July 18, 2015
I took a seriously bad fall yesterday while scouting for mountain goats, and boy, oh boy…Did That Hurt! I might also add that it still does.
It is generally best to stalk a goat from a position directly above them, and my goal had been to locate a new approach route to the goats I had been scouting this summer. The climb to the peaks above them seemed almost impossible from any direction, but I had to try. Bowhunting almost always has a way to add extra dimensions and complications to the affair.
My approach this day was stopped cold by what appeared to be an almost impassable boulder field of jagged and unstable rock, and you might say that I had probably pushed it harder than my conditioning up to this point would allow. It also became obvious that my balance and confidence in such matters is not what it once was either.
There were some other facts on my mind too. Just two years ago a goat hunter died in the Maroon Bells not far from where I was standing, and that tragic information was never too far removed from the landscape around me. He had been successful too, but then fell from a cliff while packing out his goat.
Still, I wish I could blame what was about to happen on muscle fatigue from the long hike to get there. Or I could blame it on the loose rock and the steep downhill grade of my return trip. But the fact is, I was simply moving to fast for trail conditions and I got careless.
Careless in this kind of country can get you hurt. Careless for just a second can get you killed. In this case I was very, very lucky. I simply got hurt.
It happened so fast that I was part way down the hill before I had a chance to worry about my future prospects. I remember the sound my boot made as it scraped the gravel and my feet flew out from under me. I remember feeling my back leave the trail as I began my roll down the slope and through the boulders. I remember the sickening feeling that comes when you know that you are in for a hard landing and there is nothing to be done for it except to accept and absorb the pain and punishment of your bad mistake.
I wish I could say that I somehow escaped all of that in the end, and I did for the most part. It was over in just a few seconds, and when I landed in the trail under the sharp switch back above I could have shouted for joy that the terrible rolling had ended. That is, if, and only if, had not the wind been partially jarred from my lungs.
I didn’t stay on the ground long though, and I was on my feet and moving down the trail before the dust settled. I couldn’t tell you why I jumped up so fast – perhaps it was my way of pretending that what had just happened could not possibly be true, and if I walked fast enough I could leave the consequences behind.
It didn’t take long to discover the blood trickling from my left elbow, nor the sharp twinge that gradually appeared in my right knee. I did my best to shake it off and ignore such minor inconveniences, for after all, it could have been far, far worse. And I still had 2 1/2 miles to hike to reach the parking lot and the aspirin bottle I so craved.
That was yesterday, and today I remain battered and rock bruised with a knee that screams for ice and elevation. The knee is my biggest concern, although I think, and pray, that it is just a moderate MCL sprain and nothing worse. The aches and pains and other wounds will heal, but I would not be honest if I did not say that I am more than a little concerned. With luck I will fully recover before it is time to do it all for real.
A few things I know. A hunter’s fate is determined by his relationship with, and actions upon, the mountain. It probably would not be a goat hunt without a fall of some kind somewhere in the mix, and hopefully I have now had mine. A man’s knee will lose a battle with a rock each and every time, and I am probably not the first person that these goats have observed bashing themselves upon the boundaries of their bedroom.
Perhaps that tired old euphemism is true, sometimes, and what did not kill me will make me stronger. I have been initiated upon the altar of stone, and may now have some protection against further mishaps. My boots will be set down more precisely from now on.
No matter what happens, blame cannot be placed at the feet of the goats. They are just being goats, and what becomes of this insignificant, two-legged animal is not their concern. They know as well as any creature on earth the perils of miscalculation, and the mortal ramifications of a misstep. They live with those truths for practically every breath of their life.
So,…please,…be careful out there. There are limits to our abilities, and realities within our desires, and sometimes one step is one step too far.
Careless in this kind of country can get you hurt. Careless for just a second can get you killed.
I will be sure to remember that, as soon as I can bend my knee…
*It took over a month to begin to start some light walking on my knee, and another two weeks before I could begin to hike in the mountains again. A little too close to opening day before I was able, but I did heal, and I did hunt.
You way wish to take a look at the end results HERE
Update: July, 2015
We have some very sad news to pass along, for as you may have heard by now a man and his young son were killed by lightning this week near West Maroon Pass in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.
My heart goes out to the family of the victims, and it leaves an ache in my belly that I can’t fully quantify. Lord knows, I have been in fear for my life many, many times as the sky blew up and the lighting cracked all around me. Death can visit the most experienced of mountaineer’s in an unexpected and blinding flash.
You are truly oblivious to reality if you don’t have one eye on the heavens when hiking at high altitude in the Colorado mountains. It is a stark reminder of just how precious, and fleeting, our time on this great blue ball can be.
God be with them…
* There are now reports that carbon monoxide poisoning may be the true cause of death in this case. It may be several weeks before the test results are released.
**It has now been confirmed that they were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from using their camp stove in an enclosed space (July 28, 2015)