Above: About 5 seconds before, as Joe Simpson famously said, "Interest in photography abruptly ended."

Micah and Bob Go Bouldering

Note: This is MY account of Micah's little accident the other day while climbing in the Eastern Sierra. I'm quite sure that he will be writing his own account on his blog in the coming days.

It is definitely possible there will be a little 'Rashomon' in the storytelling.

In the 10+ years that I’ve known Micah Elconin, I’ve seen him bleed plenty, but not aplenty. I’d never seen his bare ass, his dick or his nutsack. He’d never taken a lengthy yellow piss into a bottle in the back of my car before handing all 24 ounces of it to me whereupon I gladly received it and disposed of the contents in the bushes outside a gas station. I had never been remotely interested in the frequency of his bowel movements. I’d never seen his actual bones.

……..All that changed recently.

After a day bouldering in Tuolumne (Saturday, Aug. 15), I came down from the Meadows to a phone message that the man I have often referred to as my personal good luck charm (Micah) and his girlfriend Bridget were on there way to visit Deb and I at our cabin up in Tom’s Place (between Bishop and Mammoth in the Eastern Sierra for those of you who don’t know). When he's not vagabonding around the world, Micah makes his living as a personal chef to the rich and famous. Micah is always welcome at our house, and personal chefs are especially welcome. Sometimes I’ll make eggs and toast for breakfast and you know what it tastes like? Pretty much like an egg on top of a slice of fucking stale bread. If I happen to add a tomato, it tastes a lot like I put a slice of tomato on. In the same kitchen I use, Micah makes eggs on top of toast taste better than I do. A lot better.

Anyways, Micah, Bridget and I climbed for a couple days and on Tuesday, Bridget wasn’t feeling well, so Micah and I headed off without her to The Dreamers, which is one of the nicest, most picaresque little boulder fields that’s close to our cabin. We climbed a bunch of dead easy stuff for a while and Micah’s eye was drawn to what is really the best looking line at The Dreamers, the 20+’ tall face called “The Thimble of The High Sierra”. Now this thing isn’t as tall as the real Thimble (in South Dakota), but it’s about the same difficulty (V3 - or so I have heard), and it’s definitely a beautiful boulder problem with a nice flat landing. It was also easy enough that Micah, who’s climbing quite well lately, gave no second thought to throwing my dinky 7 year old Cordless session pad (actually, Kristin, it's yours) down beneath it and heading up while I sat back and snapped photos.


He heads up the pocket line and hikes through the hard moves, hits the right hand envelope slot below the lip, at which point I put my camera down.

Now why did I put my camera down?

Because he was hiking this thing. If you think somebody’s going to fall, you don’t put the camera down, because airborne shots, particularly off highballs are always cool.

So I put the camera down so I could talk him through the exit if he needed it (there’s a left hand small crimp at the lip and then a good hold waiting for your right farther around top). HE WASN’T FALLING, NO WAY.

He threw his left hand over the top and hit slopers, not the good edge, ordinarily not a big deal, but his left foot popped.

And then he was airborne.

18 feet up.

In the air, he turned his body a bit towards the direction I was standing and spotted his landing as he fell. I could tell in an instant it was going to be hard, but at least it’s flat, and luckily he wasn’t far back enough to hit the rock that was in the center of the area. When he impacted his left heel hit the ground first with the ball of that left foot hitting on the pad, the right foot hit the pad entirely. The left ankle rolled and I heard a gut-churning crack from 50 feet away and he rolled onto the ground to the right screaming.

“Goddammit, he broke his ankle.” – Bob thinks.

“Goddammit, I broke my ankle.” – Micah thinks.

I immediately ran over to him writhing on the ground. When I looked at his left leg, I saw not just a broken ankle, but a steady stream of blood squirting out, and when I say squirting, I mean it was getting some distance with each heartbeat.

And then I saw his bone.

Yeah, the one that was sticking out of his skin.

I’d like to say that I was all cool and collected, ready to handle a bad situation, but I’m not embarrassed to say I flipped the fuck out. Definitely not what Micah needed to hear was me saying “Holy fucking shit this is bad, we need to get you out of here NOW!”, but unfortunately that’s what he heard me say. Probably over and over.

