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The Accident

July 6, 2020


So in order to get the full story of my fall on Castle Rock, the story goes back over ten years ago, prior to my brain cancer diagnosis.  I went to Castle Rock with Roger Violette, who in his own words is not a climber.  Back when I was adventuring racing, he was on my team and the person whom I trained with the most.  One weekend we went out to Castle Rock, and first we climbed Saber, I lead all routes.  The route was fun, especially the second pitch.  The route is two pitches, both are about 100 feet.  The second pitch is the easier of the two and ends with a walk-off.  The rating is disputed as older books have it rated pretty low and newer books have it rated higher.  Many feel that the original rating is completely sand-bagged (lower then it should be).  Granted it is still a moderate climb.  After successfully climbing Saber, we turned our focus to another route there called Midway.  This is a three pitch route to the top with the same walk-off.  On the first pitch you climb to the top of what is called the Jello Tower then  you step across from the tower back on to the main face to start the second pitch.  I felt good on Saber and was excited to do the double. About 75% up pitch 1 I realized that I needed to place some gear as I was a bit run-out and far enough above my last placement that with rope stretch, the possibility of a decking on a fall was real.  Knowing that I needed to place something now, I found myself in a panic, as the best piece to use was a #3 cam. The problem was I had left it in the car as I didn’t think I would need something that big.  The panic was real and intense, sweaty palms and fear encompassed me.  Roger asked if I was OK as he could tell I was struggling all of the sudden.  I yelled down that I need the cam I left in the car.  I tried to place something else, but to no avail.  I remember yelling at myself to get my “shit” together.  I knew I was totally capable of finishing the pitch, but wasn’t sure about placing something.  I decided, screw it, I am going to fall if I waste any more energy trying to place something.  So I just started to climb upwards. I thought that was my best option .  I quickly made it to the top of the tower.  That was the most panicked I had ever been on lead in my life.  I let out a big sigh of relief and an F-bomb or two.  I then belayed Roger up to me.  After he made it up to me I looked at the step across to pitch two and realized I was mentally fried.  I looked at Roger and said, I think it’s time for me to go home.  We rappelled off and called it a day.

Last year, after a day of climbing, Colby said to me, “You never seem that excited to go rock climbing. I am really having fun, but you don’t seem thrilled to take me.”  My response was simple, “Well it’s a lot of work for me. I have to always set up everything. Then I am the belay slave, so it’s fun to watch you climb, but the climbing is not that awesome for me.” Colby asked, “What can I do to make it more fun for you?”  I responded with, “Well first learn to belay and then learn to sport lead.”  Colby’s response, “I’m in! Let’s do it!”  Since then, when we have gone climbing, he has lead more routes than I have and now we both can climb as he can belay me as well.  For me the fun of climbing with him exploded exponentially as he is now an equal on the rock and no longer along for the ride.  “So when can I do some multi-pitch climbing?” Colby asked me one day “Once you can rappel and do everything with me not looking over your shoulder, as you have to be self-sufficient with safety items.”  Last summer, we started with the Tooth, which is a moderate climb of a peak near Snoqualmie Pass.  I climbed it and had a fantastic day.  I realized that was my first multi-pitch lead since Brain cancer diagnosis.  I did climb the Sharkfin Tower a few years ago, but I followed and cleaned.  I didn’t lead.  The day was fabulous.  After that, the question was what is next?   My first choice was Ingalls Peak, however to do that trip right you need to camp at the lake, thus our open time window did not allow for that.  I thought back to Saber and thought we can cruise over to Leavenworth then be home by early afternoon.  Thus the decision was made.

tooth 1

Colby on the Tooth.

tooth 2

Enjoying the summit of the Tooth.

We left at about 6am on June 13th and made the drive over to Castle Rock.  We got to the parking lot around 8am.  We loaded up and started the short hike in.  As we passed the Jello Tower, there was a group on Midway. We hiked around over to Saber. There was a group on that as well.  The second person up was just about to the top of pitch 1.  We started our climb once they started up pitch 2.  The event would foreshadow the day ahead.  The first move of the climb has a slightly overhanging section, so no feet to start.  I actually peeled off and ended up falling down on my butt.  The signs were there about this day.  I worked right to get on the route. Then began working up the crack, placing a cam as I moved my way up.  The crack has some natural breaks early on that create almost ledges.  As I moved up the crack it seemed to get a bit greasy and slightly awkward as it leads up to a bulge, that then leads to the anchors and the top of pitch 1.  Looking back, this is where I made a mistake. Instead of trying to work the crack I moved to the face thinking I could just cruise past the bulge on the face.  The issue is the face doesn’t offer any protection.  On the face I realized this and decided that I needed to get back on route. I fell trying to get back to the crack, but my detour had caused about 20 additional feet of rope to feed out above my last cam.  I remember the moment just before I fell thinking I need to get back to the crack.  After that I don’t recall anything until I was in the helicopter throwing up.

