Ice Screws and Ankle Screws

My more-or-less annual trip to the southwest of Colorado went fairly well this year. Dan Dalton and I stuffed my car with heaps of gear (6 ropes? What do we need 6 ropes for?) and headed down the highway for Ouray. The first day in Ouray we climbed at Camp Bird Road to avoid any crowds in the ice park. Camp Bird was my first backcountry ice in that area, and it made me very excited for the potential elsewhere around Ouray and Silverton. The next week was spent climbing in the ice park, leading routes at my level and toproping challenging ice lines.

Slippery When Wet Sea of Ice Pick o' the Vic South Park View from South Park

The last route that Dan and I planned to climb before leaving was Stairway to Heaven, a 900 foot WI4 line in Eureka, just outside of Silverton. We scoped out the approach beforehand and got up early in the morning to try to get there first. We were 5 minutes too late, as another party motored up the trail just before us. As we approached the base of the climb, I thought it might be a good idea to climb to the left of the first party where the next best line appeared. Dan and I rock-paper-scissored for the lead and I “won”. I began to lead up the left side of the first pitch.

I placed 4 screws in 100 feet of climbing, and my last screw was in some decently solid ice. The route pulled up over a bulge at this point and I encountered some snice, or consolidated snow/ice mix at the lip of this bulge. I was about waist-high with the bulge and moving my right foot up when the rotten ice I had been standing on with my left foot gave way and I fell. I dropped about 20 feet, caught my crampon on one of the double ropes (core-shot) which flipped me upside down. The Yates Screamer I had placed on the last screw was fully deployed after the fall. I hit nothing on the way down, but I could tell right away that something was up with my ankle, so I lowered off the climb and Dan retrieved the gear from above.

Pinky Steep Ice Five Fingers Area Deployed Screamer Talus Fracture CT Scan

After hiking 3/4 of a mile back to the car we drove back to Ouray and then the next day back to the Front Range. During the fall I fractured my talus and had to have surgery to get the bone repaired with three screws and a small plate. In retrospect, it wasn’t a good idea to climb a sunbaked, alternate line on the first pitch where I did not have solid ice the entire way up. We should have waited for the party ahead of us to complete their line and then followed. I also think that I was trying to make too big of a move (highstepping) to get over the bulge and a few smaller moves to pull over that particular obstacle would have been safer. I’ll get to think about not falling on ice for 3 months while I recover!