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Head Trip


Submitted by kragu on 2008-12-30 | Last Modified on 2009-02-01

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Votes: 22 | Comments: 29 | Views: 5464

by Krag Unsoeld


By Krag Unsoeld

Rockclimbing Article Image1_largest
The Liberty Bell, right, and the Early Winter Spires, North Cascades. Photo: John Scurlock. See more of John's work here.

"Will you climb?"

I was finishing up a physical examination with Dr. Hoffman, my neurologist, when he popped the question. It brought me up short as I was tucking in my shirt and buckling my belt. In all my previous appointments this topic had never come up.

"Do you mean am I going to be climbing this winter? No, I have a pretty demanding job to keep me busy, and I need a chance to recuperate."

"No, I mean ever."

----------------------------

"Why do we do this?" I thought to myself as the wind howled around the boulders between which my friend Evan and I had sought shelter for the night. The storm had moved in on us with a vengeance shortly after we'd settled in. Rain and wind pounded us in our position on top of the appropriately named Mt. Torment. The space blanket that we had rigged as a tarp was quickly shredded.

"At least the winds are strong enough to keep most of the rain going horizontally over us," I mused. "But what's the point of subjecting ourselves to these situations? Well, if this weather keeps up, we can boogie out of here in the morning and skip the traverse to Forbidden..."

I rolled over and snuggled deeper into my bivy bag to wait out the remainder of the night.

----------------------------

"Hello, Krag, do you know where you are?" asked Rich, a climbing ranger in the Tetons, as he leaned over me lying on a boulder on a ledge four pitches up Guides' Wall.

"Paradise," I responded.

Rich knew that I lived in Seattle and that Mt. Rainier National Park is nearby. At Rainier, Paradise is the highest point to which one can drive. Given that I was in the mountains in a National Park albeit one thousand miles to the east, he figured that I was addled but coherent.

"Do you have any medical problems? Are you allergic to any drugs?" Rich continued the inquiries.

"Huh-huh," I affirmed, making a sweeping gesture at my cranium.

"What's your name?"

"Irene."

----------------------------

Evan and I looked back across the distance between Torment and Forbidden. The storm had blown over by morning and we had accomplished what we had set out to do. It felt good. But I still felt strangely withdrawn from it all; there was not the usual sense of camaraderie.

Evan looked over at me as we basked in the sunshine. "You're uncharacteristically silent today," he said. "You haven't sung 'Jam Crack Joe' or 'So Long, It's Been Good to Know You' yet."

"I think it must be Liberty Bell," I responded. "I'm wondering if it's going to be too much for me."

My plans were to meet Twilly in Marblemount that afternoon and head up for Washington Pass to begin our climb of the East Face of Liberty Bell via Liberty Crack. We were planning on using big wall techniques, using a haul bag, using jumars to clean each pitch, and doing one bivy on the face. This was going to be a first for both of us and I was scared.

"You've been climbing really well," Evan reassured me.

"This kind of climbing is really more like scrambling," I responded. "We've hardly had to use the rope. Liberty Bell is going to be very different."

"Perhaps, but I'm sure you'll do fine," Evan stated confidently. "Maintain your focus and it'll all work out. Besides, if you don't want to do it, no one's making you...."

"Right," I grunted, reflecting back on my past -- on all the dreams that I had as a youth. I thought of my sister and me using brand new RURPs (Realized Ultimate Reality Pitons) on boulders in the state forest behind our house back east. I thought of the miles of bicycling I'd done while still in junior high school to get to the small cliff next to the town dump. I flashed on the surge of adrenaline as a shaky move -- whether it be a free move or placing ones weight on a tied off knife blade in an incipient crack -- is carried out. I thought about the guiding question -- will it go? -- and how the only way to answer this was through the doing. I thought about the doubt that plagues you before the effort, and the sense of exhilaration after having pulled it off. After having invested so much time and energy in the pursuit of these goals, there was no backing out now. I wanted to continue through on this quest. Evan was right; it was my decision. And knowing that I was in full control of whether or not I did it, that's precisely what I wanted to do.

I shook my head with a trace of a smile playing across my lips, "It's in my blood, Evan, it's in my blood."

----------------------------

"Help me! Help me!" I screamed as I arched my back and pushed my chest up against the straps holding me into the Stokes litter. "Help me! Help me!"

"We're here, Krag, we're here," Randy said. "We're doing all we can to help you." He offered me this assurance as he helped guide the litter down the cliff. "It's gonna be okay. Take it easy, Krag, take it easy. We're almost down..."

"Help! Help me!"

