Andy Crashes and Burns at Seneca

September 28th, 1999 : Note, my foot is pretty much back to normal and I've been climbing all summer. But I'll leave this page up, just for the amusement value if you like hearing minor climbing epic stories.

Medical Update

I'll get the boring medical stuff out of the way first.... the good news is that my sprain is feeling much better. In fact, if it was just a sprain, I bet I'd be climbing again in a week or two. The bad news is that its not just a sprain. I've got a non-displaced fracture of the talus. The talus is sort of the central bone of the foot... its what the shin bone connects to. I think you know the rest of the song.

The first two radiologists that looked at my X-Rays and CAT scan didn't say anything about that fracture, but my orthopedic doctor figured that there was no way a sprain and a bone chip would swell up and bruise up as much as my foot did. So he consulted with a third radiologist, and they both agreed on the fracture. I just got a second opinion today, and that doctor agrees. Unfortunately, both doctors say that the talus is a very slow healing bone. (One doctor said that it is the second slowest healing bone.... Which leads to a trivia question... what is the first slowest bone to heal?) This means that I'll be getting a couple screws put in my foot to keep things from moving around, and I'll be in a cast for anywhere from 4-12 weeks.

Yikes! So like Jeff so diplomatically put it... looks like I'm gonna be able to give my tendons that 2 month rest I wanted to give them.

Note to Mark... This does NOT mean that you can keep those cams and hexes I loaned you. I still plan on sleeping with them under my pillow. Except for the #4 camelot. That I hang from the bed post... it is too big to fit under my pillow.

Andy Welter, September 7, 1998

More updates:
Well it has been a couple months since my initial report, and things are moving slowly. The good news is that I did not need a cast after my surgery. So I've been pretty mobile, and have been off of my crutches for about a month. Unfortuneately, things are healing pretty slowly. So I've got at least another 4 weeks before I can climb again. This has been the longest I've been away from climbing in several years. In an effort to sublimate my climbing lust, I've started looking at new cars! I'd better get back to climbing soon or it could get expensive.

Andy Welter, November 5, 1998

The Journey Begins.

Ok, now that the boring medical stuff is out of the way... here is the climbing report.  During the drive I kept extolling the virtues of the friendly Seneca climbers and locals, the luxury of the Seneca Shadows campground, the thrills of chalked up holds that flex in your hand and have done so for at least the past 4 years that I've been going to Seneca, and the fun of climbs that seem at least 1 grade level higher than what the guide books rates them.

Mark and Chris I think were counting the hours till they could go to sleep and not have to hear me extolling these same things.


Our first day itinerary was Old-Mans route (5.2, 1 pitch) to the base of Westpole (5.7+, 2 pitch), to a 5.0 scramble to the the summit. Mark led Old-Mans, and Chris led the first pitch of Westpole. Both of which started lulling Mark and Chris into a false sense of security... Mark made short work of the 5.2, and the anchor was easy to set on a tree with a couple pieces of gear for backup. The first pitch of Westpole, is probably an honest 5.7, but has terrific gear placements with good stances. Chris was probably thinking these Seneca ratings aren't too sandbagged. (hee hee, wait till the second pitch of Westpole I thought.) Chris belays me up to just under the double roof, and I point out the death block marked with a chalk X right next to the belay. This gets his attention.

Then I start the second pitch. This is the one that I inflicted on an unsuspecting Jeff the previous trip to Seneca. (I can be a bastard at times.) Since this was my third time up the route, I knew where the gear was, and where the jugs were... The first roof isn't too tough, but it is very committing... you are doing a layback on flakes that you imagine are going to pop off in your hand, and you are doing it about 120 feet above where you started, and about 600 feet above the valley floor. The second roof was tougher, and I had to do a little chimney / off width weaseling. I lost a few style points, but climbed it clean.

After I belayed up Mark and Chris, they were beginning to understand Seneca and Seneca ratings. :-) After a brief photo op and lunch at the Summit, we rapped down (1 double rope rap, 1 single rope) using the standard Seneca shared rope / cooperative method. Mark and Chris are beginning to believe me about the friendly climber stuff.

Greenwall by headlamp

Next we do Greenwall, a 5.7. Chris leads the shorter first pitch. While the moves on this pitch aren't any tougher than Westpole, the gear placement stances are no where near as friendly. When Mark and I get up to Chris, he is feeling a little ill from a bad cliff bar or something. Chris shows more maturity and judgment than I will show this weekend, and decides to back off and let Mark and I finish the climb by ourselves.

By this time, the day is getting a little late. I strongly suspect that if I continue, we will be rapping down after dark. I keep these thoughts to myself... no sense giving Mark the chance to be a voice of reason. But I've been climbing fast, and know the route well. Plus we have headlamps. I disregard nagging doubts and take off on the second pitch. I climb well and fast except for a gear placement at the crux. Mark attempts conversation with me. "Not now... am busy". Once I have an nice hex in, I feel much better.

The rest of the climb goes well, and I set a nice belay in what is for me, record time. Which is good. We are several hundred feet above the trees, and I can hear the crickets starting to make noise... We don't have much daylight left. Mark moves well except for a bit of hang dogging at the crux that had kept me busy. I've been watching the sun drop lower and lower, and don't let Mark get a rest when he comes up to me... I have him take the lead for the scramble up to and across the summit. Then he belays me up to the summit and down to the rap station. By the time I belay him across, it is now dark. Out come the head lamps.