I think I told him to stay there (as if he had a choice), and I may have told him not to look at it (I don’t remember), and then I was off running, collecting all of our shit together and heading back to the car. I’m pretty sure that this was the day that Usain Bolt ran the 100m in a record-breaking 9.58, but believe me, homeboy got smoked by a middle-aged skinny white guy wearing flip-flops as I tore through the boulders. I’m not sure why I felt it necessary to get all of our garbage into the car. We definitely could have left it all at the boulders……maybe the delay allowed me to formulate some kind of a plan while getting something done instead of standing over him like a dumbass while he sprayed blood all over? Anyways, I got our shit in the Subaru, dropped the back seats down so he could lie down, spread out a bunch of rugs that we had in back, and then spread out his Metolius ropebag over all the rugs. Then I hauled ass back to him, where he was lying in a crying, dirty, bloody mess.

When I got there Micah said “Fuck, fuck, I made the mistake of looking at it!”, which let me know he now knew how serious this was.

Then he paused for a moment, looked up at me, and said something that I’ll probably never forget for the rest of my life.

“You have to tell me what to do, because I don’t know what to do.”

That request [I think] smacked me out of my mode of complete panic that wasn’t helping the situation at all. I briefly thought about carrying him, but figured it would be too painful just to get him on my back or in my arms, and the consequences of dropping him (he outweighs me by 20lbs) could only make shit worse.

“Can you stand on your other leg?” I asked.

“I think so,” he replied.

“Ok, I’m going to grab you under your arms and drag you back to the car, but you’ve got to help with your other leg and keep your bad leg in the air.”

“Ok, I think I can do that.”

When I was in high school I spent so much time swimming and being at the pool that they made us take a basic CPR course. So basic that it was the kind where you give mouth-to-mouth to a dummy instead of a real person, cause you’re in high school and you wouldn’t be caught dead macking with some hideous beast from the girls’ swim team. Now this CPR/lifesaving course was 20+ years ago and I remember some of it, but I’m pretty goddamn sure that there was nothing in the curriculum about how to drag a 175lb crippled Jew backwards through 60 meters of sand and sagebrush while wearing a pair of flip-flops. I had to invent this shit, and the process SUCKED. The only good thing about it was that it wasn’t really very far, which in a lot of other bouldering areas it certainly could have been. That said, we weren’t moving as fast as I expected. Micah told me I could put him down, and I immediately ran back to the car, started it and backed up as far as possible to the entrance to the boulders (something I should have done 3 minutes prior). I popped the hatch, sprinted back to Micah, picked him up again and continued the drag until we reached the car and I got his ass on the bumper. He managed to scoot the rest of his body in on top of the rope bag and rugs, I shut that hatch, got into the driver’s seat and hit the gas.

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that The Dreamers are out in the dirt roads of the Sherwin Plateau. The last ½ mile is basically 4WD road terrain, and I’ve got a guy in the back of my car spewing blood from a foot that is literally flopping around on the skin that is holding it to his leg every time I hit a bump….which….is…..often.

“Please, you gotta slow down over the bumps dude!”

I compromised and went as fast as I could safely go over the bumps, but WARNED him when there was something coming up so he could brace himself. Driving 5 mph was out of the question and Micah was in tremendous pain anyway. A little (or even a lot) more pain in his situation made little difference. I told him to let it all out and howl. And he did, letting out the most shattering screams of pain I’ve ever heard.

As far as bouldering areas go, The Dreamers aren’t too far in the sticks (The Buttermilks are farther from the highway, as is The Brickyard, let alone The Swimming Hole), so the highway came fairly quickly at the rate of speed I was going, and then the decision was: Bishop or Mammoth? At the intersection we were almost equidistant between the two.

Several years ago I lived in Bishop very close to where the hospital is located on the southwest side of town. So I know exactly where the hospital is. I had no idea where the hospital was in Mammoth. It could’ve been next to the freeway or it could’ve been up by Lake Mary…..no idea. Also, during my Bishop time, I spent a fair amount of my evenings (and days) swilling beer at Mussy’s place in Paradise on the nights when we weren’t getting sloshed at Whiskey Creek. I’m not proud of it, but many a night I left Mussy’s I shouldn’t have been driving, and in Bishop especially, you can’t drive through downtown when you’re hammered (you’ll get pinched for sure), so I always took the back route, which was actually shorter than driving through town, and has a lot less traffic than the 395.

So Bishop Hospital via the shortcut it was.

