birdandhike logo
Home | Postcards
The Fall -- October 2014
The Fall

In late November while hiking alone in the Mount Wilson Wilderness Area in northwest Arizona, I took a tumble off a slick, water-polished granite ledge and fell some 30 feet to the bedrock wash below. I got pretty beat up, but I didn't break any bones and was lucky to be alive. I hobbled out 3 miles and drove home, but recovering from this will keep me off the long trails from some time.

The Fall
Going to investigate water-polished granite

I was over on the east side of Mt. Wilson in Arizona (near Missouri Spring) hiking alone. I saw an interesting area that looked like water-polished granite in the next canyon and hiked over to investigate.

When I got there, I was on a ledge about 30 feet above the canyon bottom, and at the end of the ledge was an odd smattering of dirt that looked as if someone had beaten a dirty dust mop on the ledge spreading dust over an area about 2-3 feet in diameter.

With a bit of momentum, I stepped across a patch of sandy, sloping ledge that obviously had a low coefficient of friction to the dusty spot and turned to look back to see where the dust had come from.

Well, it turns out that water-polished granite with an odd smattering of dust is extremely slick, almost like grease, and as I turned back, my feet went out from under me -- both feet.

On the dusty ledge (facing left in the photo of the cliff, below), my feet shot out from under me, and I fell backwards striking my right buttocks on the rounded edge of the ledge. That forced me to roll backwards and to the left -- off the ledge and into air. I remember thinking "shit, this isn't good."

The Fall

Hitting the starting ledge on one butt-cheek started a roll, and I fell onto a steeply sloping ledge (head to the right in the photo below) and began to log-roll. Twice I put my left hand out to stop the roll thinking that I'd stop -- and then that I'd stop this time -- but instead I continued rolling and rolled backwards off the last edge. While rolling, I recall noticing that my GPS, in a pouch attached to my shoulder strap, was standing out in space under centrifugal force as I spun. If time ever slowed down during the event, it was during that moment when I focused on the position of the GPS pouch.

I must of caught something with my left hand as I went over the last edge, because I flipped head-over-heals during the last fall, landing flat on my right side. It was lucky to hit flat because all of my right side - from my head to my feet -- took the force of impact more or less evenly. If I'd been feet down, I would have broken my legs, and if I'd been head down, I would have broken my head.


While laying out flat with my face down and without moving, my old Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) training came back quickly (in a previous life, I'd done emergency medicine). I began a quick assessment wiggling each extremity in turn and took stock of my accelerated breathing and heart rates. While laying face-down, I remember the sound of a sight-seeing plane fly over me (there had been many that day); they sounded very close and I and wondered if they'd seen me fall and if they would call for help (they did not).

While doing my assessment, one story from EMT training came back and affected much of the rest of my time out there: after a traffic accident, a guy said he was fine and refused treatment. After walking around his accident scene for a few minutes, someone to the side called his name. He turned his head to the side in response and dropped dead on the spot. He'd broken his neck but didn't realize it.

I decided that I was alive, but with blood dripping down my face, surely I'd suffered a head injury. So before moving, I set off my SPOT personal locator beacon device. I deliberated and chose to send an "I'm here and I'm OK" message because I wanted to give Liz a point-last-seen in case she needed to come looking for me. I didn't know that I wasn't OK, and I figured I could always press the "911" button later, but I pride myself in self-reliance (maybe too much this time?).

When I eventually sat up and laid back against the rock wall, I felt a wave of nausea come over me (but never vomited), so fearing a concussion, I sat and rested for some time. My entire right side was pretty busted up and my lower back was twisted badly. I had a gash in my right temple and I might have cracked the upper-most tip of my lower mandible (it hurt like hell to yawn). I probably cracked a rib or two (complicated by landing on my two cameras and breaking the little one). My right hip and knee were sore, and my right ankle and the top of my right foot were badly bashed. Also, apparently during the log-roll, I bashed my left palm, my left ulna, and my left knee was bloodied on the outside edge.

I laid there, then sat there, for some time, but with nothing entirely broken my breathing and heart rate returned to normal and I decided to try hiking out. I'd just come up the route making a lollypop loop, so to close the loop I had less than 1/2-mile of new terrain to cover. I figured that if I could get down the canyon I was in, I could make it the entire way. The first 200 yards down the rocky canyon were painful. Usually when hiking off trail, I use trekking poles, and I really wish I'd taken them on this hike. By the time I made it to the sandy wash, I knew I'd make it out if I could stay upright.

For me, trips to the wild places are all about bringing back photos to share, and this time was no different. I photographed myself, including a video message to Liz and one for myself, and I photographed the hike on the way out per usual route documentation. I'll eventually post a description of the hike, but I'll leave out the detour to the slick rocks.

The Fall
Driving out

With a busted foot-ankle combo and a busted back, I hobbled nearly three miles back to the jeep. I had to stop and rest a couple of times, but I had to find things to lean against, as I couldn't sit down because of my back. Climbing into the jeep was a chore, but it was nothing compared to the back-wrenching jostling I endured driving out the access road, which was actually a fairly good road. With a badly twisted lower back, driving out the rocky access road was about the worst part of getting out.

I eventually made the pavement and drove home. By the time I arrived, I was stiff and sore, but glad to be home with Liz.

Lingering issues (after 3 weeks): right wrist, bone bruise on my left ulna (just up from my wrist), right mandible tip, right ankle-foot pain comes and goes, and back is sore.

Lingering issues (after 5 weeks): my right wrist is still unhappy, my back is a bit stiff, my right leg gives me some trouble, and the lump on my left ulna is still present but not painfully sore, but the rest is recovering well, and I think the only lasting memento will be a scar on my right temple.

Note: All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 141207

Postcards Trip Map   Copyright, Conditions, Disclaimer Home


Google Ads