----------------------------

The anticipation and worry born out of our contemplation was giving away to certainty. All of the months of toying with the notion, all of the doubts and fears this had provoked in us, all of the questions as to whether or not we would or could do it, all of this was receding rapidly. There was no more room for doubt or backing out now; we were committed.

Twilly and I approached the single strand of fixed rope dangling down from out of the darkness. Somewhere, just beyond the fixed rope, we knew there was a massive overhang that was going to serve as our initial challenge on the face.

"You ready for this, Twilly?" I inquired.

"Ready as I'll ever be," responded Twilly. "As ready as I'll ever be."

----------------------------

"Did you bring me cookies? Any cookies?" I demanded as my mother and friend Sally entered the hospital room.

"Krag, you've got to eat better food than cookies all the time. We're not going to bring any to you," was the response.

"Well, B S U Y A Y D D," I muttered angrily at them. (Translated this meant, as I told them during moments of good humor, "Blow smoke up your ass, you dirty dog!" Somehow I had developed a penchant for speaking cryptically when I was upset.) Nobody ever did what I wanted them to do. The whole world seemed out to get me. Except for some of the nurses who did bring cookies every once in a while. This truly troubled me, since I was creating everything that I saw around me, so why couldn't I get it to work the way I wanted?

----------------------------

I clipped my jumars onto the fixed rope and began to ascend. In the darkness the yawning abyss could be no more than intellectual rather than visceral. I knew it was there because I had seen it the previous evening when we had climbed the first pitch to fix the rope. But as only a memory, while certainly contributing to the butterflies in my stomach, it did not detract from my growing sense of excitement. Fear and longing, anticipation and dread... these seeming opposites were all present inside of me. Can we do it? Maybe... Will it do us? Perhaps... From the base of this climb looking up we could only feel a sense of abject humility and insignificance. We were overwhelmed and yet somehow drawn towards the wall and its embrace. And so we started up.

----------------------------

"May I help you," the attendant asked from behind the counter in the hall at University Hospital in Salt Lake City.

I saw the man through my shrouds of disbelief and sense of dreaming. I was alone and perplexed. I sensed that something major had occurred, but saw my surroundings as all a dream. I was a small child. I was driven by a powerful need for immediate gratification. I demanded this of my family, my friends, and the hospital staff. At times I was riven by doubts and questions about myself, my status, and even my sanity. But these concerns were quickly offset by my craving for junk food and other pleasures.

The man behind the desk didn't really exist. In fact, he was simply an apparition of my own creation. He was two-dimensional as on a movie screen with me the projector. He would do as I bid him.

"I want food," I mumbled.

"Oh, you should try the room right around the corner there." The man gestured around behind me and I padded off on my bare feet to check it out.

I was decked out in a green hospital gown that barely covered my underwear bottoms. My long, tangled hair was matted to the back of my head, and my forehead was swathed in post-operative bandages. In the dream I was aware that many heads turned to watch as I walked by. Of course, that stood to reason since I was, after all, their creator -- weren't they all part of my dream?

Still it bothered me. Maybe there was something really wrong with me. Why did conversations that were in progress often stop upon my entering into hearing range? Why did I have a sense that they were talking about me in hushed and worried tones?

Upon entering the room I spotted a refrigerator. Inside of it were trays containing dishes of pudding. Lifting the plastic wrap from one I stuck in my finger to sample the fare. No good. How about the next one? Nope. Maybe this one? Nope.

Fortunately there were some cookies wrapped in plastic. I stuffed a handful of them into my hospital gown and wandered aimlessly back through the hospital halls munching on cookies.

----------------------------

The sun was shining full force on the face. I had just finished leading a long pitch of mixed climbing. My body and mind were immersed in and loving the climb. I moved with greater confidence and comfort than before, even as we experienced the growing distance between us and the talus and boulders at the base. We were at home on the wall on its terms. We were making use of what it had to offer to negotiate our time and place.

The 15 foot roof had been passed smoothly; if anything it had been more difficult following and cleaning the protection than leading. Our decision to do this climb clean -- we had brought no pins or hammers with us -- was proving to be no liability. Although, the smallest RPs in pin scars on the crux aid pitch had certainly produced rushes of adrenaline in me.

Best of all, we were flowing together in our sense of common purpose. We shared our now unspoken goal of working together to climb this route. To fulfill our quest we each took turns leading, belaying, hauling, and cleaning the route. There was a deep seated understanding that each of our lives and well-being rested in the others hands. But there was total trust on each of our parts that the other would carry out their responsibilities as needed. This is surely the most fundamental, basic, and powerful of human relationships, based on trust and respect and being able to be in control, to push together to accomplish what would have been impossible alone.

