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Friedrich Nietzsche said: “Was mich nicht umbringt macht mich stärker." Or in English: "What does not kill me, makes me stronger."
I would like to think this is true, but at what point am I too strong? Does that happen? Or is it the law of diminishing returns?
In the middle of February, I broke my leg. I know, I know, for the third time. Though, it was the FIRST TIME I broke it from an actual ski fall. The first time, in 2014, I was standing with a broken leg, no falling involved. The second I was hiking, and rolled my ankle. This time, my skis sunk into punch crust sustrugi and stopped. Cold. My body had momentum, and over I went. Second turn, slow speed twisting fall. Nightmare scenario. I can't tell you the number of times I've hit shit snow, and thought to myself "Just ride it out, just get through it". Well this time, I couldn't just ride it out. This time, I wouldn't just ski home and chalk it up to a narrow escape. Nope, this time I sat there dazed and confused and in a lot of pain. I had just been re-certified WFA (Wilderness First Aid) through work. So here I go again, WFA on myself. I knew the fibula was broken, but not the tibia (or at least not the shaft of it). My ankle was on fire. But I could kinda stand on it. Weight hurt, but could be done. So strapping on skins to both skis, I skied ON A BROKEN LEG, down to the trees to get out of the wind. I dare any of ya'll to try that!
SAR was contacted and we were advised to do our best to get back to the trailhead on our own. It was late afternoon, a cold front was coming in, and soon it would be dark, cold and snowy. I tried tying my skis together, but that didn't work. So I just used one ski to sled on and crawl out. When the slope went straight down, it wasn't bad at all. But when I had to traverse... that was painful and rather slow going. But since there was nothing else to be done, I crawled and butt scooted my way out. At least my partner carried my backpack. All the help I got, till we met up with Summit County SAR about halfway down. Turns out, a few of them knew who I was. I got lucky in one respect, 2 ski patrollers from Abasin and Copper were in the neighborhood on an avalanche training course, and responded to the rescue. So I was sledded out by the pros. Caught my last face shots of the season from that sled... :D
I had been seeing my orthopedic Doc for a slight knee tweak when I skied at Jackson Hole in January, so when I hobbled into the appointment on crutches, when I was supposed to be fully healed, I got the look of WTH happened? In one major silver lining to this whole process, I had been wearing a super stout knee brace to protect my MCL the day of the accident. Without that brace, I would be facing a completely destroyed knee from this accident. Complete destruction.
What did my Ortho Doc tell me? "You'll heal"
Left lateral malleolus fracture of the fibula, ovulsion fracture of the tibia and a nasty tibial plateau bruise added on to an MCL sprain. MRI showed all ligaments intact. Phew!
To be completely honest, this recovery has been worse than both the previous combined and multiplied by x. I lost my main support group, that I had been relying on, for various reasons. Some for legit, others for unforgivable ones. Then add on the fact that I was injured mid season. I had to be sedentary during the dark and cold part of the year. The most I have sat indoors since I left Alaska, over a decade ago. One does not realize how important just being outside is, unless one has SADs. The ONLY thing that got me through this injury, was the HOPE that I would be back to ski closing weekend at Loveland, and then ski easy to moderate 13ers in May and June. That hope, kept me eating and supplementing and avoiding the sugar and alcohol that I sooooo wanted to indulge in. Hope, that I could salvage a shitty ski season, with at least a few enjoyable days. Hope. That's all I had.
May 5 & 6: Closing weekend at Loveland. I got on my skis and bravely went up Chair 1. Time to see what I could do. I promised my ortho to keep it to the the easy groomers, and not do too much. She would get reports from my PT, and he would know. So I cautiously skied down and over to the Ptarmigan lift that has the easiest and sunniest runs on the mountain. At this point skiing felt like opening weekend, instead of closing. How fast ones muscles go away! I skied the corduroy until icy, then waited a half hour till things warmed up, and skied till I got tired and the snow got sloppy. Repeat on day 2. HUGE smile on my face!