Basically, I managed to hit the rock headfirst, cracking my helmet and causing a skull fracture, 5 broken vertebrae, and a broken hand.    Colby did amazing under pressure. He was able to stop my fall.  The scary part for him was looking up at his Dad hanging from the rope completely unresponsive.  ” I could see your chest moving so I knew you were alive.”  A pretty chilling assessment for a 15 year old.  By this time the pair that climbed the route before us had finished and were walking back to grab their gear and immediately came to Colby’s aid.  These guys, Tyler and David, are true heroes and helped Colby get me to the ground safely.  Once down, 911 was called and in came the mountain rescue people.  They got me down the trail in a litter then off in a helicopter to the hospital.  I had a major head injury, and was bleeding everywhere from a large gash in my head.

helmet 2

Impact spot

helmet 1

As I mentioned, my next memory was in a helicopter where I was feeling awful for throwing up during the ride.  That is a symptom of a concussion.  From that point my memories are of being moved around for CAT scans, X-rays, and tests.  Thinking damn my back hurts each time they would shift me from machine to machine.  A few days later I was released from the hospital.  I have been completely overwhelmed by all of the support from everyone, the well wishes, donations, meal train, etc.  I am truly grateful for all the love and support. I feel very fortunate that everything should heal with no surgeries or any long term damage.

The hero of this story is Colby and his ability to handle an intense scary moment with calm and cool.  I really think he grew up a lot on June 13th.

mug shot

Selfie in the hospital


This is me in the litter: Note photo is from the local Wenatchee Newspaper that ran a story about the accident

From Colby Heyting:

Over my many years of climbing, once or twice a year, I never enjoyed rock climbing like I did other sports. It was always something we did every once in a while, mostly in Vantage, WA. However, in the past 2 years I began to enjoy rock climbing. As a result of getting older, it developed into a real love and I was so exited to start climbing again. After I began to get comfortable on the rock leading I kept asking my dad “when do we get to do a multi-pitch”, and after some convincing we decided to do the tooth. It was an amazing day and everything went smooth. Now fast forward to this summer when I kept asking to do another multi-pitch and once again I finally got the okay, after doing some climbing to remember my skills. You heard the story of what happened before the fall so lets skip to just before the fall. I saw my dad moving a bit off the crack, but at the time I did not know the correct route so I did not think anything of it. Once he got off route I saw him looking for holds and not finding anything and looking a little worried. The next thing I saw was his foot slip and him drop behind an outcrop in the rock. The second I saw him fall I dropped in a squat position and waited for the pull, which felt like forever.

When the pull hit it was almost nothing, which surprised me since I was ready to be pulled off the ground. After I caught him I looked up to see my dad about 60 feet off the ground upside down unconscious and I began yelling “dad” and “help” with no response. I felt my leg twitch like crazy. It was hard to stand, and my first thought was “I need to climb up to him”. I quickly realized this was impossible and went back to calling for help. I heard Tyler and David coming down the trail saying “we hear you”, and about this time I could see my dad’s chest moving and he made this weird coughing sound. Once Tyler and David got there, David called 911, while I lowered my dad, and Tyler went to catch him. As we lowered him he began to come back to life and helped a little bit, as he got stuck on a small ledge. We got him to the ground. His nose was bleeding, his eye was swollen shut, and his head had a massive gash in it. I also was in so much shock I thought he had busted through his helmet but it was just one of the air holes. Our next task was to see how bad he hit his head, and all he could remember was his first name, not me, not the month/date, or where he was. This got me very scared, but I was happy knowing he was down. As the EMT’s rushed up with a few people to scout what we would need, we wrapped his head up with a cloth T-Shirt, which he bled through right away. After the EMT’s got their they wrapped him up and started to bring him down. At this point I am letting the EMT’s do their jobs, but I still have many other tasks I needed to do. I had to get our stuff, call my mom, and be near the first responders to give them information on what happened. I manged to do all these tasks except get through to my mom since I had no service, but one of the sheriffs did, and let me use his phone. Now we were on our way down and the EMT’s did not know weather they would air lift my dad or drive him by ambulance. Also, since Covid-19 is present, they did not even know if I could ride in the vehicle, but thankfully Tyler and David offered to give me a ride no matter what happened. They ended up taking him in the helicopter, and thankfully I was able to go with him. My first time in a helicopter was never how I imagined it would be.

Once we got to the hospital it went like any other injury. They took lots of scans, inserted an IV, and had many nurses working on him at once. The main thing I remember was him having to leave the room all the time for scans. After being in the hospital for a little while I got a call from my mom saying she was on her way. Overall the hospital was like any other experience, but I knew he would be safe. I stayed the next 4 nights at my aunts while my mom stayed in Wenatchee with my dad and I waited for the news of his injuries.

I have grown a lot from this experience, and looking back I realize just how lucky this accident was. 1. When I lowered my dad the end of the rope was still in my belay device. Also on the lowering there was an overhang meaning he did not rub the wall for most of the decent. 2. He had a helmet on which saved his life. 3. No major injuries that will result in long term issues or surgeries. 4. Tyler and David were there to help me mostly call 911 since I had no service, give me rides to the hospital, and even clean the gear that got left on the wall. 5. Finally, I am overwhelmed by the support of my loved ones, friends, and even people I barely know who have reached out to me, donated and/or brought meals.

After the accident, Colby’s Grandfather conducted a mini podcast that is quite interesting to listen to.

Colby’s Podcast

It’s about 50 minutes.



2 Comments leave one →
  1. Judith Riddle-Olson permalink
    July 7, 2020 11:21 am

    So thankful you are going to be okay after all of this. And so happy Colby was with you and able to help you. Amazing young man!!!

  2. Debbie Yaros permalink
    July 7, 2020 8:20 pm

    So thankful God spared your life! Praying for continued strength and healing! Debbie

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