I cruised down the hill as fast as possible (considering all the road construction and traffic that was clogging the 395) took a right off the freeway on Ed Powers and hit the long straightaway pushing the Subaru to 95+, veered left and blew the stop sign onto Red Hill continuing the blistering pace until I hit West Line, where I hit one stop light (which I obeyed) before turning into the hospital ER.

“They’re going to put me in so much pain at the hospital!” he cried, envisioning them re-setting his shattered bone.

I jumped out of the car at the ER, burst through the doorway to the inside and saw a lady standing in the hall. I should note that I’m wearing a pair of board shorts, no shirt, flip-flops, and have dirt, sweat and blood all over me. I’m sure I looked like I’d just murdered a churchgoing family of 5.

“Do you work here?”

“Ummm, yes.”

“I’ve got a guy with a compound fracture in my car. It’s really bad!”

She pointed at a wheelchair sitting in the hall. I grabbed it and ran back out to the car.

Micah was NOT psyched on getting himself awkwardly into a wheelchair, but I got another guy who was standing in the parking lot to help stabilize the chair while Micah helped me maneuver himself onto it. When he slid off the rope bag, a bunch of the blood he had let out onto it spilled to the pavement. Gruesome.

He settled into the chair and I ran him through the corridors of the hospital where a nurse guided me into the emergency room where people were ready to receive him, as word had quickly spread that something serious was happening. Micah left a small splatter of blood every 12 inches from the pavement from where the Subaru was parked 100 meters all the way onto the carpet towards the ER, which the housekeeping crew almost immediately began working on cleaning up the mess.

Once in the ER, the doctor on duty simply looked at him and said, “Let me guess….rock climbing?”(do NOT look at this photo if you are squeamish). The hint for Dr. Genius must have been the bloody climbing shoe still attached to his left foot.

They immediately got Micah up on the bed and honestly, even though I was there, I have no recollection of how they did this. I may have even helped, but can’t recall. When I wheeled him into the room, I didn’t feel like my job was over as the caretaker for my good friend, but there were finally people who knew what the fuck they were doing in the room, and I wasn’t one of them. In those first few minutes the nursing staff attempted to wrap him up to stop the bleeding and give him some much needed pain medication. I helped out as much as I could until it became obvious that there were enough people in the room who were qualified and I went out into the waiting room and collapsed into a chair. I then went back and moved the car to a proper parking stall, drank a shitload of water, finally put a shirt on and went back to the ER to see how things were going.

The next few minutes were spent with nurses and the doctor (who was a bit of a buffoon) dressing up the wound administering some pain medication, taking x-rays (which showed the obvious – a compound fractured tib – fib) and figuring out what to do with this guy.

Micah kept saying “Don’t call my parents!”

At which point the doctor finally said, “Well how old are you?”


“Ummm……OK…..we don’t need to call your parents.”

Trying to lighten things up, I said, “Bitch, maybe while we’re sitting around you can clean the blood up from the back of my car,” After that I went into the waiting room again……and waited. At one point a nurse came out to check on me because Micah had asked her to make sure that “I was ok.” I burst out laughing. Classic Micah.

The doctor mentioned that while this incident was unfortunate, Micah was pretty lucky in that the hospital up in Mammoth (45 minutes away) has a couple of the finest orthopedic surgeons you’ll find, as apparently, is pretty common in ski towns. It was finally decided that they would put him in an ambulance and transfer him to Mammoth where they would do surgery up there and attempt to put his ankle back together. So unfortunately, my decision to run him to Bishop turned out to be a bad one, costing Micah probably 2-3 hours of wasted time and blood. My bad.

Just before he was about to get on the ambulance for the ride up the hill, I bid adieu to him for the time being and drove back to the cabin, preparing myself to tell Bridget why I drove home alone. She handled it quite well actually, and me and Deb and her stayed home for an hour or so before driving up to the Mammoth hospital to catch him before going into surgery.

By now it was 4:45pm or so, nearly 6 hours after the accident had occurred and Micah was just getting doped up for the move into surgery. The doctor came out and told us that 1) this was about as bad as an injury of this type could get, 2) the surgery would take 2-5 hours, 3) there would likely be numerous surgeries and a lengthy hospital stay, 4) there was a chance he would lose his foot, and possibly his entire left leg.

“Ummm, excuse me?”

So we’ve got that going for us. This was getting really bad.

Surgery takes 4 hours and change.