I paused while placing my anchors. Briefly my eyes strayed out over the distant peaks, ravens rising with the updrafts next to the face, the angular profiles of the nearby Concord and Lexington Towers, and, of course, the abyss. It was only while pausing to admire the scenery that one became aware of the drop. Throughout the process of climbing it was far too important to maintain focus and concentration. All of ones attention had to be directed at the next series of necessary moves; there was no time to consider the surroundings, nor to ask any kind of "what if" questions. That was the secret to pulling off a climb like this.

At this point of the climb, we were truly moving in harmony with the rock. Our movement seemed to come from the innermost wellsprings of our being; there was no need to consciously think of how next to move -- the body smoothly executed what was required. There was no feeling of struggle with the rock. Rather we were appreciative of what we could accomplish through our union with it. Of course, there was no certainty about the outcome to our quest, but we were feeling exhilarated at our progress.

I clipped into my anchor and shouted, "Off belay, Twilly!"

"Belay off!" he shouted back as I began to pull in the slack in the haul line to bring up all of our extra gear, cloths, water and food. Twilly took out his anchors and prepared to jumar up the pitch and to clean the protection as he came.

----------------------------

My mother and I were sitting on the airplane headed for SeaTac. I was not aware of what was going on but would later learn that I was out of the hospital after only 20 days -- far less than the four months that had been predicted upon my arrival. And I was still quite the sight. I wouldn't let anyone comb or brush my hair and it showed the effects of the past three weeks of a climbing accident, hospitalization and surgery. The forward portion had been shaved off but was beginning to grow back, and the rear was long and tangled and matted.

On my wrist was my hospital I.D. bracelet. This had become an important symbol for me since it indicated whether or not I was awake or still dreaming. As long as it was on my wrist, I believed I was still in my dream. The dream was a bit troublesome and I still sensed there was something wrong with me. Sometimes I even doubted my very sanity or strength of mind. I was the dreamer, the projector of the movie I watched, but I could not always understand or direct the actions or words of the various characters I created.

The plane turned out to be overbooked in the coach section. As a result, Mom and I were seated behind the bulkhead in the first class section. There was no vegetarian meal available so I had to make do with croissants left over from an earlier breakfast. I sat next to my mother pretty much incommunicado. I stared at the people in the seats around me and tried to puzzle out what exactly was going on.

I looked out the window and saw the clouds streaming by beneath the plane. My mind wandered off to simply marvel at the view. The drone of the engine eventually put me to sleep until we landed in Seattle.

----------------------------

When Twilly joined me at my belay he eyed skeptically the flake on which I was perched.

"I guess there's no bivy here, eh?" he muttered.

"No, I guess not and it's your lead, you lucky man," I responded. "Too bad the flashlight's in the bottom of the haul bag."

Twilly looked up at the dihedral immediately above us. It was only visible for about 10 feet before disappearing in the darkness. Although the moon was full and rising into the sky, we were on a recessed portion of the face that was cloaked in shadows. The combined effect of the moon's brightness and the shadows on the face was almost total blindness.

We were at the end of the seventh pitch; there were still five more to go. Hopefully we were going to find a place to sleep somewhere during the next rope length. Neither one of us particularly wanted to push too far in the dark.

----------------------------

"Where did Krag disappear to, Jeanne?" Mom asked as she came out of the baggage claim with our stuff.

"He said he needed to use the restroom," Jeanne replied. She had met us at the gate and was going to take us back to Olympia. "He was pretty insistent that he go."

"Well I hope he's able to find his way there and back," Mom commented. "I guess it's his first chance to fly solo since getting out of the hospital."

"Jolene, you really have a lot of strength in being able to support your family in its exploits," Jeanne stated. "I'm not sure that I would ever have been able to do it the same way that you have."

"But Jeanne, I didn't really have a choice in the matter. Willi and I wanted to raise kids who were going to pursue the dreams and visions that they had. Our favorite quote from the play 'Cyrano de Bergerac' was `Bring me giants!' That expressed the attitude that they've all had in approaching life."

"And Jeanne, when it comes right down to it, we all have our own personal giants to confront. You've chosen to take on yours in your teaching at Evergreen, in getting students to blaze new paths into the unknown, in getting young people to think and question."

"But I still don't know how you've been able to be brave enough to let them do the things they've chosen. I mean, after Willi and Devi, how could you still let Krag climb," Jeanne shot back.