Skiing well is all about confidence. If you are not confident, you CAN NOT ski. Simple. So to say that skiers have a certain level of cojones, is an understatement. To ski steep and technical terrain involves massive cojones - i.e. lots of confidence. It's why during winter and the regular lift served ski season, I get out as much as possible to build those ski muscles and build that ski confidence. After 2 days of skiing Loveland, I felt like I had lost so much in the past 2.5 months. But yet, after years of skiing in too big ski boots, I can weight transfer ski like no one else can. But that's only good on groomers. Not backcountry...
Confidence level: 50%
May 9, 11-14: Uphill skinning at Loveland. Before Loveland was to take out and replace Chair 1, we got to use the resort to uphill. So I took full advantage. First 2 days, I skinned up Ptarmigan lift and then up to the ridge on day 2, just to get into something a bit steeper. Good so far...
Confidence level: 70%
May 12: Golden Bear Peak
elevation gain: 2,544'
trailhead: outside of Loveland parking lot gates
confidence boost: -50%
Day 3 I got up to the ridge, and took a break. I had been thinking about maybe going all the way over to the ranked 13er, Golden Bear. After a snack, I decided to go for it. It was an easy skin, and I could always ski back down the way I skinned up. Of course, I didn't do that! I was fooled by the classic Loveland wind. The entire way up, the wind howled and keep the snow frozen. Soon as I dropped below the continental divide, I found myself on slushy, impossible to turn snow. Dang...
I made my way down, the best I could. On the lower angled slopes, turning wasn't too bad. Then I just traversed back to the uphill skin track, and slid back down to the trailhead, quite demoralized. I had been debating on skiing the last uphill day, now I had to, just to remind myself that I could ski.
Confidence level: 20%
Day 3, May 14: I went back and skinned and skied the ridge route again, just to end the Loveland season with some confidence!
Confidence level: 40%
May 22: Cupid Peak
elevation gain: 2,232'
trailhead: Loveland Pass
confidence boost: +30%
I gave myself some time to recover from that confidence destroying ski. Some more time for my ankle to get stronger with PT. Never realized how important ones ankles are to skiing. Mind blown.
I started thinking about which 13er I should go after. I figured Cupid would be the best. I could hike in hiking boots all the way to the summit, and then decide. I could bail if I wasn't feeling it, or the snow wasn't right. I didn't have to commit. I liked that. So since I didn't know what time the snow was warming up, I figured starting as much before sunrise would be best.
At the trail short cut just before the summit bump, I ran into Anna Marie and Eddie Parks. They invited me to ski Dave's Wave with them, but it was waaaaay toooo early to ski a west facing line. So I decided to stick with my SE line that would warm up perfectly in about an hour after they scraped down the western line.
So I sat up on the summit and waited for the snow to become perfect hero corn. I walked to both sides of the summit pitch, because of the minor rollover, which hides the true steepness. With my confidence being so low, I needed visual confirmation of the slope angle. I was certainly nervous, and was thinking of going slightly off the center punch, slightly steeper line, for something more mellow. But when the time came to ski, I had enough cojones to ski down to the rollover, to see that it wasn't that bad. After a few tentative turns, I enjoyed the remainder of the short descent down to the basin.
From the basin I wasn't sure beforehand, what would be the best way back up to the summit, so I brought both the stickies and the pointies (skins and crampons). I ended up going with the stickies to make the ridge easily between Cupid and Grizzly. From the ridge it was easy to boot back up to the summit, where I had left my hiking boots. Thankfully they were not eaten by the resident marmot. From there it was an easy hike back to Loveland Pass.
Confidence level: 70%
May 25: Pettingell Peak
elevation gain: 3,288'
trailhead: Herman Gulch
confidence boost: +10%
Next step in the skimo progression: climbing up 3K and then skiing down. Pettingell has been on the ski list for awhile, but it's not that steep and there is a significant approach for what is usually a rocky descent. From Cupid, I could see it was in, but wouldn't be for long. I tried to get a friend to ski it with me, but she couldn't for one reason or another.
