A Car Crash and a Farewell to Climbing

The wimpy inclines on the Leverich Canyon switchbacks made me wheeze and gasp. My snowshoes were on the wrong feet. My left hand was achingly cold because I couldn’t fit a mitten over my cast. Boiling over with frustration and stumbling constantly, I attempted to overcompensate by picking my feet up more, perpetuating the cycle of flailing and tripping over the snowshoes.

Hyalite snowshoe Maggie“You look like a puppy trying to untangle string from around its leg,” Ryan said with no regard for my already shredded dignity.

“I’m supposed to be CLIMBING right now,” I exploded, using my last remaining bit of lung capacity. Ryan either didn’t hear me or didn’t care to respond. I stomped on, keeping up a steady growl expressing my desire to be pumping out on overhanging problems, lock-off leg lifts, and everything else I was no longer capable of doing.

My goal for the winter had been to work hard at the climbing gym in order to become a formidable presence at the crags once the snow finally melted. As of the week before, that plan was derailed in violent fashion.

After an average Friday night downtown, I handed my friend the keys to my turbo-charged Saab and told him he could drive us home. It didn’t cross my mind that when you put a guy behind the wheel of an unfamiliar, fast car after several hours at Pub 317, things have a high potential for going wrong.

Driving faster than 90 miles per hour, we hit a curve and went airborne. The car landed upside-down and skidded across the ground on its roof, jagged fragments of metal shearing off to become daggers hanging in our faces. We flipped again and as I put my hands up to protect my face, a serrated piece of the frame caught my left hand, tearing it open from thumb to wrist and cutting so deep it severed two tendons clean through.

severed tendonsThe accident was followed by a blur of reconstructive surgery and intensive occupational therapy. Not only was climbing completely out of the picture, but my left hand would have to be retrained to do everything from opening jars to zipping jackets.

With my climbing goals derailed, my first instinct had been to give up and spend the duration of recovery wearing sweatpants and eating as many stale holiday cookies as humanly possible. This was acceptable for about a week until the cookies became inedible and the need to exercise surfaced.

With only one functioning hand and zero finances, the options for activity seemed limited. Upon complaining about this in sympathetic company, I was thrown a pair of snowshoes and told to go off into the woods and stop sulking.

I roped my snowshoe-owning friend Ryan into taking me hiking at Leverich Canyon, where I was currently fuming my way up in the powdery snow. Before we’d even started, I’d been helpless. Working one-handed had made it impossible to get a solid grasp on the bindings to fasten the snowshoes. I’d been forced to stand there mortified as Ryan knelt down in the snow for the better part of ten minutes strapping them on my feet.

The very first steps leaving the parking lot felt off-balance. I lifted my right foot and saw a bold "L" printed on one of the clips. “Ready to go?” Ryan asked. I desperately wanted to switch the snowshoes, but asking him to crouch down in the snow for any longer seemed inhumane and my ego was bruised enough.

Hyalite snowshoeMy equilibrium is fairly challenged, so hiking in snowshoes required both hands for balance. Moving my left hand was making the stitches pull taut and sending knives of pain from my thumb to my elbow. I alternated between slinging my left arm under my jacket to alleviate the discomfort and keeping it out for stability on the downhills.  

Balancing got easier after a few miles and by the time we reached the halfway point, my grumbling had mostly diminished. I looked around at the scenery and grudgingly admitted that yes, winter in Montana is rather beautiful.

By the time we finished the trail, the cold air was refreshing and walking in snowshoes felt more natural. Being outdoors and moving around did wonders for my foul mood after a solid week spent lying on the couch streaming sitcoms online.

Climbing is not going to happen this year and I’ll probably never give a thumbs-up with my left hand again. I’m willing to experiment with adapting other activities, and being sedentary in Bozeman isn’t an option anyway. Anyone have any gear they’re willing to lend?