"When you teach, you're climbing a mountain of your own choosing, Jeanne. Krag wants to conduct social struggles of his own, whether it be for state-wide tax reform or water quality, but at times the most meaningful challenge can be found in the mountains. My family has always sought to balance the fights it chooses. Sometimes social issues can be totally frustrating and debilitating and so we turn to the mountains to recharge our batteries and put things back into perspective. In society, things can feel very much out of control or beyond reach. In the mountains, even in the face of daunting odds we learn to persevere and accomplish what first seemed impossible. This is a critical lesson for living life!"

----------------------------

Twilly completed the pitch in the dark. I was now prepared to jumar. Since he had leap-frogged our two small Friends up the crack in the corner of the dihedral, there was not much protection to be cleaned. It also meant that when I transferred my weight to the jumars clipped onto the climbing rope I swung wildly off the ledge and into the darkness to my left. This was a moment where I truly doubted the sanity of our venture. There was absolutely no sense of perspective. I was hanging off a single rope, who knows how high up, over who knows what kind of jagged boulder field. I was pirouetting in the darkness above the abyss. I swallowed hard and pushed the first jumar up the rope. The moonlight illuminated the distant slopes of Silverstar Mountain.

----------------------------

I swallowed another mouthful of my waffle batter with the consistency of concrete. I didn't really want to eat it, but I swallowed it down. How could I keep going? I was plagued by doubts and insecurities. I was becoming certain that I had completely lost control of my powers; there was little to no hope left. I felt bad about the events that I controlled but of which I could make no sense. I was the creator of all I saw, but felt out of touch with everything around me. I was a supreme being yet I felt so vulnerable. This was a truly disconcerting state of affairs and I was plagued by doubts and questions.

----------------------------

"Krag, it looks like we have lost two gallons of water out of our army surplus special water bag," Twilly stated as I ascended out of the darkness. "Looks like we have two and one half quarts left."

"It's going to be a thirsty finish, I guess," I grunted.

That night passed slowly. Twilly was astride a juniper growing out of a crack and I was situated on a square ledge, sort of a broken off column, that was about one and one-half feet by one and one-half feet in size. We were both tied in but during the fitful night there was ample opportunity and plenty of moonlight by which to contemplate the Abyss.

During the night of fitful slumber I pondered our situation. We were about two-thirds of the way up the wall. We had little water to speak of given the distance still to climb. It was a pretty miserable perch. It was a long way down. But I felt comfortable about the position. In spite of the overwhelming objective difficulties facing us, we were there by our own choosing. And notwithstanding all of the challenges with which we must wrestle, I felt in control of the situation. Years of practice, patience and persistence had paid off; I felt comfortable in the situation. It was a place I belonged. Granted, there were obstacles over which I had no possibility of controlling or avoiding, but I felt at peace with the prospect of confronting them and rising to the occasion so that I could move beyond them.

----------------------------

I was standing in the shower at my mother's house with the hot water spraying over my body. I contemplated my situation as the water cascaded off me and flowed down the drain. Something was wrong. I felt like a prisoner inside my body and inside a mind that I did not understand. I felt that I was in ultimate control of everything that was going on around me and yet I didn't believe that it was really happening. I felt that I was in a dream of my own making and yet I didn't understand why I was dreaming what passed before me and I wanted to wake up. But my hospital I.D. bracelet was still on my wrist; I was still dreaming.... I was seemingly in total control and yet I felt helpless and at loose ends. This was not where I belonged; it was not my place. I was plagued by doubts and racked by questions.

----------------------------

"Okay, Twilly, I guess it's time to get moving," I mumbled as I felt the sunshine that was just beginning to creep past the distant peaks and crags begin to warm me. "Let's get our rack together; I'll give this next pitch a go. Should we drink our water now or save it for the top?"

Twilly heaved a great sigh and I heard the clanking of gear as he began to untangle himself and the equipment from his juniper perch. We ate some bread and cheese, washing it down with a couple mouthfuls of water leaving us with about a quart and a half for the remainder of the climb and the descent. A raven rose on an updraft and croaked hoarsely at us. I bade Twilly farewell and started running out the rope.

----------------------------

A crow was cawing outside the bedroom window. It was still early but the sun was penetrating some of the dense foliage to illuminate spots on the wall above the bed. According to my hospital I.D. bracelet, I was still asleep -- still lost in my dreamlike existence where I was the creator. But I felt was out of control.

As much as I was able to, I focused on my situation. I recalled the hospital, I recalled a plane trip home, I recalled being obsessed with eating and eating and eating. How could I have done some of the things that I remembered? Oh, yeah, I didn't really do them; I was simply remembering vignettes from the dream that I was living. Like the time I ran down the beach hotly pursued by my brother. I was attempting to break free so that I could buy a lifeboat that I remembered being pulled up on the College beach. I was planning on sailing to Alaska to go on an expedition in the Alaska Range.