So I woke up as early as I could stand, after going to the Boulder HH the night before. The snow started fairly early on the trail, but I kept booting in my hiking boots till I made the turn to go up the drainage to the lake. There I transitioned to skinning, and skinned all the way to the lake. From there I went around the lake to the right and booted up the slope. Below the summit, I could see it would be possible to get a connecting ski, if I skied more to the south. I seemed to hit the wall on the ascent around 12.5K. The remainder up to the summit was pretty killer, but slowly I made it.
From the summit, I could clearly see the slope I would ski, and it didn't intimidate me that much. Since I got up to the summit later than I wanted, I didn't spend too much time on top.
Even being fairly late, the snow was very nice and I made some decent turns down the face. I skirted through a couple rocky sections for a couple more nice drops into various basins. The final descent into the lower valley got quite sloppy, proving that 3K of elevation has varying snow conditions.
I tried to milk the snow for as long as I possibly could, but I also didn't want to be caught on the other side of the stream. So I found one of the last natural snow bridges and skied across. Did the usual willow bashing until I got to the point where the skis had to come off.
Then the entertainment happened. The stares from the other trail uses was amusing. As were the usual questions. You skied something? (surrounded by snow). Best yet was coming upon a group of 2 grey haired couples having a picnic beside the trail. I had transitioned nearby out of my ski boots into my hiking boots (which takes a little while), so when I finally walked past them, they asked if I was OK. Umm yeah, I'm Ok. Just taking a break. What did I ski? That peak up there. Confused and quizzical looks on all their faces. How did you get up there? 4 people in their 70's and their minds were blown.
Confidence level: 80%
May 26: East Geissler
elevation gain: 1,815'
confidence boost: -20%
With Independence Pass opening on Thursday, I figured I'd go up and see what easy skis I could do. I've been up there enough times, that I've skied most things already. But some friends that live in Leadville would be up there at some point, so I thought that would be fun, even if the snow wasn't.
But when I got up to the pass, so many lines were out, or didn't look that good. So I drove down and checked out Independence Mountain. When I skied Grizzly A, I went up the drainage to avoid the closed Lincoln Creek Rd, and really liked the look of that mountain. But the stream crossing was a no-go. So back up to a stand by: East Geissler. I've skied it twice. Guess I'll ski it again! I also have a few "project skis" in mind that I could at least get a view of from the summit.
Most of the snow was melted out near the trailhead, so I booted all the way up to the base of the peak. I then tried to boot to the summit on the huge sun cups. Ha! I made it part way until I started post holing. So on went the skis and skins to the summit. Not sure why I continued, I should have turned around or gone to ski a partial line on Blue. Stubbornness put me on top of a peak with monster sun cups. Stupid! A bunch of people skied the steep east face, but that was outside of my current skills/confidence. I told the 2 people on the summit that I wasn't looking forward to the ski down. I don't think they understood what I meant, until they started their own descents (I met them again at the trailhead).
I followed an older guys tracks that zig zagged down the mountain, since turning was almost impossible. I got really good at skiing switch, since that was easier than turning. Once at the base of the peak, I could breathe a lot easier. Now I just had to navigate back to the road. I stayed on the skis till about 0.2mi remaining. Then I carried the skis.
As I approached my car, there was a huge gathering of people! The one lady on the summit mentioned there was the Lou Dawson BBQ happening at 11, and there it was, right next to my car. VIP parking! So I hung out with Lou and other pass rats eating burgers, brats and other foods. A couple of drinks later and the pain of that horrible descent wore off, a bit.
Confidence level: 60%
May 27: Hassel Peak
elevation gain: 3,049'
trailhead: Butler Gulch gate
confidence boost: +20%
After such HORRID snow, I was done with that zone. Hanging out with friends wasn't worth it. My skiing wasn't strong enough to handle that level of BS. So back to where the snow is good! So I drove back to the Front Range and to a zone I've been to quite a bit, Butler Gulch! Driving up, I could tell the snow around Jones Pass was still really good. I was able to walk up the trail, and see that I could ski/skin almost all the way to and from the car! Wow!
