denver early Saturday with my dog, Maya, intending to just get some altitude and come out of winter hibernation. We got to the parking lot at Berthoud Pass and had it all to ourselves. I was in no hurry so took my time getting ready and we headed up the packed snowcat track at about 7:45am. We followed the road for the first few switchbacks until I decided to just head straight up.

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We made an easy time of it up to the summit of Colorado Mines Peak in about an hour and after a brief break started making our way down to the saddle with Flora.

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On the way down I was thinking about a good place to dump the snowshoes since they didn't appear to be necessary and just randomly thinking about the fact it was a really nice day for April. Maya was running around having a good time as well. All of a sudden my foot slid on a patch of ice when I stepped down on a rock. Then I tripped on another rock and fell forward. I felt my right leg hit something as I landed and partially caught myself with my left hand. I suddenly realized I was in a large amount of pain and wasn't sure I could stand up. I slowly managed to get to my feet and knew pretty quickly that I had done something bad to my right leg.

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A lot of thoughts started going through my head: how bad am I hurt, can I walk at all, can I walk it off, do we need to turn around, how far are we from the car, $#*($#@ that hurts! Thankfully there was almost no wind on the saddle and it was relatively warm so I took off my pack and decided to limp around a bit to see how it felt. Every step hurt and I couldn't put much weight on my leg. It was obvious that turning around was the only option. The only question was whether I could actually walk back to the car under my own power. I always carry a ResQLink PLB and had tested it the day before so I knew it was there if it came to that. I also knew that I'd cause a panic if I hit that button. I considered making a cell phone call as well but decided to hold off unless it really became necessary.

We turned around and started heading back up. As I would find out later hiking up was quite a bit better than going down. Even so doing 300 feet back up was very unpleasant. I could tell it was starting to swell and pain was shooting up my leg every time I put my foot down. The hike down to the saddle had taken us less than 15 minutes. The hike back up took over 30. Finally we topped out on Colorado Mines Peak again and I could see the car a long ways below. More cursing.

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There are what I assume to be old power poles in the middle of the slope so I started counting them as I passed. One pole, two poles, three poles, take a short break, curse my fate. We made slow but somewhat steady progress. I tried not to stop much since I didn't want to lose focus and let the leg stiffen up more.

Finally we reached the snowcat road again. Now I had a decision to make, I could try and go straight down to the car and possibly posthole (under the circumstances a rather painful prospect that would involve a lot more cursing) or take the longer but packed road. I decided on the road for a while but eventually my desire to get down won out and we took a path straight towards the car. I could see people walking around in the parking lot and knew the ordeal was almost over. The last tenth of a mile seemed like it took forever but finally we reached the parking lot. At a normal pace what should have taken me 30 minutes had taken well over an hour. I put Maya in the car and went into the bathroom to finally take a look at my leg. I had some blood but mostly it was very swollen. I could barely get my long underwear over my calf to even look at it.

I got in the car and started driving down. On the way back I stopped at the gas station in Downieville for ibuprofen where I must have looked like quite a sight hobbling around. 4 ibuprofen barely touched the pain but I could drive. I talked to my wife on the phone and decided to drop Maya off at home and then go to the emergency room to get things checked out. We both figured it wouldn't be surprising if I had fractured something in the fall. The ER did xrays and said it didn't look like anything was broken but there could an MCL tear that only an MRI would see. I have a bruise from above my knee to a few inches above my ankle. Only time will tell if I did any more serious damage than that. I'm going to wait a few more days before any further visits to the doctor. As of today here's what my leg looks like. I don't think the picture actually does justice to how much of my leg is purple and black. Everyone at work thinks watching me slowly limp around is amusing.

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This time I was able to walk out but I just as easily could have broken my leg in the fall. The leg will heal but I think the reminder to always be prepared and not get complacent wasn't such a bad thing. A sobering reminder of how quickly things can change from a very nice day to something else entirely in a few seconds.

UPDATE:

I realized I never updated this with what I know now. It turns out the MRI showed a significant bone bruise of my upper tibia. Essentially I did break my leg but without a corresponding fracture. It took 7 weeks to get back to hiking. It's almost 4 months later as I write this and I still have occasional discomfort in that leg but I can run and hike again. I'm still amazed at the whole thing and glad it wasn't worse.



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 Comments or Questions
mtgirl

Dang.....
04/15/2014 20:42
Hope you recover soon. That's a nice shade of purple !


boudreaux

I feel your pain!
04/16/2014 01:20
I nearly killed myself 2 weeks ago on my mtb. Just goes to show that if your mind wanders just a little, serious stuff can happen to you! Hope your recovery is quick and smooth, and nothing else turns up that may require surgery! My face is still a little sore, but otherwise healed very nicely! It always seems to happen on the way back down don't it!


Oman

Ouch
04/16/2014 04:01
Hope you heal fast.


SurfNTurf

Yikes
04/16/2014 04:27
Hope that leg heals soon and there's no more damage than a bruise. A good reminder that even the ”easy” ground can get you. Feel better dude.


jmanner

Bummer Dude
04/17/2014 16:46
Good luck with the recovery!


DArcyS

get better
04/17/2014 23:45
I once tripped on James Peak, and I was amazed at how such a small fall can hurt. Rocks are hard . . .

Good luck with the recovery, Jon.


Jon Frohlich

Recovery
04/22/2014 22:35
The bruising is pretty much gone but I still have quite a bit of pain and the outside of my knee is still swollen. Up until about 48 hours ago I thought I was in the clear but then the pain started ramping up again. Made an appointment for next Monday to see an orthopedist. I'm hoping it heals on its own by then but who knows.



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