----------------------------

Twilly and I were on top of Liberty Bell. Our first Big Wall and in an alpine setting, no less. We felt good -- thirsty, but good. We had quaffed down the last of our water, drunk the oil out of a can of smoked oysters, and eaten the last bites of cheese and chocolate along with the oysters. We sat tired, but happy. It had worked out; now we had only to get down off of the peak. Surely there would be some water in the couloir that was part of the descent. If not there, at least when we got down to Blue Lake.

"We did it, Twilly! Congratulations! It was quite a climb."

"Yep, I sure wasn't certain we were going to pull it off at times. But, man, I feel great! There is nothing like completing a route like this one to boost your morale. It's amazing what we can pull off when we put our minds to it."

----------------------------

I glanced at the bracelet on my wrist again. I could no longer read it. The edges had become torn and ragged and water had seeped in to completely wash out the printing that had been there. This seemed to indicate the passage of time -- real time, not time as in a dream. This was compelling evidence that I was in fact who I appeared to be and that I was not going to be waking up from a dream. This couldn't be, could it? The breeze stirred the leaves in the trees outside the window.

----------------------------

I stretched my body out across the sun drenched boulder on top of Liberty Bell and closed my eyes. It felt good to be here -- after all the planning, all of the talk, all of the dreaming, I could look back and say that I had accomplished what I had set out to do. There were times, clearly, where I felt that it was a goal that was simply out of my reach. But I had persevered and pulled it off. If there was any single moment that had been pivotal in the success, it was clipping into the fixed line at the base of the face during the wee hours of morning before sunrise. This was the action that set in motion the rest of the climb -- this was the point at which the years of practice and months of planning converged to be transformed into a reality. This was the point from which there was no turning back.

----------------------------

I lay on my bed and looked out the window into the woods surrounding the house. I considered the situation carefully. If time was passing, as my bracelet indicated, then waiting for my dream to end was not going to yield much. Yawning as I stretched my legs and arms I pondered this new take on the situation. I had a sense of foreboding and anticipation. It was as if I was approaching the fixed line in the early morning hours by headlight. I didn't know what was going to be the outcome; I didn't know what I was going to experience along the way; I didn't know where exactly the journey would lead me; but I did know that I was going to begin. It was time to start jumaring to where the climbing would start.

I rolled over and sat up on the edge of the bed. I spotted a pair of scissors lying on the desk next to the bed. I picked them up, opened the blades, and slipped one of them beneath the ID bracelet. The blades snipped the plastic band from around my wrist. With that one small movement I was suddenly embarked upon a major undertaking. No longer was I simply waiting for my live to reveal itself; suddenly I was committed to creating it in the best way that I could given the available resources with which I had to work.

----------------------------

I looked over at Dr. Hoffman, my neurologist, and wondered what was prompting this line of questioning. In all of my previous visits he had never before broached the subject.

"I'm sure I'll climb in the long run," I responded.

"Do you want my advice," Dr. Hoffman queried.

"I'll listen," I responded.

"Don't climb."

"Dr. Hoffman, is your statement based on a particular understanding of my situation that your neurological expertise provides -- do you know that because of my accident I will be more vulnerable, more susceptible to future injuries? Or is your statement based on your personal belief that climbing is inherently risky and that no one should do it?"

Dr. Hoffman looked at me seriously and stated, "Neither, I am saying this out of my concern for your family."

A door shut violently inside me. This was stepping out of bounds as far as I was concerned.

"Dr. Hoffman," I responded, "I have a very close relationship with my family and we have discussed issues like climbing and its risks at great length. I am coming to see you because of my injury. You have a special expertise from which I can benefit. I am not coming to see you for family counseling or advice about the way I chose to live my life. I would appreciate it if you will restrict your role to that which is appropriate."

I turned abruptly and walked out and never returned to see him.

----------------------------

The sun was just beginning to peak up over the horizon as I poked my head out of my bivi bag. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day in the mountains. It was time to get up and get moving.