Got up as early as I could on day 3 in a row of skiing for me. Today would be a true test of my stamina and endurance. I normally can do 3 days in a row easily. Just haven't done it in a while. But as I started booting up the trail, I felt great. I kept booting up, even though I could skin. Too many post holing hikers use the trail, so the snow was pretty punctured.
I got to the main stream crossing and continued along as I had numerous times with Scott and Nate in winter. I soon learned the detriment of only knowing the winter route... the stream was in play! Dang... the snow started collapsing on me around the stream, so I transitioned to skinning, and moved away from the stream. That's when I found the post holing hikers knew the summer route, and didn't stop at the stream crossing as I had thought. Ooooops. Score one for the hikeneers!
Hikers - 1, Skier - 0
Since I've probably done 25-30 some laps in this zone, I kept going uphill like I normally would. So I ended up going over more elevation gain that one has to, but I also got a nice view of the ski off the peak. Hmmm it looks steep! Shit, I thought caltopo and all my research said this was a moderate. Of course, looking at a line straight on, looks more steep than it really is. With my current level of mental confidence, it was something I thought about a lot, as I hiked up and along the ridge. As I got closer, it looked better.
The crampons went on and off along the way up the ridge. From the ridge, the summer trail was visible as it goes around the ridge bumps to the right. But a few sections of steep snow exist, so I kept the crampons handy. Nearing the summit, I could see that it would be a perfectly continuous ski descent. The summit isn't very prominent, so from below I wasn't quite sure.
I transitioned and snapped my photos and quickly started my ski down. I was a bit nervous I was too late, so I wanted to get onto the slope asap. I got to the rollover, and the snow looked perfect. My smile widened, and stayed plastered on my face alllll the way down. This was just steep enough to make me nervous, but not too much to be pushing my legs abilities at this point in my rehab. (No jump turning allowed)
I was so happy skiing down this peak it's really hard to convey in words. Being my third ski in a row, and being likely the steepest yet this season, I was feeling really good about my comeback.
I hiked back up to the ridge, and found the fastest way back down to the easy drainage. I thought briefly about climbing up about 20 minutes higher to get a bit more skiing in, but I knew the snow lower down was likely being cooked in the heat, so I started down from my lower position. As I was skiing this section, my body told me I had done enough. Going up higher would not have been a good idea. Thankfully the snow stayed really firm in the trees, so I got lucky again.
I found the usual summer stream crossing, and skied for awhile longer. Passed one guy who said "You're the only smart one out here. When there's snow, you ski!" Hahaha! One of the few hikers that I've met, that gets it!
Hikers - 1, Skier - 1
I skied down until the turn by the mine (where you can see and hear it), and decided it was close enough. There were a few dry patches and a couple uphills, and I was tired. The snow was also really dirty at this point too, so no need to trash my skis.
Talk about easy access all around! With it being such a fun descent, this one will be repeated!
Confidence level: 80%
June 1: Mt Eva
elevation gain: 2,508'
trailhead: Fall River Reservoir Road
confidence boost: +10%
Once again I tried to get a friend to come ski with me, but our schedules didn't match up again. Her car would not have made it up the road, so logistics would have gotten complicated.
I was able to drive almost all the way to the reservoir, but there was one massive snow bank that would block everyone. So I camped surrounded by snow patches in a nice flat spot just off the road. With the snow being so well transitioned, I knew I didn't need to get up too early, so I started around civil twilight and made my way up to the reservoir. Past there, on went the ski boots. I really didn't need to walk in hiking boots and then transition after a quarter mile, but I hate walking in ski boots. Especially now with the cranky ankle. Sometimes it likes to crack with every step/skin. A little disconcerting...
The snow in the trees was either nice and firm or getting really soft where the sun started hitting it. I should have cut higher or more to the right on the way up, as my descent was much easier than the ascent. I got up past the 3 reservoirs to the first lake, and could see that snow was pretty patchy already. Willow bashing happened in earnest as I got near the end of the basin. The ascent to the ridge itself went easily, especially after those nasty willows.
Once I got to the ridge, the wind was really howling. The snow was bulletproof, and I wondered how long I would have to wait. But as I worked my way around the downed tower, the zone I planned to enter between the cornices, was already softening up. The ridge up to the summit was solid, and would be as I skied along the cornice down to my entrance.
