Lucky escape

Things not to do while rehabbing an ACL: fall 100-odd feet down the side of a mountain.

We spent the first two days of 2011 snowshoeing. On Saturday we went out to Cypress and hiked around the paid trails, and on Sunday we went to Seymour and took the access trail into the backcountry. The group we were with were keen to do the Mount Seymour Peak, and even though I could see that it was an exceptionally steep face of slippery, sun-warmed snow I cheerfully agreed. Our snowshoes actually didn’t have enough uphill traction to make it up the main face, but we found a chute to skier’s right with a few little trees at the top and eventually managed to scramble up.

When we reached the top the tough climb was worth it a thousand times over; I’ve seen many views from many mountain peaks, but the difficulty of the approach and the fact that it was by far the hardest thing I’ve done since surgery made these seem extra spectacular. The sun was shining down, the air was as clear as glass all the way to the Cascades, and there on the highest peak for miles around it felt like we were standing on the edge of the sky itself.

And then we had to get down.

We started back down the same chute, using the little trees at the top for purchase.  J was inching her way down a few feet below me when the branch I was holding slipped out of my hand, and I began to slide. With the slope dropping off below the trees I made a grab for the trunk of the lowest one, but was already moving much too fast and just bounced off it. At that point time suddenly split into two channels, one where I had an eternity to appreciate that my brand-new ACL and I were just about to fall more than a hundred feet down a near-vertical face and one where there was a tumbling blur and then all of a sudden I was lying in a snowdrift at the foot of the slope. I do recall the sheer speed of the slide, and stabbing vainly at the snow with my hiking pole to try and self-arrest. I also remember seeing the heel of my bad leg catch on the snow, and trying to yank it into the air and out of the way as I tumbled.

When I picked myself up out of the snowdrift, nothing seemed to be damaged. By the time we’d hiked the 5k back out to the parking lot my knee was aching a bit and I had a sore spot on the shin, but it was hard to tell whether this was from the steep scramble up the slope or the tumble down it. The next day the knee felt achy and a bit stiff but otherwise okay, although my arm had bruised up impressively from the bounce off the tree. On Wednesday the knee felt much better, and my physiotherapist gave me a thorough once-over and pronounced me intact and very lucky. (He also gave me a bit of a talking to about acceptable risk at this point in rehab, which I took on the chin as I thoroughly deserved it.) Today the knee felt great.

I have to admit that while I’d likely have dived down the slope voluntarily if I hadn’t had the healing graft to worry about, the fall was pretty freaky and I spent a fretful couple of days in its aftermath. I was very conscious that I’d put myself in a really stupid situation, and that if I had done some serious damage I would have had no-one to blame but myself. I know that I’m not good at evaluating physical risk, and I really should have kept this in mind when I was assessing the situation.

This was definitely a lucky escape, and hopefully a valuable lesson learned for the future.

Seymour Peak views

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