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29 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

 ShibbyShane
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 2009-01-11
5 out of 5 stars Really good so far. I'm guessing there's going to be more added to this? Looking forward to it.
 hdarst
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 2009-01-12
5 out of 5 stars Some great epistemological questions herein. One tends to think of ones self as rational or not, and here you were of two minds, one largely not, the other striving to be so, both oddly intertwined playing off of each other, with yet an observer as a third mind. The rock climb within, trying to find a belay to get out - of the dream.
 sungam
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 2009-01-18
5 out of 5 stars Now that is some high class writing. Serious questions brought up about a serious game. Still not sure of my answers.
 dwalshbowlmaker
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 2009-01-18
5 out of 5 stars I hope you will continue this. This is quite affecting..
 mikemind2002
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 2009-01-18
5 out of 5 stars i only had time to browse this story but i agree that it was written really well. since i was browsing it i dont think i was able to pick up on all the details, what happened?
 gblauer
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 2009-01-19
I want to read more...please continue...
 hendo
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 2009-01-19
I found Krag's response to the neurologist at the end to be rather abrupt. A physician is not simply a technocrat, a mechanic for part of the human body. His concern for Krag's family and friends sprung, I'm sure, out of compassion and not any desire to poke his nose where it doesn't belong.
 billl7
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 2009-01-19
5 out of 5 stars Unsolicited advice outside of the relationship? Abrupt answer? Sounds pretty balanced to me on the surface, maybe even at a deeper level. I do not know Krag but there is quite a bit more to the story that is not yet written here. Looking forward to reading the rest!
 mr8615
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 2009-01-19
5 out of 5 stars Wow, awesome writing. I eagerly await the next installment, if there is to be one.
 hendo
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 2009-01-20
I too think there's a lot that hasn't been written here.

I was drawn to the story because the blurb on the home page seemed to mirror my own experience. In 2007 I had a near-fatal climbing accident (a rock crashed onto my head), and I was curious to see what another climber had gone through in a similar situation.

I've made somewhere around 80 visits to doctors since then. Not one of them understands climbers. Every one of them suggests I never climb again. I listen to them and then I make up my mind. I know where they're coming from. (Namely, they'd had to deal with hundreds of families whose child or parent didn't survive some particular trauma.)

Krag's reaction to this particular doctor, however, in his own words, was: "A door shut violently inside me. This was stepping out of bounds as far as I was concerned."

A good physician deals with the whole patient, not just this nerve or that vein or that organ. The neurologist had concern about this patient's place within a larger social sphere and I felt he expressed it with courtesy; he asked whether Krag wanted his advice. Krag replied that he would listen to it. The neurologist gave it, for what it was worth, and Krag lit into him for exceeding his "expertise."

Had I been in his place, I would have said something along the lines of, "Thank you for your concern. It's something we've talked about. My family understands how important it is to me, etc."

I would say the neurologist's advice was not so much "unsolicited" as it was something Krag didn't want to hear.

I'll stop right there.
 billl7
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 2009-01-20
5 out of 5 stars Good physicians have the same kind of problems as the rest of us. It was presumptuous to assume he had that much insight into Krag and his family.

"Bring me giants!"
 strikerg3000
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 2009-01-20
whether the patient is an idiot or an intellectual there is often no point in trying to educate or enlighten someone about an illness or accident at the point of recovery or shortly after the incident. He did the climb and lived to tell about it, albeit with some interferences. So he did his job and the neurologist did his job. You either finish the job/climb or you don't. Someone told him what was up and he reacted defensively and with immaturity. I am sure he will look back on his interaction with either disdain or a learning experience for the rest of his life.
 billl7
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 2009-01-21
5 out of 5 stars ... presumptuous that he needed to be educated or enlightened, that he was told "what was up".
 granite_grrl
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 2009-01-21
hendo, I wish I would have had the guts to walk out on some of my doctors when they've treated me like I was crazy for wanting to climb again. I should have simply slapped my first PT when she told me I should consider the idea that I'll never BE ABLE to climb again.

But I'm not that kind of person. I avoid conversation about climbing with doctors because I know no good will come of it. I am there for a service, not to discuss my lifestyle.
 clintcummins
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 2009-01-21
hendo, I felt it was abrupt, too. But the right response depends so much on the circumstances. If it was a small town and the doctor knew the family personally, then a friendlier response (even if a "no thanks") would be in order. But given that both of Krag's parents were/are famous, he is probably accustomed to being more defensive.
 HIGHER_CLIMBER
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 2009-01-21
5 out of 5 stars This is bullshit. I eagerly read the entire thing, shooing customers out of my shop to continue reading, and it's not finished!!! Great read, but please finish!!! LOL.
 jumpingrock
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 2009-01-21
I think it is finished. The point isn't what happened to him, the point is how he was affected after an obviously major climbing accident. The details are not important to the story. In my opinion he ended at just the right point to have given you what he wanted to, but to leave you wanting more. A real piece of art.
 hendo
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 2009-01-22
Granitegrrl, your first physio's remark is unbelievable. Unless there's obvious physiological evidence that you will never be able to walk -- e.g. severe spinal trauma -- a physio should never say something like this.

