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Chris Wilke - Falling Ice

I couldn't believe that I only had a headache after such a severe impact. I used to be a professional BMX rider so I’ve had my fair share of head injuries. After seeing how much damage the helmet took, I am surprised my head didn't go through the same thing.

August 13 2015

Ice climbing

 

The thermometer read -14°F when Jake and I awoke. It was early February and neither of us had class until 4pm, so we decided to drive the half-hour to the classic Tablet's Left (WI4) at Vermont's Lake Willoughby. Jake was eager for his first lead on serious ice and I was happy to assist him, especially if it meant I got to tackle the crux second pitch. We completed the short approach to the climb and I positioned myself out of the route's drop zone.

Halfway up the first pitch Jake discovered that his intended line was far too brittle to even place ice screws, let alone swing into. He decided to re-route and traversed right, into the sun, hoping for plastic ice. This change in direction put him over me. I figured I would be fine if I just kept alert for falling ice. Before I could react, ice was raining down. It seemed like every second I was dodging plummeting chunks of frozen water. I contemplated having Jake rappel off so I could relocate the belay, but I didn't want to throw off the flow of his first lead.

I heard Jake's yell and the sound of plummeting ice. I ducked and stayed down, tucked behind a good-sized bulge. It felt like I was ducking for several minutes with little pieces of ice flowing down all around and over me. Then I felt a big, damp, impact on the back of helmet; I didn’t even see it coming. The impact gave me quite the ringer, but I was okay to follow when I heard Jake shout "On Belay!"

After I lead the second pitch we rappelled off and walked down. It wasn't until we reached the car that I finally removed my helmet. That's when I saw the large crack shooting up the back of my helmet. I couldn't believe that I only had a headache after such a severe impact. I used to be a professional BMX rider so I’ve had my fair share of head injuries. After seeing how much damage the helmet took, I am surprised my head didn't go through the same thing.

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Warning: Climbing, mountaineering, and the activities described in this story are inherently dangerous. You are responsible for your own actions, decisions and safety. Wearing a helmet can significantly reduce the risk of head injury, but does not ensure protection against all impacts.

 

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