His surgeon, the saintly Dr. Michael Karch (I think his Indian name is ‘One Who Screws Jews Back Together’), comes out to give Bridget, Deb and me the lowdown at about 11:30pm. Turns out his ankle was so badly destroyed that it was easier to fix everything at once than to do it in multiple stages of surgery. 14 screws, a rod, and a lot of staples. He had lost a lot of blood (2 pints), and they were concerned that he’d need a transfusion. Dr. Karch was still concerned about him losing his foot, and possible his leg to infection, and he would remain concerned (and Micah will remain on heavy antibiotics) for 2 weeks after the surgery. Even if he kept his foot, it would be surprising if he had sensation in much of it since he had completely severed a nerve.

I’m used to hearing about jackass doctors telling injured athletic people “You’re done playing sports dude. Live with it.” This guy [Dr. Karch], was the exact opposite, a guy who understands active people, what they do, and how they live there lives, and how committed they tend to be in recovery. He could have easily said, “Micah will never climb or run again.” But he didn’t. What he said was, “He’ll be doing everything he loves to do in a year, with a little arthritis bothering him probably.” …….well, if he doesn’t lose his foot (or leg).

We saw Micah after surgery and he was completely out of it, loving the dilaudid they were dosing him with. Deb and I then left for the cabin and Bridget conned the nurses into letting her stay overnight with him.

The next day (Wednesday), I went in to see him and it was like seeing a vibrant and healthy 28 year old had turned into a 110 year old man in the course of 24 hours. Complete with catheter. The doctor thought it was possible he would get out on Friday, so I made the decision to take Deb and Ratso home in our Subaru, grab our VW Van and head straight back so he could ride home in [relative] comfort. I called Elijah that afternoon to ask him for support in the journey and he requested Friday off from work (thanks Bert). So, Deb, me and The Rat got home late Wednesday night, I went to work for a few hours Thursday morning, picked up Elijah at 2 and we drove straight back to Mammoth, heading directly to the hospital where Micah and Bridget were waiting and glad to see us.

It should be noted that somewhere the decision had been made to tell Micah’s parents not to come, which I think was the right thing to do. It seems [to me] that what is already a bad situation can become far worse with a grieving mother camped out in the corner of the room applying a moist towel to her pained son’s brow inbetween fits of weeping. It just seems a bit more productive to the situation to have two clowns letting the injured party know that, “I know you’re fucked up on morphine dude, but your cock’s hanging out. Put that shit away.” Just my opinion.

Friday he was possibly getting out, but since he could still barely stand on his own, let alone use his walker, it was no surprise when they didn’t discharge him. Saturday we got up to the news that he was getting out that afternoon, so Elijah and I went climbing at The Dreamer’s that morning, revisiting the scene of the accident. No one had been there since we had left and there was a long trough in the sand (from Micah dragging his good foot) leading from the parking area all the way back to the base of the Thimble, where a fair amount of dried up blood had crusted into a dark brown on the stones below. We didn’t climb very much. The Thimble didn’t look any less of a spectacular line though, but we weren’t investing anyways.

Saturday afternoon we headed back to the hospital and, after a substantial amount of time dicking around with paperwork and miscellaneous hospital bullshit (including dealing with a very unpleasant nurse), got our crippled friend into the ‘Vanbulance’ and headed home.

During the drive, Micah was required to get up and move around every two hours, so our first stop was at the Oly store in Lone Pine, where we pulled in, opened the door of the van, and Bridget promptly dropped Micah’s piss bottle all over the ground (and splattered herself in the process).


We got him out onto his walker and Bridget stood about 10 feet away. 10 FEET. He started out towards her and reached her in about 30 seconds, turned around and got back to the van in another 30 seconds. At the culmination of this Olympic achievement of 20 feet of forward momentum, he proceeded to press out a full extension bar dip on his walker. So to put this into perspective, my 90 year old grandmother moves slower than anyone I’ve ever seen…it takes her 10 minutes to walk down the hall to the bathroom. But she would straight–up smoke this young punk in the “2009 Lone Pine Walker 20 Footer Race”. However 98% of American’s can’t do a bar dip right now. Rad. Elijah checked his pulse after the ‘epic walk’, which read 150...after 20 feet of walker assisted movement and a single bar dip. I bought a couple twelver’s of Olympia Beer (one for me and one for Micah when he’s allowed to drink again), and then we resumed our journey home.

