False Death and the Uncaring Cruelty of Mountains

44 thoughts on “False Death and the Uncaring Cruelty of Mountains”

  1. Beautifully written! I had a similar experience with a near-death fall in Lodore Canyon, but I’m not sure I was wise enough to learn much from it. I do think photography, geologizing and hiking with a child have all taught me that there are ways to go deep in a landscape that don’t involve anything that would be considered “extreme” or carry bragging rights.

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    1. A well-written post with a powerful message. After I had a near-death experience two years ago I was plagued by the weird idea that I had actually died that day and this new perceived reality was an alternative self in a parallel universe. I still feel unreal most of the time. Glad the forest helped you to heal.

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  2. A very powerful story of self-discovery. I live in a rural area on the family homestead. My dad loved to hunt and fish, and so do I. I know every dip in the terrain, best place to cross creeks, and have seen trees grow from tiny samplings. There’s a comfort in nature you can’t find anywhere else.

    This was also very tightly written. Normally, I don’t read long blog posts, but I couldn’t tear myself away from this one. 🙂 Great photos too.

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      1. Other than God, I keep wondering how you used survived. I can only put it, it wasn’t your time.
        There was a worker who fell off a five story construction site and hit the paved floor. He sat up and brushed himself off as people ran towards him asking him if he’s ok. He was overwhelmed with joy that not a bone was broken. Everybody who witnessed this was gobbed smacked struck in awe and disbelief. You don’t fall from a five story building and survive to tell the tale. But he did. As the workman who was so overjoyed he survived the fall, he offered everyone to buy them drinks. There was a pub across the road and as he was crossing the road, he got hit by a car and killed instantly. You see, it wasn’t his time nor the place he was supposed to depart this world, but it was there in the middle of the road at a particular time he was.
        I’m glad you survived the fall because I feel you have so much to offer and as you learn along the way, you’ll pass on this knowledge of wisdom, you’ve earned as I do to others in my craft of traditional woodworking.

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  3. Wow, and I don’t get to say that very often. As with the commenters above, I have a story. Mine was experienced in an urban environment — just outside my mum’s front door. I was in my forties, at peak fitness and cheeky with it. A running jump off mum’s front porch usually landed me on my feet half way down the path. On this day I had forgotten that it rained the previous night and the edge of the verandah was damp. Result? Me flying through the air at full speed as my legs went out from under me. I remember thinking, “This is going to hurt.” I landed on my back and lay there waiting for the pain. It didn’t come, but that added to my anxiety — spinal injury! After a few seconds, I started wiggling toes and fingers — they worked fine. Sitting up, feeling very stupid, I looked around and no one had seen what happened. I sat there feeling lucky and wondering how I had survived. In short, every part of me must have hit the concrete at exactly the same moment, absorbing the energy. Still think about what might have happened — young family, mortgage etc.
    I’m pleased you survived and I look forward to reading about your adventures.
    We are lucky enough, now, to live on the edge of a forest.
    Terry

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  4. “The key to knowing a place, to learning its secrets, is returning again and again.” I love this line. Your story is remarkable and, as Russell Gayer commented, tightly written. At first glance, it is a ~Wow, what a trauma you experienced and how fortunate that you lived to tell the tale~ sort of writing, but then, a little further, when you say, “My perfect moment of realization never came, no matter how many times I longed for it. I never regained my fearless charge to see every ridge-line for myself. Instead, something softer, and more authentic grew in its place.” This resonates with me. I cannot phrase it properly in a comment here. It may be worked out better in an essay. I’ll use this as a starting point, if you will allow, and maybe, finally, write what I have so far this year, or in the previous three, been unable to articulate. Thank you for visiting my blog. Otherwise I would have missed out on something special.

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  5. You tell your story so powerfully. When I had a similar experience I felt death walk beside me for many years. Now I walk as you do, getting to know one place deeply, rooting myself in the natural landscape, changing with the seasons.

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  6. I have climbed a lot, for decades. Each climb is a life, with its potential death attached. It doesn’t matter how easy: the easier climbs kill more, because there are more of them, and one’s guard is down, because they are easy. Also easier climbs are harder to protect, because the hardest climbs would not go without some protection.

    Never let the guard down, expect danger from the expected and unexpected, try to keep a safety margin because sometimes it will erode or disappear, all of a sudden.

    Climbing teaches to master one’s hubris. It forces the otherwise arrogant, uninformed human mind to listen to the universe, to take instructions from it, to become one with the universe.