My physio has been quite the opposite. He's always encouraging me to do more than I think I can.

Jumpingrock, I think details are crucial. God is in the details (or the devil, if you prefer). I think the narrative would be stronger with more details. But it's up to Krag. A serious accident so complicates one's life that it's a daunting task to marshal all the details and try to make some sense out of them.
 billl7
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 2009-01-22
5 out of 5 stars A day or so ago, I thought for sure there would eventually be an update for two reasons: i) the story does not mention Krag's father; and ii) the basic route on Guides Wall - the area of Krag's accident - appears to have been named after a 1959 ascent by a party that included Willi Unsoeld, Krag's father I believe.

Someone, correct me if I am wrong about these facts.
 j_ung
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 2009-01-23
I actually don't know if Willi Unsoeld is Krag's father, but yes, they are related (grandfather?).
 billl7
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 2009-01-23
5 out of 5 stars Found this <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=vys0ULRdAgkC&pg=PA341&lpg=PA341&dq=willi+jolene+krag&source=bl&ots=cwXu8PmvHQ&sig=XaeW6Crd_XfyD2pAWSOjQ2byhMA&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=3&ct=result#PPA341,M1">In Memoriam</a> for Willi Unsoeld who had a wife named Jolene and a son name Krag. Worth reading.
 kragu
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 2009-01-23
j_ung, I wish I was so young! bill7 has done his research well. This article, written by Seattle climber and sociologist Dick Emerson, is one of the better pieces in print about Willi. The google version that the web address goes to gets cut off for copyright reasons. Look for the 1979 issue of the American Alpine Journal.

bill7 also did well in dredging up the Guide's Day ascent of what became known as Guide's Wall. This annual affair was conducted by members of the Exum Teton Guide Service. One year they even mass assaulted Baxter's Pinnacle. Among other things they hauled up a rucksack full of horse manure to spread around a park service sign they conveniently borrowed that simply stated "No Trail."

Before I respond to some of what was said let me first state this: As jumpingrock accurately stated, this was an essay. I had a particular message that I wanted to get across. Namely, why do we, or at least why do I, climb? I chose to do this by weaving two unconnected incidents together. The first being a very successful climb that was thoroughly intimidating for me in approaching it but which left me feeling very rewarded. The second was the effects of the climbing accident. By using this "best of times, worst of times" juxtaposition I hoped to get my message across. As a writer I like to have some sort of hook to interest the reader and so I created the third thread that was my exchange with the neurologist. I thought it made for a good intro and conclusion. How did this work overall? Was I able to communicate what drives me to climb?

In communicating my experience I tried to convey some of the amibivalence that does come up for me at times of doubt and duress (30 feet above your last piece and feeling shakey) and the way that climbing can be both a totally humbling experience at the same time that it is an incredibly empowering one. And that it recharges my batteries so that I can return to my work among people in society. In writing this I hope that it was a good enough essay to convey the message even if my name were Sam Jones. I hope that is the case.

There's been some interesting conversation generated by this essay. It's interesting how much of it has centered on the comment that I made to the neurologist. This is an accurate rendition of what I actually said at the time. And it is based on much more than his simply advising me not to climb. First, he was not the neurologist who operated on me. That was in Salt Lake. He kept increasing the dosage for my dilantin (anti-siezure medication) even though I had never had a siezure and had no potential for one indicated in all the tests that they did. Finally, as clintcummins speculated, I am sensitive to people judging me for continuing to climb after what happened to my father, to my sister, and to me.

Hendo, when I said what I said to the neurologist I was less than half of the age that I am now. I did not solicit the advice. As I wrote, he asked me if I wanted his advice and I said that I would listen. That was not a request; it was passively resigning myself to hear him out. I do not regret what I told him for the reasons state above and I am totally aware that there are always different ways to say the same thing. Maybe I should write an essay about my interchanges with the neurologist in Seattle that I started seeing. There is a whole lot more to relate!

Thank you all for you comments.
 billl7
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 2009-01-24
5 out of 5 stars Krag, Thank you for responding - a rare treat for readers to interact a little with an accomplished writer/author.

My main reason for thinking there would be more was because of the widely known history from which you cannot escape. Overall, I agree with jumpingrock and believe I would have come to his conclusion sooner if it had been written by "Sam Jones". As you understand, the climbers in many of us will always want more technical details so I can very well empathize with Hendo.

As the story stands, I am thinking it may be well suited for my non-climbing loved ones. In my view, it comes as close as is practical to communicating what drives us to climb.