I took some time on the summit, since I had time with all the wind. Parry was already out. Not that that lower section down to the reservoir would be fun at all melted out. May have to ski that one earlier, or by going over Eva. Something other than the descent down to the main Res.
The line down from the summit ridge to the first bench was short, but sweet. Snow was still pretty firm, but corn enough for me to ski. I traversed over to the final drop and there the snow gets sloppier. I sat at the base for a little bit, and snacked while looking at my turns.
At the base of that main slope was a game of finding the snow patches, since there was quite the gap from the base of the peak, till just above the lake. I then skied all the way down to my boots, and didn't find collapsible mashed potato snow, so I consider that a win!
Confidence level: 90%
June 2: Whale Peak
elevation gain: 2,754'
trailhead: Gibson Lake TH
partner: Zach (EatinHardtack)
confidence boost: -10%
Zach and I have talked about this peak for years. I even went and scouted it a couple years ago, and determined that neither of our Subi's could make it. I would have to bring the truck. We were going to ski it last weekend, but Zach's work got in the way. I hoped that there would be enough snow this far south. Outside of the Front Range was done, but this was the edge of the winter's snowfall. Thankfully, as you drive the easy dirt road up the valley, you get a really good view of the peak! It was in, it would go!
I had told Zach to meet me at the last Campground on the road before it went high clearance 4WD, but it was full (also $29 for 2 cars), so I found a legal campsite along the road in. Since I knew he might be coming in late, and this area is outside of cell range, I set up my skis and poles with a camp chair at the entrance. Surely he'll notice and stop! And he did!
After catching up a little, we crawled into our respective cars and slept well. We got up just before civil twilight, so I would have some light to drive the road safely. The stream crossing is no big deal anymore. People have widened it to the left of the big rock. The true crux is further up the road with large boulders in the road, that even my truck with a lift had to carefully choose a line through. There was a Crosstrek at the TH, but I don't envy how long his drive back was!
We geared up and decided to start off in boots, since it was 1.8 miles till we hit frequent snow. Based on the surroundings, I knew snowline would be high. The trail is pretty nice and quite easy to follow, till we got to the snow. But then we were above the trees for the most part. Here we saw that the Whale's Tail was out at the bottom. While we both wanted that route, we decided that the continuous ski would be more fun
We went up to the last set of mini tree shrubs and stashed our boots and our skins. From there we continued to boot up in our ski boots. Zach went all the way up without crampons, but I put them on since I knew that upper section would be steep enough to give me pause. It was more to avoid slipping and falling and the reality of the impact to my leg. But not necessary. We went up the east face, which according to Fritz's guidebook, needs a good snow year to fill in. Looks good to me!
On the summit we met up with the Crosstrek driver. He had gone up the Whale's Tail, said it was good snow.
Zach and I waited for the snow to warm up enough to make the sun cups skiable. The summit of Whale is pretty funny. I've skied the various 13ers and 14ers around me, but I could never pick out Whale from any of them. It's just a slightly higher point on a long big ridge. Nothing prominent.
I had ordered a new fancy lens for my camera. A 18-150mm lens, so nice wide angle, but a good zoom for getting good ski shots of my partner. Of all the sad things, it arrived on my desk at work, the day I broke my leg. So today was my first time using the new lens. I'm pretty happy with the results!
As we got lower down, the snow got rougher and it was harder to control the skis on it. I had a flash back to the mechanism of how I broke my leg on one turn. So it was time to focus and make it all the way down, safely.
Instead of going down the stream drainage, we decided to climb a little bit and get more of a continuous line on the other side, only one short portage section. Better than the drainage.
We took a nice break after taking the skis off for the last time this season. Quite a few hikers were on their way up at this point, and even a guy fishing with an inflatable!