The next stop was the In & Out Burger in Lancaster, where we chomped on Double-Double’s and fries and waited to get hit by stray bullets from the next drive-by shooting. Surviving unscathed by any bullet wounds, Micah soon began to regret pounding a Double-Double Animal-Style since he was still processing a bunch of narcotics and hadn’t taken a shit in 4 days. In another hour he became understandably uncomfortable and even more regret was given to downing that tasty burger. By the time of our third stop in Santa Paula, he was bloated and seriously uncomfortable so when we hit the gas station he hustled into the bathroom (it took about ten minutes), sat on the shitter for ten minutes to no avail (with me checking in a couple times “Everything Ok in there?” ---- try this at your next gas station bathroom stop and see what kind of looks you get), and took the ten minute trek back to the car.

Finally on the home stretch, we hit the 101 in Ventura and ran smack dab into traffic….the Caltrans roadwork kind that happens at midnight on a summer Saturday. He put a call into the worried parents and told them we’d be even later than the lateness that we’d already anticipated, with an estimated arrival time around 12:30am.

Which is when I started thinking about the parents.

Now, I’ve known Micah since he was 16 or 17 (he’s 28 now) and between the years of 17 and 22 he spent a lot of time around our house where Phil and myself probably had an influence on his life that may or may not be considered positive by some parents. I bought beer for him and his friends every Friday until he could buy his own, we often got him into bars when he was underage, and helped immerse him into a sport that had essentially no external reward beyond bleeding fingertips, sore joints and muscles, and a smile at the end of the day. I’m sure at the time they were probably asking themselves why he didn’t spend so much of his free time hanging around at the yacht club or with investment bankers instead of a bunch of guys who were nice enough but never seemed to work very much (well, Phil worked a lot…I made up for his working by not working) and spent a lot of their time doing stupid shit that seemed very dangerous.

So it would be no surprise if after all this time Robbie and Donnie (mom and dad, who had always been very kind) would finally, 10 years later, let loose on me. Why had I let him go up on that boulder? Why didn’t I catch him when he fell? Why weren’t you an investment banker instead of a deadbeat rock climber?

But we got out of the van at the Elconin’s at the end of the journey and Robbie and then Donnie came up and both gave me long hugs, profusely thanking me for getting him to safety {thanks R & D!}. I’m sure Robbie would’ve run to Micah first, but his bitch-ass was still slowly crawling out of the van.

Which brings me to the last point. Do I feel guilty for what happened?


We are climbers and responsibility lies within yourself. When he said he wanted to do The Thimble, even with our dinky pad at the base, I didn’t even give it a second thought. Neither did he.

There was no discussion, no thought of, “It’s too high, don’t do this.”

It was Micah saying, “I’m doing this.”

And me saying, “Cool. I’ll shoot photos.”

This was an absolute freak accident. It was not the case of somebody walking up to something out of their league and attempting and failing in a bad way. It was the case of a very experienced guy who hiked the hardest part of a climb and had an unbelievable slip at the most incredibly wrong time. And then landed in the worst way possible he could have landed (on his feet, that is…..obviously he could have landed on his head, etc.). It was one in a million. He won the reverse lottery. Micah suffered major damage, but not life threatening or even [long-term] life impacting. In a year he’ll be climbing again and I have no doubt when he comes back he’ll go back to that same boulder and hike it.

My biggest regret is the decision to take him to Bishop Hospital and not Mammoth. That was a serious error on my part and would have saved us probably 3 hours and some blood and a lot less risk of bacteria infection, the scepter of which remains as I type this. If he ends up losing the foot to infection (still a possibility), it is unlikely he’ll ever buy another beer for the rest of his life, cause they’ll be on me for my unfortunate faux-pas.

We stayed at the Elconin house and got him settled back in with the family, then I dropped off Elijah at his house, Bridget at hers, and drove home where, after a whirlwind week, I greeted my girlfriend, our cat, and Ratso, downed a couple of beers and went to bed around 2:30am.

At 8:30am I was back out in the ocean for my usual Sunday morning paddle......out to the lighthouse buoy, greeting the seals along the way, and back to the harbor. By 10am I was eating chilaquiles at The Rose Café. What had been a constant replay of the ‘event’ running through my mind during the first 48 hours had subsided to every 20-30 minutes. As I type this, I only get the privilege of reliving it every 2-3 hours. For me, after a pretty intense 5 days, life was getting back to normal.

And for Micah, a guy who is unable to put ANY weight on his left foot for 20+ weeks, well he’s got to get used to a new ‘normal’ for the next few months.