    Why climb? Why live? Each climb, well done, should feel like a life… because it’s a life. But mostly it reveals unknown powers.

    Once I was torn off a mountain by an enormous rock avalanche: my double ropes had been hit by rocks… Also I was running a one hundred meters wide ice gully… in rock climbing shoes, not proper ice equipment, and the belay was horrendously bad. I faced certain death, and when I remember the event, it was as if it happened three seconds ago, although it was three decades… Miraculously, I was able to wedge myself between an ice wall and a rockwall along the side of the gully… and stopped! At the time I was an excellent Yosemite chimney climber… After this I stopped mountain climbing proper for years. But the fact remains that I discovered my brain could mobilize absolutely superhuman strength. When I remember exactly what happened, if someone else than myself described it, I would not believe it.

    So I learned something I could never have learned in books, because I don’t believe in superstitious religions: sometimes the thoroughly impossible happens. For a hard core rationalist such as yours truly, this is an astounding lesson, nearly as astounding as the miracle of life itself.

    Many more lessons can be learned from climbing, or activities similar to it: mountain running, which I still practice between smothering smoke clouds, requires similar neurology. In mountain running one of the dangers is to trip and head head first towards a rock, or off a cliff, it happened to me more than once… although emergency reflexes saved me with fractions of seconds to spare… In general, whereas danger in climbing can appear in seconds, in mountain running, it can appear in hundredths of a second, and one needs to think with one’s body much faster than in climbing.

    What are older folks going to do? Well one can climb into very old age, and of course the best climbers are the oldest, as climbing is a survival school. And to replace mountain running, there is always hiking. There is actually a rule among professional mountain runners: if you can’t see the top of a rise, you walk (high angle running is less efficient an walking).

    We, and the universe. Be it from having a pet, to enjoying a landscape, to be human beings in full, of this we need to be reminded all the time: we are at our best, when we are one with the universe.

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  7. Wow..you have shared with your readers, an amazing story of trauma and realizations, of despair and understanding. A near death experience that changed your way of thinking about things…. I enjoyed very much your style of relating it too..

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  8. Awesome writing. Happy you found the woods and yourself again. Something like what you experienced is tough business for sure. I wrote a fictional short story (The Anchor, check my blog) of a similiar vein, but only once did I ever come close to what you expereinced. Once when I was working construction in my wild youth before al the safety measures now in place, I was walking 12 inch concrete wall about 3o feet in the air and my coverall snagged a rebar and I went face first and hit some stageing about five feet below me hitting two cross beams, one on my chest and one on my thighs. Twenty or so feet below me was nothing but dozens of concrete rebars upon which I was not impaled. Nothing like the tumble yuou took however. But your story reminded me of that incident so long ago now. All my best to you in your writing.

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  9. Awesome story of awakening. Powerful. We can love Nature, but it doesn’t mean Nature will love us back… Nature could care less. But we love it anyway. Of course we do. Lessons for life. Always remember who’s in charge… It’s not us puny humans. Learning this frees us to be authentic in our relationships with the life of the Wild. There are no rescues. It’s up to us to survive on our own. Be humble.

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  10. I can very-well relate to your feeling of coming near death. I once lost my footing while rock-climbing and held on by only three fingers. Another time I was run by a car and I remember seeing the curb sliding in my view as it dragged me by the braking wheels. But this is about you, not me. I believe these things happen as a wakeup call: to prod us to do something extraordinary: like your blog, say. Keep the good work. Your account is language-rich, melodious-sounding, and captivating: I couldn’t stop reading. I hungered more when I got to the end, but what a way to end! We probably learn something every day until we die. Thank you for visiting my blog.

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  11. Actually – it raises interesting questions about the nature of risks and risk-taking. Physical risks, emotional risks, and all the rest of them. Why do we move beyond the cocoons of our safety zones? And to what ends? And at whose expense? We know that adolescents are wired to step out and take risks. We know the adrenalin rush of getting close to the edge.

    There are the pioneers driven by necessity and adventure who push themselves to a limit for so many reasons. There are the self-destructive who do not feel alive unless close to death.

    And think of those who take to social and political risks – driven by conscience – to do the right thing for others in spite of the deadly risk to their own careers, livelihoods, and careers! Amazing courage.

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  12. I like the way you are writing, it talks to me, if you know what I mean.
    We all have still so much to learn about life, don’t we … and when I am too cocksure about something, I get taken down a peg or two immediately. Your experience was more of a steam hammer though. Getting down the mountain with broken bones must have been extremely painful.

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