Thanks so much! Bill
 hendo
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 2009-01-25
Yes, thanks for responding, Krag.

I wasn't aware that the accident had occurred so long ago. I'm 54 and I'm guessing you're in about the same vicinity. Had I been in your situation in my mid-twenties I probably would have reacted the same way. Probably would have in my mid-forties, for that matter :)

The interchanges with the Seattle neurologist would be interesting but please don't feel hurried to get them written up for us.

>>>Finally, as clintcummins speculated, I am sensitive to people judging me for continuing to climb after what happened to my father, to my sister, and to me.>>>

That's what had crossed my mind, too, when I read the essay. I constantly face the same thing: How to balance risk-taking, however slight, with the fears it evokes in the people I care for.
 kragu
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 2009-01-25
bill7, you are too kind. I wish I was an accomplished writer/author. I once was a journalist a long time ago for a weekly newspaper.

I don't want people to cut off the conversation just because I weighed in. Please continue to suggest ways that it could have been written more effectively. And I don't mind if you voice critiques of my actions in the article. You can even criticize me of hauling on what could have been a day climb if we went lighter and faster.

In fact, Twilly and I were passed by one other party. One of them was climbing and the other belayed and jumared. The climber was Mugs Stump. He was pounding pins! He apologized for that but explained that he hadn't climbed in a couple of months, since he got back from Alaska. It wasn't until after our climb that I found out that he had done the first ascent of the East Face of Moose's Tooth!

So please feel free to comment about my article. If you want to share how you balance risk with being mindful of the impact of something happening to you with those you love, go for it! That's part of the dialogue that goes on all the time for me.

So thanks to all of you for commenting and don't hold back if you have more to say.
 cascade.cyclist
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 2009-01-25
I recently watched a film called "Steep" which documents the history of extreme steep skiing, from the early '70's until now. It looked like about 1/3 of the skiers in the film are now dead from their pursuits. One of the skiers interviewed is Doug Coombs (who died skiing in 2006) who said something like: " How can you judge whether there is a 'better' way to die? Plenty of people die in car crashes. Would you rather die in a car crash or doing something you love?"

All adventure sports are inherently narcissistic. But, as Krag says, you have to be mindful of the potential impact (so to speak) of your actions on others. Trouble is, it's awfully hard to be mindful and rational when your mind is fixed on an all-consuming objective with potentially life-threatening side effects....

I agree that the piece seems a bit unfinished. It's a great read (I know Krag and reading this made me nauseas with empathy), but it seems like the final bit needs to have the loop closed somehow...
 billl7
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 2009-01-25
5 out of 5 stars I am thinking it must remain unfinished. When I try to follow the answers to why I take the risk, I very quickly get into issues that are uniquely me: childhood experiences, the kind of parents I had, my siblings, the spouse and children that I now have, how much or a risk-taker I am or am not, etc.. Others will follow other paths, and it seems problematic for a reality-based essay to capture them all.

The Liberty Bell experience starts to offer one answer, but I suspect for Krag that it merely scratches the surface - just barely. To go any deeper quickly becomes very personal and not something applicable to most.

I will confess that my skills are lacking in terms of abstracting to a level that I feel could be discussed publicly. Maybe someone can articulate for me?
 lwhitta
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 2009-06-14
Krag,

It was a pleasure meeting you in Mazama last week. I really enjoyed reading your essay. It is very well done. Hope to see you around the mountains in the future.

L.W.
 onrockandice
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 2010-03-25
5 out of 5 stars I think you were able to communicate our worst fears, our greatest hope in experiencing our worst fears and why we could not ever stop if we could still climb effectively.

Worst Fear: An accident while climbing that should have killed and didn't. Caused significant injury though mostly temporary to the body but left the mind largely intact.

Greatest Hope: After experience our worst fear that we at least have the chance to seriously consider if we would still climb. It implies we can climb and can climb well enough to expose ourselves to the risk that nearly killed us. So in affect things have changed for sure but we can still climb.

For me I don't climb because I want to. I climb because it satisfies and completes something inside of me. That something is part of who I am, like an arm or a leg and if that something wasn't taken away or denied it would be missed by me like an arm or a leg would be missed but much, much more-so.

So yes, you did what you set out to do and even more. Each of us was reading your story while we simultaneously lived our own in a similar circumstance. You left us wondering what happened to you. Yet we knew without any doubt that the answer we would give would be a yes heard from the mountain top. It would not just be a yes but instead it would be a HELL YES! Then we would take a firm grip on the rope and say, "On Belay!".

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