Meanwhile back at the ranch

At this point, Chris is sitting in the air conditioned Explorer in the parking lot, drinking a cold beer, and listening to tunes. He can see us working by headlamp at the summit. We did the same two raps that we did from Westpole, and it is completely dark by the time we are down. Chris greets us with a cold beer and some Chips Ahoy cookies. It is now too late to get pizza at the front porch, but we still have time to get food at the roller rink. And in spite of the fact that we are definitely the 3 grubbiest people in the place, we don't once hear "you ain't from around here, are ya boy". Which is good enough for me to call the locals friendly.

Day 2 - Ecstasy Jr.

The next day's plan is for Mark and Chris to lead "Ecstasy Jr", a classic two pitch 5.4. This is where Chris really understood Seneca climbing.... He starts off looking like he is thinking "5.4... my sport climbing buddies are laughing their butts off at me climbing a 5.4". He climbs well and sets good gear, but when I get up to him, the first thing he says is "That was a 5.4??? That was the toughest 5.4 I've every climbed!". "Yes!" I think... Now he has the hang of Seneca.

Mark follows and we rap down uneventfully.

Crash and The Burn, the story turns:

We still have time left, and we are now sitting right next to "The Burn". A classic 5.8 100 foot 1 pitch climb. I've been pretty smooth on the 5.7s that we've done so far this weekend, and think that it may be time to step up my climbing a notch. In retrospect, I still think this was a good climb to do, I think my mistake came later.

I start up the Burn, and am climbing very well, great gear, etc. I call down to Chris. "I bet this isn't the crux". Chris answers: "I think you are right". I get up to a big ledge, and clip a pretty solid piton but there isn't much else in the way of gear placements, and it is only a piton. I start climbing again, and start moving out over a bulge, and this is where it starts getting interesting.

I'm now about 65-70 feet off the deck, and as I start going over the bulge, all of a sudden I am exposed to the wind. The wind is howling and whipping my shirt around... a couple times it catches me and starts peeling me off the wall. This is the first time I yell down "Watch me". At this point, Chris turns to Mark and whispers "get the camera ready"

I get in a small cam in a really bomber placement, and relax considerably. Since my previous piece is only a piton, I move up a couple feet higher and place a really bomber #9 stopper. And this is where my big mistake comes in.

At this point, I'm getting a bit tired, but I am soooo close to the top. I think briefly of hang dogging on my gear and getting a rest. There is a weasel out move to the left, but it doesn't look like it has any good gear placements. I'm right in the middle of the crux. I decide that I am close enough to the end of the crux that I can do the climb clean... that I don't have to hangdog. I start climbing again, and get about 6 feet above my gear, and there are no foot holds... just these little weathered slopers to smear on. My hands are getting pumped out, so I call down to Chris to watch me again.

The timer is ticking and I have to make a move now... My second mistake was in not downclimbing and backing off at this point, but I do have great gear and it really isn't that big of a fall. I go for the move with my right hand, hit the hold, and can't make it stick.

As any one who as seen me fall knows, "sh*t" means "falling". I try to push off the wall and can push off with my hands, but my feet had such lousy holds that they can't do much to push off. I am falling a little crooked... I must have caught the rope a little, and I feel my right foot hit the 4-6 inch ledge about 12-15 feet below me that I was previously glad to see. I think "well that sucked, but at least I'm done falling". At which point Chris and Mark hear "f**k".

Then I notice that I'm not done falling... I feel my helmet brush the wall, and then the rope finally catches and I hit and fend off the wall with my right forearm.

I figure I was about 6 feet above my gear, and if you assume about 2 feet of slack, that means a fall of 16 feet. Since I had about 80 feet of rope out, I figure I had about another 4 feet of rope stretch. That works out to about a 20 footer.

The first thing I do is look up at my gear, and I see both pieces still firmly in place. Chris yells up to ask if I am Ok, and I say yes. Then I look down at my foot, which doesn't hurt yet, and see that it is already swelling pretty badly. I yell down that on second thought, I'm ok, but I'm done and want down NOW.

Chris starts lowering me slowly and carefully. I yell down "Don't think I'm nagging Chris, but I'd really rather be down a bit faster... Like NOW." Chris is pretty understanding and I get lowered down.

Chris our intrepid kayaking guide / wilderness first aid provider takes over... I've got my leg propped up, pop a few ibuprofen, and start putting water on my ankle to cool it off. Chris and Mark hike up to the cliff above the climb so they can recover the gear. I sit at the base of the climb sorting gear. They have to do a single rope rappel. to get to the top of the climb, and then do a double rope rappel down the route.

Chris goes first, and then Mark comes down to clean the gear. The route slants away from the rap anchors, so Mark has to do a bit of traversing. But he clears all the gear. Pulling the ropes was quite a chore, but I'll leave that to Mark and Chris to describe.

We are pretty close to the road, so I am able to scoot down the stone steps in the gully on my butt and then Chris lends me a shoulder for the walk out on the dirt road while Mark carries most of the gear.

Where I went wrong

My main mistake was in not doing any hang dogging. I should have been less concerned with style and more concerned with safety. If I had a bit of a rest, I think I would have sent the rest of the route without too much trouble. My next mistake was not downclimbing once I was pumped, but I think I might have been at a point of no return. My last mistake was not being able to kick off from the wall harder... If I had gotten my feet farther away from the wall, the fall would have just ended in a good story instead of a mini-epic. But that was pretty hard to do considering what I had for foot holds.

No one points out the irony of my wearing my "climb safe" tee shirt.... well that is no one except my wonderful wife Sandy when I get home at Midnight. :-)

Back Last Updated November 5, 1998