The other side of the story…


“Your rock and ice article with the interfering wfr was interesting. That guy should have gotten out of the way.” – Jake

Jake is a professional rescuer and law enforcement officer, so his initial response is not surprising. What I am interested in hearing is his opinion after he reads the ensuing link and my story.

I am coming up on my own 21st anniversary of a rock climbing accident that almost killed me. Back in October of nineteen hundred and ninety three, the day before my eighteenth birthday, I was belaying a friend on a sport climbing route called Gutbuster at Foster Falls.

While looking up, dust got in my eyes, so I looked down and that is when the dislodged rock smashed the right side of my skull causing a depressed skull fracture, unconsciousness, and seizures. The ensuing events were related to me later by my climbing partner and friend, as I only woke up briefly twice during the rescue. He is a reader of this blog and will hopefully fill in some details.

Will, a cross-country star, ran several miles to get help. The older state park ranger that responded went down on the trail with chest pains and was rescued himself prior to my rescue. When the rescue team arrived, they started rigging up gear to rappel and perform a vertical rescue.

My buddy, argued for them to use the trail that we had all walked down to reach the bottom of the cliffs and they conceded. I was packaged in a litter, carried out, and transported via helicopter to Erlanger hospital. My recovery, complete with paresis of my left side, cranioplasty, and all the other goodies that go with trauma, took the better part of a year and I still suffer a loss of dexterity in my left hand.

I am thankful for having lived through this event and to the rescuers that day.


Having been a climber, an accident victim, a rescuer, and a law enforcement ranger, when I read the Rock and Ice article, I couldn’t help thinking that there must have been more to it. Media is media so I did a little searching and found the climber’s response.

No doubt Jake can confirm that responders on all levels love to break out gadgets and everything else when the call comes in. Having been involved in professional and volunteer responses over the years, I have seen simple solutions bypassed in favor of using fancier gear, training, and tactics.

He can also attest to the “certified but not qualified” world that we have both lived in. Fighting instructors that couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag, shooting instructors that couldn’t field strip their weapon, the list goes on. The opposite is also true when you have stud climbers like Manimal performing vertical rescues on a regular basis on the big walls of Yosemite or other responders that are also recreationists. You never know what you are going to get in a mixed bag.

There are always two sides to a story, but we all need to remember we are on the same side and learn how to work together and communicate better. The positive side to this incident is that is already happening thanks to Dr. Seth Hawkins, the medical director for Burke County EMS and Rescue squad. A climber himself, he organized a meeting between all interested parties a few weeks after.

“In both those roles (rescuer and climber) I convened a meeting a few weeks later to include representatives of AAC, AMGA, Access Fund, Fox Mountain Guides, NC Outward Bound School, Burke EMS, Burke Rescue, and other assorted rescue agencies local to Linville Gorge. At that meeting we did a further debriefing, came to a fair consensus on the events, and came up with a plan to use this as a positive and forward-thinking impetus to improve climber and rescuer relationships. To date, the only formal document that was generated out of all these debriefs and the incident itself was the patient care report, which is confidential. But we all reached strong consensus on the actual events during the call, and I could certainly put you in touch with any of those stakeholders if you want perspectives in addition to my own.”

Video of rescue:

1 thought on “The other side of the story…

  1. Jake

    I agree on the main goal of the group, responders and victims, is to provide care and provide safety for the patient. That being said when rescue is called it is done so with the thought that you are calling to be rescued by someone in a better position to affect a rescue, and presumably better trained. When the call is made it is inherently assumed you are requestin help. Now if you can provide assistance in the rescue so be it but when your participation endangers the patient, the rescuers and anyone else nearby then you are wrong. There’s no question there. The easy question to ask ones self is, “is what I am doing helping or hindering the care if the patient and others”. If you are hindering then stop doing what you are doing.


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