Rockclimbing Injury

Rockclimbing Injury

I know I’m likely to receive a lot of flack for how I’ve treated this injury, perhaps deservedly, but also expect I might get some good advice and pointers. Here’s my story

I was taking a less experienced rockclimber up the face of El Capitan in Yosemite, starting on October 6th. Only 130 feet up the 2000 foot wall, some gear failed and I fell down the vertical face 10 feet before my toe contacted the rock and I felt a world of intense pain.  I fell another 10 feet before the rope caught me gently and I had a moment to consider my situation.  I could tell my ankle wasn’t broken and technicalities mostly dictated that I finish the section of the climb (15 more feet) that I fell on.  I reascended  the rope and finished.  My partner removed the gear and climbed the next section while I hung in my harness, without putting much weight on the foot.

To make a long story short, although walking was difficult and sporadically I would step the wrong way with excruciating results, I could manage this high angle technical climbing because I could favor my other leg and only put real weight on the heel in a controlled manner.  I decided to finish the 6 day climb. My partner had taken a lot of precious vacation time for this adventure and I figured the ankle might actually be healed by the time we reached the top, since that had been the case after a similar injury in a similar fall years earlier.

6 nights later we arrived on the top of the overhanging cliff.  My ankle was slightly better but, even with somebody to carry the heavy loads down to the valley, I could only manage with pain and trouble to make the 3 1/2 hour hike and rappels back to the car.

After some research, it’s clear I suffered a rupture of my achilles tendon.  I’m hoping it’s not too severe and don’t see how it could be, given all that I’ve had to do with it since the injury.

Sad to say I’m treating myself since I’m now disabled from my self-employment, have high-deductible insurance (and it’s now late October so I don’t want to start on a new deductible in January)  Seeing doctors would quickly bankrupt me.  Now that I’m off the ankle, the swelling has gone down a lot and the discoloration has gone. I walk with a big gimp and a cane but part of that is being sensitive to not stress the injury.

It’s a sad plan but I’m planning to visit India in January where health care costs 10% of what it would cost here.   Anybody know some good docs in New Delhi or Dehra Dhun?

Here’s what the ankle looked like the next day

10/7/09 at 8am, 16 hours after the injury

10/7/09 at 8am, 16 hours after the injury

a couple days later, it looked like this

achilles 72 hours after injury

achilles 72 hours after injury

Here’s the route we climbed, the blue X’s mark where we spent the nights

The route we climbed

The route we climbed

It’s now 2 1/2 weeks since the injury.  Pain isn’t so bad that I need meds for it. I don’t know how functional it is because I don’t want to test it, but I can hobble around without inciting much additional pain. I know I don’t want to try to rise up on my toes or anything like that, I’m leaving it alone.

I live near Yosemite but am visiting my folks in Northern Cal with my foot in an ankle brace with a hot bean bag on it at the moment.

I know it would be ideal to see a doc, get imaging, and many other things, but financial ruin when I’m not eligible for unemployment, disability, and other help (until I’m completely screwed) would be arguably as much injury to me as the achilles itself.

My heel and part of my foot were numb for awhile but sensation is coming back fast, with just a partly numb area just below the heel remaining.

I know this is not the safest, or even wisest course to take with such an injury, but consider what not paying the rent would contribute to my situation.  I’m looking for ways to make the best of what’s available to me.

Wishing all who have an injury and read this the best of recoveries.  I’m hoping to take advantage of this downtime to do some creative work like writing that I’ve been postponing. Every injury has a lesson and a potential bright side.


10 Responses to “Rockclimbing Injury”

  1. I finally got the images and text of my rockclimbing injury posted up. Wishing everyone the best recovery possible and that we make good use of our down time.

  2. The longer you wait, the worser it will probably get.

    I understand the $$ issue, but you will probably end up with some long term effects that you will have to address when you are older–if not sooner.

    Go to some sort of free clinic and see if you can at least get a diagnosis or some sort.

  3. How do you know it is a ruptured Achilles?
    It could be detached, too?
    There could be a fracture somewhere also.
    As you were not put in cast right after the injury I do not see how it could heel on its own.

  4. You say you could tell your ankle wasn’t broken and it’s clear you ruptured your Achilles but I don’t know. I’m not a doctor but that kind of bruising and pain says fracture to me. If you’re lucky and it’s not displaced it could just heal on its own, but I can’t imagine not getting that checked out. Anyway, congrats on an awesome climb!

  5. baba - I know your situation is not ideal for treating this injury, but I wanted to pass along a couple thoughts for your consideration. As pendersnitzel mention, not treating this injury could have long lasting, negative effects. If the ends of the tendons aren’t brought together, the tendon will just heal with scar tissue filling in the gap between the two ends. This could result in a lose of calf strength and a permanent limp. Surgery at a future date may be an option, but the chances of a full recovery are greatly reduced.

    While it may still be cost prohibitive given your situation, you could consider conservative treatment. It may be difficult since you’ve been walking around for 2.5 weeks, but you could have your leg casted in a manner that will give the tendon ends a better chance of heeling correctly. You could speak with a doctor about a payment plan for a few appointments and a few casts. There is some good information on the achillesblog website for people who don’t have insurance. You may want to have a look to see if anything would help your situation.

    Obviously you have to decide what is best for you. I hope you don’t consider my comments to be flack. I just don’t want this injury to have a lasting effect on your livelihood. Good luck with whatever you decide and congrats on the climb. It looks fantastic!

  6. Thanks folks for taking the time to respond. I’m looking at a local low cost clinic where my folks live (since I live in the sticks where there’s no medical facility of any kind)

    Happy to say the ankle keeps improving and no bruising remains. It gets a tiny bit better every day. It’s still swollen compared to the left one. I’m getting more strength back but there are still numbish areas around heel and sole of my feet.

    I really can’t say its ruptured, just that the problem is the achilles tendon due to the fact that while I’ve lost the ability to press hard down with my toes, I can hobble on my heels fine, and there is tenderness in the tendon and lower calf area. Where I know it would really hurt is if I had to support big weight on the balls of my feet without the heel.



  7. Have you tried the quick test to see if it is a bonafide ATR? I think it’s called Thomson if I’m not mistaken and there is a link to it somewhere on this website.

  8. Dang, I was almost sure I only had a partial tear because I move around pretty well, I cilmbed that dang rock with this after all.

    Just tried the test and failed….;-(

    This changes everything. Anybody know a good ortho doc in Fresno?



  9. Surgery is the coming tuesday in the SF Bay area with a great doc. Wishing all welll. Heading down a big rabbit hole here!

  10. Update: Seem like a success! I’ve been climbing again and now, in 2015, to remember which leg it was, I have to look for the scar

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