Confidence level: 80%
So what's the take away? My bindings didn't release in either accident. The first one was on the safest resort bindings made. Both the toe and heel piece release/pivot. The US Freeride team uses these bindings for a reason. Any yet they didn't release. I just got lucky that I didn't actually fall. If I did, I may have unhinged my knee. The fall in February, the bindings found the one mechanism where they don't release well. Yet I know many people with Dynafit bindings. The skis I used had the older Dynafits. My skimo skis have the Dynafit ST 2.0, where the toe piece rotates. Are they safer? Some say so. Which BC bindings are the safest? Frischi Tectons? The new MTN shifts? I think we may still be waiting. Some new bindings look promising. I will be looking at the research. Slow twisting falls are anathema to ski bindings, no matter how "safe" they are rated. Especially if you don't weigh much. Not much force on the bindings, What I do know, is that buying and mounting new bindings on 4 sets of skis (my plan) is cheaper than my medical bills.
May future years be injury free!
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
You skied a ton on a bum ankle. It's been really had snow to ski this year, that's why I ended my season early as well. It went from breakable crust in March-April to dirty suncups and melted out lines in no time, so skiing-wise, you haven't missed much. And I am really sorry about your injury.
As for bindings, check out Fritchis Diamir. CB team swears by them. I think (light) weight is an important factor in your case and I hope you'll get your ski system dialed in. Here's to a much better ski year '18-19. It's just has to be, right?
That which does not destroy you 3 times... 06/12/2018 10:57
...should make you pause, no? Sounds like you're doing exactly what I'd be wondering, i.e. why aren't those damn bindings saving the day? Fully understand that low torque falls/twists are always problematic, but I'm hoping they improve the gear even more than what is currently offered. Sorry you suffered so much, but I really admire your perseverance! Hope your 2018/19 season is great!
PS: I too am a member of the skied-on-a-broken-leg club. Fractured fibula, but it was on pansy resort terrain. Skied down mostly on one leg, holding the broken one just off the snow, up the lift, down the tram...ugh! I'm happy with my bronze, don't want a silver or gold in that event.
Sitting here with my surgically repaired fibula in a walking boot (yes -- skiing), I am extremely impressed and inspired by your determination!!! Since your bindings aren't releasing, you may as well be tele-ing -- let me know and I can hook you up with some gear when you make the inevitable switch.
Here's to a snowy and healthy spring 2019 skimo season ...
You have shown a lot of guts to keep getting out there after these injuries, and skiing down on a broken leg?! WOW! I hope that you are able to figure out better bindings to help prevent future injuries! Look forward to seeing your 13er trips this summer, and wish you a much better winter next year!
Great trip reports. I just had the 2yr anniversary of breaking my fibula and know emotions and trepid-ness of regaining confidence to get back out there. Nice work. I was planning to keep skiing for another month, but at this point I'm not sure if it's worth it. These days I'm much more wary of suncups and crap snow.
Nat - In retrospect, those first few ski days were really hard on the leg, and I'm surprised my ortho let me. While I know I didn't miss much, I still missed skiing and being outside. Next year statistically has to be better. If it's worse, we're all screwed!
Ryan - The TR editor got better once I moved to the new Mac. A lot more mouse work than previously. I'll get the hang of it, eventually. This lens will likely become my new default, as it effectively replaces 2 other ones that were at opposite ends of the range. Bonus!
Schralp - Yes it is! Though in the depths, one doesn't always see that.
Tom - Oh my, up the lift??? That had to hurt! I quite likely could have fully skied down if I was on groomer terrain. Wind blown powder... not so much
lodgling - Sorry, but welcome to the broken leg club.I had been wondering about Tele and what happens with those non releasing bindings... even asked my coworkers who Tele about that. Please contact me if you need any support through the recovery phase. I'm a bit of an expert now Hopefully Spring 2019 will be fruitful for both of us!
Tornadoman - Guts or stupidity? It's up for debate. Hoping for a good 13er summer, once the fires subside.
randomboulder - I usually ski regularly till July, but I just can't justify it anymore. Too risky at this point for me. May next season be better!
Trotter - Personally, I'm hoping 3 times the charm on the broken leg front!!! Or really any major leg injury. I've paid my dues.
Jay and Doug I listen to my body, it's very clear when I'm approaching done.
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